Dear Jen,

I found a picture the other day
where we couldn’t have been older than five or six. Smiles and laughter poured from the faces of three kid cousins.

[This is part of my 52 Letters in 52 Weeks series (read the previous letters).]

Part of me wishes I could have warned those girls about things to come.

Three cousinsPart of me wishes I could have said:

Hold tighter. You will need one another someday.

But time and distance create chasms that are hard for little kids to cross.

And we had no idea then the grief that would enter our lives.

Marriages, families, lives – they were all as they should have been back then and we were naive enough to think it would always be that way. Life was predictable. Comfortable.

Back then, Grandpa told stories of war, offered knuckle sandwiches, and drank coffee in the booth of a small town general store. He carried in buckets of grapes from a vineyard on the hill, then took us for rides on the lawn mower as dusk settled in.

Cousin Jen was cute even when she was littleThe next morning, Grandma served steaming plates of eggs and bacon with a side of sass at Grandpa’s predictable punchlines.

We had loving mothers and fathers and a brother and a sister.

We were young enough to feel invincible, but old enough to notice when it slipped through our fingers. Aware enough to feel the crash into mortality.

There is so much I wish I could have said at times. So much that I realize, now as an adult, that I should have done.

Time, by itself, would have changed us. Just growing up would have colored our memories.

But our lives were forever changed by circumstances beyond our control.

And we grew up. And grew apart.

Adults. Cousins.It would be more than twenty years before we’d sit and laugh again. But not the carefree laughter of youth anymore.

But we’d become stronger and wiser. Strong enough that we could stand alone, but hopefully wise enough to know we don’t have to.

And so here we are.

Adults. Cousins.

Our lives have criss-crossed now in and out of your state and mine, in the world of clinical trials that you know as a job and that I know as a life. We’re both intimately familiar with heartbreak, renewal, adventure, and laughter. A world where my boys love you and miss you and always ask when you’re coming back.

Case loves JenThe great cousin Jen knows how to play Nerf wars and can appreciate cracking a chocolate piñata with the best of them. And she’s kind, and funny, and firm enough for three raucous boys.

You are among the few I trust with my writer rounds. And even when I’m terrible, I know you won’t leave me without applause.

But in the end, I trust you, because you’re honest enough to give truth, smart enough to give advice, and cheeky enough to give me a hard time.

You deserve to be surrounded by people who love you and support you and if you’ll let us, we’ll be part of that group ’til the end of our days.

Whenever you want to leave the beach, we’re always here,

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Last modified: May 10, 2017

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