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  • Writer's pictureBetty Girardeau


Yesterday my favorite cousin died. About a month ago he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to the liver. I am thankful that he did not linger once he knew and accepted the outcome of his situation, but I am sorry that I did not get to see him one last time. He was the second son of my Mother's sister and had grown up in Alabama. It was particularly with him and his older brother that my sister and I would happily spend time each summer when all of us would converge at our Grandparents' house in South Carolina. We four were close enough in age to enjoy doing a lot of the same things. The last few days, knowing that his condition had worsened to the point that it was a matter of only a short time before he was gone, I have remembered so many things about our relationship which has spanned nearly eighty years. There were the childhood memories of playing cards or running around on the rocks in the stream bed at the cabin in the woods where we all loved to spend time while in South Carolina. My cousin attended Davidson College, and when I started college at Agnes Scott, only a state apart, he would fix me up with fraternity brothers on dance week-ends and I would bring along one of my college friends for him to date. He came and visited me the year my husband was in Vietnam and told me about the wonderful girl he had met at the University of North Carolina that he hoped to marry, and they did. Shortly after my husband returned home, we went to North Carolina to "check her out," and she was, indeed a special person and so right for my cousin. For a time we were separated by distance and did not get to see one another very often, but he carried on the family tradition of writing regular family letters so I grew to know his children and his best friends through them. And every year we continued to exchange Christmas presents. He particularly liked the gifts of Sweetwater Valley cheese that I started sending in recent years, and I know I will think of him especially when I buy my cheese gifts for others from now on. When I moved to Tennessee fifteen years ago, he was still a Spanish professor at Eastern Kentucky University, just a little over three hours away and we saw each other more often. In fact, it was during that time all of us cousins got together several times at the South Carolina cabin in the woods for "Cousins Week-ends." I especially have fond memories of them. Shortly after retiring he decided to move to Pennsylvania to be nearer his son and his family. I had hoped to one day get up there to visit, but that was not to be. It's hard to explain the special bond I have always felt with him. I know that I miss him already. As recently as this last Sunday when I sent out my most recent family letter, it was sent to him as well. I certainly did not think then that that would be the last time I would do so. I think this is one of the hardest parts of getting old. The people that have meant a lot to you over the years start to leave and you begin to realize that there are fewer and fewer of them around. Their departure leaves holes in your life that cannot be filled by others. I am thankful for my many memories, and that will have to suffice.

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