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Another Good Bye

My cousin died today.

She's my first cousin, once removed. I have a small, immediate family, so that removal doesn't count so much. I only have one first cousin myself, so my parents' first cousins - both of whom have at least a handful, are close enough, even though she's the same age as my father.

I held the chuppah at her wedding. It was at JFK airport, she and the man she married jetted off right after the ceremony for their honeymoon. The only beverage they had at the event was champagne. How we all got home safely from that event was by the grace of God, and I remember my grandmother and my cousin's mother insisting that my grandfather take us to Coney Island for Nathan's hot dogs afterward.

Her bachelorette party was a coming of age for me of sorts. I had never been in a room with a stripper. But there's always a first time. And my first time included having my mother, my great aunt, and my grandmother in the room. I remember the feeling of seeing these women, exalted for all these years as beacons of appropriate behavior in social settings, suddenly being actual human beings with a range of reactions and emotions I had never seen.

She didn't have any children. I don't know what the circumstances were earlier in her life, because I was so young then, but then by the time she married the man I know as her husband, that ship had sailed.

She was the closest thing my father had to a sibling and they grew up together, along with the sons of their mothers' other sister. So in a way, she served as an auxiliary aunt to me, as her mother, whom I always referred to as "Aunt" was really my great-aunt.

She, like me, and my own father, was an only child as well. My cousin was more like her father in stature, he had a large, forboding presence, with a dry sense of humor I only learned to appreciate too late in life - he scared me so much as a child, but I wish I could go back to meet him now. He was a teacher - the kind that could and would scare his students just for fun. Her mother was always so glamorous - always put together so perfectly - so physically different from her - petite, stereotypically feminine. There was always a tension between my cousin and her mother - they weren't the warmest of duos. But my cousin followed in her mother's footsteps with her outward choices - always dressed so beautifully with such elegance. She took care of herself and treated herself well. I don't recall ever seeing her even in a pair of jeans, much less a t-shirt or similar, she was always coiffed and matched - a nod to her mother, even after her mother's passing.

For my entire life I knew her, and I now I feel like I know nothing.

I know she was a keyboarding teacher (typing, not the instrument) until she retired. She taught water aerobics in her retirement. She traveled often with her husband to far off places because they could, though she never seemed to excited about it, but she kept doing it, so she must have loved it in her own way.

She had a very particular drawl - heavily New York, but with a unique spin that echoed her mother's. Her speech patterns were so distinctive - filled with pregnant pauses and lilts and tone changes I've never heard on anyone else other than her mother. I can replicate it, but I can't keep it up.

I've heard she had a temper, but I never saw it. She had a slow boil kind of countenance about her, always taking a beat before letting out a laugh. She had a heavy lidded look - sometimes I'd wonder if she was falling asleep, but she wasn't.

When she was available she would participate in family activities, inserting her dry sense of humor, inherited from her father, at functions - and you could always count on a legendary eye roll of some sort - at least once. Weddings. Funerals. Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Holiday gatherings. She always sent a card for birthdays and holidays.

She drove fancy cars and had an elegant apartment that I never got to see with stellar ocean views. She loved her husband very much. I don't think she was one for pets. She always bought Girl Scout cookies from my daughter - her first cousin twice removed.

As disjointed as this seems, it reflects the relationship I had with her. She is as much a part of my life as anyone ever has been - from before my memories were even my own as I've seen movies of her from various family events that were captured my grandfather's handy home movie camera - weddings, bar mitzvahs - someone would always point her out - dancing in the latest of style at the time - or at the kids table with her peers - black and white memories for me that my mind would color in. But I feel like I never really knew HER. Or maybe I did.

And now she's gone. She had been having some difficulties over the past 6 months, and she was getting the best of care. But something gave in or gave up. She passed away, peacefully I'm told in the morning. During her last night here in our realm, she shared a pastrami sandwich with a friend.

I'll miss you, Ellen. I love you and hope you knew that. Send my best to your mom and dad, and if you see my husband...give him a hug for me.

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