By A.J. Llewellyn
There has never in my life been anyone like my cousin Michael. Twenty five years ago today, God took him after a long and very painful battle with cancer. He was nineteen years old. I called his mum, my Thea (Auntie) Annie. She was surprised I remembered since she is in Australia and I am here in California, but her daughter Soph, who is also my cousin, is my godmother and we are very close.
She told me she’d just come back from taking him his favorite flowers to the cemetery. He loved white daisies and corn flowers. She told me she also took flowers to my mother’s grave, one section over.
“I took her violets, because she loved violets.”
It was my Thea Annie who took my mother yogurt when she was dying in the old War Memorial Hospital in Sydney. She talked to Thea Annie of her fears about leaving me and my brothers without a mother.
In the next breath, she would rally and say the yogurt would help her grow strong. She could never eat more than a couple of spoonfuls…
Thea Annie was the only adult in my life who ever talked to me about my mother, who remembered tiny nuggets my father has long forgotten. She loved her too. As I loved my cousin Michael.
I still call Thea Annie for birthdays and Christmas – I vow now to call her more – but I said, “I want to tell you what I remember about Michael, because I still miss him so much.”
“Go on,” she said and I could hear her voice rising a little.
“I can honestly say have never met and will never meet anyone with such a capacity for love. He loved everybody, didn’t he? Whether we were at a party or at a bus stop, Michael talked to everybody.”
“That’s exactly right,” she told me. “Wow…I can’t believe I am having this conversation with you. My daughters just left and I fed my cat and I just sat here feeling so…sad. I felt…I felt I couldn’t call anyone and talk about Michael because they’ll all think I am crazy.”
She is not crazy. Michael was the most loving person…a light being…an Indigo child before such things were fashionable. He had the ability to make people happy. He had time for everybody.
When I see his face - even when he was very ill, his face swollen from chemo - Michael is always laughing.
I have old family snapshots and he is smiling, the center of everything, without trying to be.
“When I was seven,” I said, “You and Michael were there for me when my mum died. He used to come to my school to walk home with me and my brothers. He used to talk to us. He used to come home with us because dad was working. I remember the first time he had a date, Alex [my brother] and I ran to your house and we hid in the back of Uncle Pete’s Holden—“
She cackled then. “I remember that!”
“And he picked up his date and we were hiding on the floor and he heard us giggling. He could have gotten mad but he laughed.
“He took us to the drive in with them. He bought us Fantales [an Australian candy] and sodas.” I paused. “How is Cathy?”
“I still talk to her. You know she never married? She never found anyone…too picky. And I would love to see her settled down.”
“He would have an impossible act to follow,” I said, not really surprised that Cathy never found somebody else to love. Her grief at the one-year ceremony, a beautiful custom in the Greek Orthodox Church, was still raw.
Thea Annie described Michael as a bud, who never got to bloom. In some ways this is true. He had a passion for medicine and wanted to be a pediatrician but colon cancer claimed him, the same way it claimed my mother. There were no cures at that time and his journey was as excruciating as hers.
To me, Michael was a flower that bloomed all right…he was a rare bakawali, a flower that blooms only once in its lifetime in the middle of the night. Talking about him, writing about him, remembering his dignity and uncommon grace keeps him in bloom every day. Not just this day, the anniversary of the day we had to say goodbye.