Today was All Saint’s Day, a day of remembrance of those who are gone from our lives. My thoughts were largely of my cousin who died on the night of his graduation from secondary school. My cousin Robbie, just a couple of years younger than myself; full of promise died of a severe asthma attack, the result of sulfates in a glass of red wine (highly allergic). He had always been so careful to avoid wines but didn’t know that the glass he drank from contained wine that contained sulfates. He became ill and collapsed in the bathroom of his hotel room. By the time he was found, he was dead.
Robbie had struggled with many challenges, not the least of which was his extremely high intelligence. He had been the only son, that had survived infancy, of my uncle. He was his father’s son, prized above all and had struggled with much of the non-acceptance his very keen intelligence had brought him in life. He learned to channel his smarts into comedy. He always had a turn of phrase or a way of seeing the world that would leave me laughing uncontrollably. Our verbal sparring were some of my happiest memories. We also shared a love of the precision of mathematics, college football and chess.
I had elected not to attend his graduation from prep school because I was busy with my own final exams at university. I had told him that we would get together when he arrived at the farm one week later, promising to raise a Pimms Cup to celebrate his graduation. I still remember his infectious laugh and him saying that we would drive my convertible sports car as soon as I was home. His last words to me were “Sursum Corda”, which is Latin for “Lift Up your Hearts” ; we laughed together as I promised a beach trip adventure. He had been accepted at Georgia Tech for premed/engineering.
The next call I received was the chaplain telling me that he was dead. My heart stopped but I immediately made plans to travel to the farm (85-mile drive) from my university as my last final was done. I don’t remember any of the drive other than I wept uncontrollably the entire distance. My uncle, my aunt and my other cousin were in shock when they arrived the next day. My next role was there to help with the arrangements of getting his body home (he was a medical examiners case). I made all of the arrangements as my uncle and aunt could not.
I spoke with the medical examiner, as my aunt and uncle, both physicians could not. I worked with the local funeral home to bring Robbie home. I met his body at the local international airport with the funeral director. I wrote his obituary for the newspaper, holding back the tears because this was the last thing that I could do for someone I loved like a little brother. Today, I remember his wit, his very dry sense of humor and our adventures together.
Today on All Saint’s Day, I honored my Robbie, my Gene along with my aunt, uncle, father and another person whose spirit has moved mountains and will continue to do so. I lift my heart very high for those who have left us physically but remain in our hearts forever.