Updated: Feb 14, 2019
I wrote this on 8/20/17 for Bridget.
This summer I knew much joy and happiness but also knew sadness and loss.
It is with great admiration for my cousin Bridget that I share the words I wrote in her memory.
Bridget passed away just weeks after receiving a new heart. She had survived cancer when she was young and seven heart attacks. She was a beautiful soul who was loved by many.
Being with my cousin Bridget, was a feeling of peace, like walking along the beach feeling the sand tickle your toes.
She was like the soft sand, the silly feeling, and the gentleness, all in one. Being with her, you were reminded of what it feels like, to be alive.
She knew pain, but you wouldn't know it, not for a long time anyway. She knew loss, but she rarely spoke of it. She knew sadness too, but that took a long time for me to see.
I was a child visiting my cousins. They had a fancy house with lots of rooms and a long driveway, right across from a college campus. But, they were fun and playful and a lot like us. Our Moms were alike in many ways too: hugging us a lot, spending lots of time with us near the kitchen, and I won't even bring up the driving.... We giggled and felt happy with our cousins, and Bridget gave me sugar cereal.
Mom told me Bridget had cancer as a child, but it was hard for me to believe, it didn't seem like my happy cousin. I remember standing in their dining room with her brother, John, during a party, admiring the picture of the four children while I indulged in Aunt Ellen's peanut butter and chocolate treats. John was chewing a piece of gum and I tell him that I love Bridget's braids in that picture, what a beauty. He agrees with me and I see how much he loves her.
At 21, I'm doing my Occupational Therapy internship at Maine Medical. This is the first time on my own, out of college and away from my family. But I am OK because my cousin Bridget is nearby. We have lunch on the water in Portland, though it was a simple memory, that stayed with me. She talks about her life and I talk about mine. My mom tells me later that she's been sick, but I would never have guessed it, she didn't talk about her pain.
Many years later, I am grown up with kids of my own and I visit my beloved Aunt Ellen in her final days. Bridget's caring for her seems to have been endless. The nurse is visiting Ellen and Bridget notices her mother's pants are soiled. Bridget helps to change her so subtly that If I hadn't been working for so many years in health care, I may have missed it. So swiftly and with such dignity does Bridget care for her mother. I am in awe of her compassion, this cannot be easy and Bridget does it with such patience and care.
With family and friends around Aunt Ellen, and in the ongoing Duddy tradition of eating, Bridget is thinking of how to take care of everyone. From Ellen's room, I follow her to the kitchen where we wash the dishes and prepare the food and we talk about life. By now we have both known pain, but we don't talk about that. Bridget and I talk about the good things in life and we talk about love. Her mother is dying, a mother close to my own, but with her I feel like I am home like I am in Barrington sitting at the kitchen counter while my Mom is mixing a batch of donuts.
It's Easter and Bridget is whispering. We talk about all the children, she loves them, all of them. The way she talks about her nieces and nephews with such pride, you might think were her own. She talks about George with love and wanting to travel with her family. She asked me about the pain that I've had, and in return, I finally ask her about her own. She shrugs her shoulders as if it were nothing, as if it's part of life, but she opens up about the frustration of being sick. In her I feel mutual empathy that I have felt with few others in my adult life. Bridget was an exceptional human being. With only a few words exchanged about the things that have been difficult, Bridget is understanding and all accepting. I think she finally felt that I could handle her pain, but I also think she kept it from many people. My heart said, I want to be there for you cousin.
In May Bridget mailed me Irish music to play at the next St. Patrick's Day party, "I hear you throw a good one" she writes. My heart wonders why she doesn't think she'll be here next year, but I try to dismiss the thought.
In early June Bridget texts me and says she won't be able to make our wedding, "too tough without a voice" she said "I'm just not strong enough" she said. I feel honored that she can be real with me now and tell me things are hard. But God, she is probably the strongest person I've ever met. We give her and George a seat anyway, we want to think of her being with us...always.
It's July and Bridget is talking in whispers and shoulder shrugs; she has perfected the art of the eye roll now that the rest of her body doesn't move. Betsy is making her smile with puppetry and silly things, they are still my fun cousins... even in an ICU. I tell her I love her and she tells me she loves me too. I know she does, I feel it and her eyes are saying everything.
Bridget reminds me of the beautiful sight of a multi-colored scarf dancing in a gentle breeze, sipping tea with an old friend, being at Crane's beach with Grammy, biting into Gaga's delicious donuts, sitting peacefully while children's laughter surrounds you, remaining patient when things are slow to happen, giving the gift of yourself to others and mostly, appreciating being alive.
She was like the tickle of sand between your toes, the tenderness of an honest hug and the fun found in a little sugar cereal.
My cousin Bridget really showed me what the gift of love meant.
By: Nicole Olivier-Degere https://www.facebook.com/nicolemarieolivier/posts/10213783336036797?__tn__=K-R