It’s so wild. Wild that almost a year has gone by since I wrote this post about my cousin Daniel’s death. I didn’t know him, but my mother and his were best friends when they were my age. My other cousins on my mother’s side knew him much more than I did.
A week after his death was my junior prom. I remember riding with my mother in the car to the hair place, heartsick to know what grief was doing to members of his (and my) family. I know I felt stupid because I was upset: after all, I’d barely known of him, let alone knew him personally. I was just aware of the situation. A nineteen year old junior in college fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck. I could only imagine the sheer injustice of it, the pain his mother must have been experiencing. And his siblings. His father. Oh God.
But I felt like an idiot because it didn’t seem like my grief to bear. For someone who’d so rarely come into contact with death, I was confused and wondered if maybe grief should be rightfully expressed by those whose lives Daniel had changed, and not by me. I guess I thought that maybe the family or friends would be angry to see a stranger, barely related, mourning someone so dear to them. I don’t know. Like I said, I was confused. The confusion did nothing to lessen the echo of pain I felt for them.
When I tried to express this convoluted jumble of emotion and thought, my mother reasoned it out for me. She told me that it wasn’t an insult to grieve over a stranger. She also pointed out, “Sometimes someone’s death can change a lot of lives.”
I guess I’m a living tribute to that statement. Here I’d never known Daniel, probably spoken to him once, maybe twice, but I’ve blogged about him, wondered about him, and drawn courage from his story more times that I can count.
According to his family, his friends, and complete strangers, he was a gent who lived out his life to the fullest. He was going to graduate a year early, a history major at Brockport. He was kind, funny, and genuinely liked people (more than can be said for most of humanity). He smoked Newports and wore a red bandana all the time.
He lived his life without fear and with a laugh. The final quote on his facebook wall is the one I have posted in the left sidebar (by Anberlin): “Life for today, we’ll dream tomorrow; we’ve got big plans in sight.”
He changed my life. It’s because of his life, and the way he lived it, that I make an effort, every day, to live for the moment, to plan, dream, and take every breath like it’s both gift and blessing. It doesn’t matter that I never knew him; if in some unknown, nebulous afterlife I encounter him, he’ll be one of the first I thank.