you are informed that your second cousin has unexpectedly passed away.
Well, naturally, you attend the funeral...right?
Let me give you more information:
This second cousin is on my biological mother's side.
My bio mom and her cousin would party...hard...together.
I have many vivid memories of time spent with *Richie, my second cousin.
Being awakened in the wee hours of the morning...our moms having the "munchies".
Heading out to a 24 hour restaurant...wondering why we were the only ones there.
Not feeling hungry, but enjoying the adventure.
Richie was about 4 years older than I...he was fun and funny.
I have a handful of memories that include Richie's sister.
She was a bit younger than me.
She had special needs...I remember being mortified that she wore diapers at the age of 10.
When I looked back on those memories as an adult, I thought she had CP.
I felt like she couldn't walk or talk.
I was aware that she wasn't always around because...her home was an institution.
Another strange concept for this little girl to wrap her brain around.
That was my perceived truth...here is the actual truth.
*Anne was born with Down Syndrome.
She was born 32 years ago...at a time when babies with DS were institutionalized.
She never spoke intelligibly, never toilet trained, and lived her entire life in a State Hospital.
Developmentally she was frozen in time...she was forever 3 years old.
Her older brother, Richie, visited her every week.
Their mother passed away several years ago.
Their father has not been in the picture since they were children.
Here is my question:
Who attends her funeral?
My heart broke.
For him, for her, for the extended family...never knowing her.
So many missed opportunities...unreached potential.
Inconceivable...the difference 30 years makes in our perception of "disabilities".
I attended the funeral of the family member that I never had the opportunity to know.
I...along with approximately 10 others...paid my respects to Anne and Richie.
She rested in her casket...trimmed in pink.
Just a handful of flower clusters around her...with ribbons reading "Princess".
Inside, tucked under her small hand...her baby doll.
Very obviously loved dearly by her...tattered clothes and matted hair.
She wore a pink shirt, complete with sparkles.
Somehow it all looked so "right" and appropriate.
What broke me most was...the subtle sound of sobs coming from the front row.
The amazing women, who had loved and cared for her.
Her "family" from the Home.
There were approximately 7 of them. *yes, the majority of attendees*
Hugging and loving on each other.
Gently leaning in and kissing her cheek.
Making sure everything in the casket was...just so.
Again, I am changed.
Moments I pray that I never forget.
Life is so fragile...short.
No regrets...physicians don't always know best.
Advocate, encourage, inspire.
*the names have been changed...just because.