My cousin Paul died today.
He was 61-years-old and had been battling leukemia for a year and a half.
He was a good man.
Paul and I grew up in the same city, but as adults, we didn't get to see each other very often; Paul moved to Phoenix and I stayed put in Chicago. The last time we met was at his mother's funeral almost two years ago. But we kept in touch via emails that circulated among my many cousins, emails that spoke of births and deaths in the family, of children and grandchildren and mutual ancestors, and often, of memories of our childhoods. Then, during his illness, we communicated via CaringBridge, an on-line journaling site for patients and their families, with Paul's wife Nancy filling in when he was too ill to write.
The picture above was taken in June of this year and shows Paul with his youngest grandson, George Jacob. The other photo shows a much younger Paul, the Paul who was three years younger than I and always seemed to be involved in some kind of mischief -- or at least, that's how I remember him.
For example, see that white suit he's wearing in the picture? That's the suit in which he made his 1st Communion. He looked so good in it -- until the Sunday he wore it to a party at my parents' house. We kids were set free to play outside, and wouldn't you know it, Paul just had to check out the foundation of the new house being built two doors down from us. He never meant to fall into what was to become the basement of the house but at the time was only a muddy hole in the ground. But mud and little boys just seem to attract each other, and that hole really attracted Paul.
He was not a pretty sight when he climbed out of it.
I don't claim to have a lot of memories of my childhood. I had rheumatic fever twice as a kid, and back then the cure for that was bedrest, large doses of Penicillin, and aspirin for the joint pain associated with the disorder. A doctor once told me that all the medicine I'd been on affected my memory and caused the recurrent nightmares that plagued me back then. I don't know if that's true; I only know there are gaps in what I remember of my youth. Some events I can only partly recall, and even then the details are fuzzy, like I see them through a haze.
My childhood memories of Paul mainly fit into that fuzzy category. I wish I'd had a chance to know him better when we were older. He became a husband and a father and a grandfather, and from all I've heard about him from friends and family, he excelled in all those roles.
I do know Paul had a lot of guts. He faced his illness with courage and never complained in his posts on CaringBridge. He always seemed to be smiling in his pictures and looking forward to life improving for him. His attitude didn't appear to change even when he learned that an expected bone marrow transplant was being cancelled, meaning his chance of recovery was now practically nil.
Tonight Paul's pain is over. He is at peace, safe in the arms of his Creator.
Remembered and loved, this good man can rest now.