Death is a part of life, but knowing that never makes me feel any better. I'm not sure it makes anyone feel better. Losing loved ones is always hard, and dealing with a death is something we all struggle with in our own way.
I tend to linger in the denial stage longer than any other phase of grief. I ignore the death until the pain of it comes bubbling up weeks or months later when the person fails to appear at a place or time that I was once used to seeing them.
I think this is partially a product of living far away from my family, and that I saw most of those I’ve lost only on wonderful happy occasion like holidays.
I have a large family. My dad was one of nine, my mother one of seven and both sides are close-knit. As a general rule, holiday gatherings are loud and busy, always featuring a slate of new babies, girlfriends or boyfriends, and that distant cousin that just happened to drop by.
As my generation has grown older, many of us have moved away or are serving in the military. This often results in some cousins missing others at gatherings for years at a time.
Then came Facebook. It has truly made keeping up a lot easier from a distance. I can watch my cousins’ children grow via photo albums, stay up on family news through status updates and watch hilarious videos posted by others. I know many of my cousins better and talk to them more than ever before because of social media.
But nothing can replace that face to face time, those afternoons of laughter, teasing and story swapping. I have cherished those times more as I’ve grown older.
Especially when the possibilities of those shared moments end suddenly and forever.
Last weekend, my cousin Barry was killed in an accident. Barry Wayne Kirschner Jr., or "Bubba" as I've always known him, was just 26. Too young. He leaves behind a child of his own.
His death is simply shocking to us all. There is no other way to describe it.
We were bound by the blood in our veins and the love of our large family that has always surrounded us both and his loss deeply saddens me. It makes my heart ache for all of those who loved him.
I last saw Bubba at Christmas two years ago, when his son was still small. I will always remember that look of pure happiness, joy and pride that he wore all day as he showed off his little bundle of joy to our family.
I laughed today too until I cried when a picture of him at about age 8 with a mohawk appeared on his Facebook page. I remembered that haircut and how well it fit his boisterous and mischievous personality when we were small. He and my other male cousins always seemed to be up to something when we were kids sharing Christmas at my aunt and uncle’s home.
It’s a trait that seems to run in the family, just like that smile he had. It will live forever.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.