19 years ago my cousin was killed in a car accident.
She was only 16. She has been gone longer than she was here for.
While some might think that this post should be saved for the 20th anniversary, let me explain the significance of marking the 19th.
You see, my sisters 21st birthday was marred by the coma Samantha Jane was in while we waited for further news – which we received the day after – the machines had been switched off and our young cousin had passed away. As we approach my sisters 40th birthday, I can’t help but remember Sam. Not that I don’t remember her often, talk about her, and bring her into topics as much as I can, but this time of year (and especially this year), it seems heightened. The memory of her.
She was a wild one – an artist, an adventurer. She was creative and whimsical, confident and fashionable. She was only 16. And it had been 6 months since I had last seen her when we received that phone call. We were due for a family get together the following weekend. We were just waiting for her to get back from camp.
And then just like that. She was gone.
While I can’t begin to go into what her death did to her parents (she was an only child) or how hard it was for me personally, just a 15 year old, to really come to terms with her death – it does make me think about when people leave. For good. Or for sort of good.
I know that absence makes the memory kinder. As time goes past we always look back favourably on someone who has left. Somehow the fights become insignificant. The differences, the arguments, the stubbornness – it all fades away and all that you recall are happy, laughing, champagne drinking times (I got drunk for the first time with Sam as only a 13 year old and a 14 year old could – at Christmas. At the kids table). The memory of someone is a haze of happiness. But even that haze fades. (In my memory, we were best friends, although I know we actually weren’t). You go from thinking of them often (daily) to then sometimes months without giving them any thought.
A friend of mine lost her dad in April 2003. I only recall the date because it was the day of my graduation and I called her for advice on what to wear – to which she responded that her dad had passed away. Shit I felt awful. I miss her dad. He was amazing. I know she misses him too. I can’t even begin to imagine how much. We talk about him every April.
Memories of people, like the haze, fades. They fade if we don’t relive them. They fade if there’s nothing to remind us. I remember Sam like she is lying on the bed next to me right now reading over my shoulder. But of course – I don’t really remember her at all. Its been 19 years. I can’t hear her voice, and I can’t see her. I have a photo of her. And I have that photo ingrained in my mind, and that is how I see her when I think of her. In a non-moving picture that was about a year before she passed away.
No one in my life today knows Sam. Mark knows our stories. My old friends may recall her. But they don’t really remember her like I do. My sisters ofcourse remember her, but they weren’t our age. They were older – and we were the kid cousins. My memory of her has become a happy haze, but one that is fading.
I want to talk about Sam to people. I want to talk about Ashley (my friend’s dad) to her. I want to talk about every single person that has left. Even the ones that haven’t passed away, and that perhaps I just don’t see anymore. I want to talk about people that have been in my life. I want my memories of them to be able to live on. I want to be able to reminisce about them. About times with them. I want to not let the haze fade. I don’t want to forget them.
When you say goodbye to someone, you never expect it to be forever. Even if it is in theory (like you’re leaving a job, a school, a country) – you always expect there to be another time you’ll see them. Except when they’re gone for good and you actually have no one that remembers them with you. They’ll slowly fade from your memory too.
So forgive me while I reminisce about Sam, about the importance of her 16 years on earth and her cherry doc martens that I loved to borrow. About Ashley, the niknaks and steri-stumpie on a Friday night dad who looked a lot like Jesus, and about all the very special people that have come, gone, come back, or are gone for good. Its that time of year, and this is what I do. I need to make time to remember, so that it all doesn’t fade.