My Cousin Dying
He dulled the bruises of being, his steely weapon laughter that undermined the drudges of dying. But he couldn’t mock my tears at seeing a future without him.
Desperate to salvage him I told my cousin Lewis I’d be taping him and keeping the relics in a box atop my dresser.
He shook his head and chuckled. “Where’d you get that idea?”
I crossed the room he called his Cave and sat on the window seat beside him. Like usual he averted his eyes from my intrusive stares. Lewis was wasting away, the sunken eyes and bony cheeks a remnant of what once was becoming.
“I read it somewhere.” I forced an offhanded response. “We’re doing this, okay.”
We sat in silence for a while and I scanned Lewis’s room which was as familiar as my own. Helicopters and planes dangled from the ceiling, maps decorated the walls, and a huge bookcase filled with aviator and bug books lined the wall opposite the dresser.
“Alright,” his voice was dim and his eyes distant. “But no video.”
I nodded and followed his gaze out the window and toward a bunch of kids playing in the street. They epitomized life, and Lewis scoffed at the irony. It wasn’t just the pits he said with some amusement, it was the cockpits, a phrase he’d proudly coined from aviation school.
“We begin tomorrow.” I grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze before leaving him to stave off the pity he had a right to feel and the loneliness only he was privy to.
The next day I labored through eight hours of social work before heading to Lewis’s house. He’d stopped working months before due to illness and was now receiving social security.
“How you feeling?” My heart sunk as soon as I spotted him in bed, something he rarely did unless he was feeling especially weak.
“I brought you some soup,” I told him while pulling a chair beside his bed. “Sit up.”
He followed my order and took a few bites then set the food aside. “Let’s have it. What do you want to ask me?”
I stood and hovered about the window to collect my thoughts. I’d prepared a few questions but hadn’t prepped myself for this moment I knew would change my life. I took a deep breath and turned on the tape recorder.
“What do you say when you pray to God?”
A smile curled his lips. “I tell Him this isn’t so funny. But I’ll laugh anyway ’cause He knows what He’s doing.”
I smiled with him until he groaned with pain as he rolled to his side. I rushed over to help him.
“Next question,” he said viewing me with sisterly affection. “I promise not to die on you.”
I sat and swallowed a sob. “How do you want people to remember you?”
He thought about that for a minute. “I want people to be glad they knew me and to smile whenever they think about me.”
“When you knew about…you know…did you ever ask the Lord ‘why me?’”
“You can say it, Josie. When I knew I was dying I did ask Him why. And you know, He answered me. He said, ‘why not you.’ And I never asked again.”
I watched Lewis in awe and dared not interrupt.
“See Josie, we make the mistake of thinking God owes us something. He doesn’t. It’s all about grace.”
Lewis closed his eyes. “Next question.”
I cleared my throat. “What great lesson have you learned since you knew…you were dying?”
His eyes popped open and he looked past me to something beyond my scope of understanding. “I learned that the lessons are in living, not dying. God gives you life to learn what He wants you to learn. When you die, you stop learning. So the lesson is to live and learn as much as you can and ask God when you get lost and He’ll tell you.”
I shook my head in amazement. “Lewis, you’re a wise old man at 32.”
“I’ll be a dead man at 33.”
“Sorry.” He reached for my hand. “That wasn’t funny.”
Tears streamed down my face. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he said. “Next time bring harder questions.”
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