Blueberries and Cannonballs: a toast to my cousin
It’s fair to say that I don’t handle sadness well. I’m bowled over by it and then once the tears subside for a moment, I want out.
I don’t really want to talk about it, I definitely don’t want to think about it, I just want to get away—somewhere where the world doesn’t feel so scary and so wildly out of my control.
As I boarded the plane this weekend, I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.
But there was no way to be prepared for what met me on the other side.
I wasn’t prepared to see my cousin’s face—young and still charming, his skin a lifeless grey.
I wasn’t prepared for the fact that he’d simultaneously look like he was about to sit up and make a joke, and like everything that made him HIM had left—his body just an empty shell.
I wasn’t prepared to talk about it—to hear exactly what happened on the way back down that mountain—how our family scrounged for mud and moss, coating him with it, trying to cool his overheated body down.
I wasn’t prepared to watch my grandfather—the tallest, toughest man I know—cry.
I wanted to run away, if I’m being completely honest. I wanted to avoid this weekend, cry on my own, and then do my best to focus on happier things. But that wasn’t the way it was going to go, and as we left the funeral and headed to the burial site, I realized that there was no way around this horrific tragedy—only a way through.
That night our family gathered for dinner at a small Italian place in D.C. We were exhausted and tear stained, and still in various stages of shock. But we gathered anyway—resigning ourselves to heaping plates of Italian food, the table dotted with carafes of wine.
And the strange thing is that it actually helped.
I’ve read beautifully woven words about the power of the table—but I don’t know if I ever really experienced it until that night.
I love gathering for meals, I really do, but I hadn’t ever been a part of a gathering that was so desperately needed. I didn’t know what that kind of coming together was capable of.
But over that table, passing bites and anecdotes back and forth, the world began to feel the tiniest bit better. In the warmth of our family—sitting close, our arms bumping as we dug into our plates of pasta—it felt like we really weren’t alone, that fact warming our insides washed down with a twisty bite of fettuccini.
We laughed a little and toasted to Chris—telling stories of how much he loved blueberries and jumping in the lake in New Hampshire. We laughed about him him barreling down the mountain on skis, or a bike, or on foot—realizing, in a quiet moment, that the way he lived was also the way he died—and he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
In his 30 years on earth, Chris LIVED. He did everything full-force, from the way he loved his wife, to the way he dove into his optics research job. He loved his family with gusto—tossing his little cousins into the lake over and over and over again and lighting fires in the fireplace so we could toast marshmallows (even) on a hot summer day.
And so in response to an untimely and tragic death like this, that’s all we can do in response.
We have to live.
We don’t know how long we have on this earth. We don’t know when an innocent hike will turn tragic, or when a “goodbye, see you later,” will turn into much longer than we ever could have known.
And this is enough to make me want to stock up on canned goods and buy a panic room on my credit card.
But that’s not the best response.
The best response is to hug, just a little bit longer. To realize that this time, work can wait—that seeing family is worth the price of that plane ticket. It’s sitting around a warm, candlelit table and trading stories, and it’s about eating just one more bright, juicy blueberry.
It really is, as cliché as it sounds, living each day as if it’s our last. Because it really might be. We don’t know how many we have left, and I don’t want to waste a single one.
And so for you Chris… I’m eating lots and lots of blueberries, and I’m going to jump in the lake first chance I get.
Will you pray with me for my family? – For Chris’s family and his beautiful wife Stephanie as we mourn this loss?