Today, I’m going to tell a story that’s true.

My one and only cousin on my mother’s side, Jessica Stagner-Bridger, has been someone I’d drawn closer to in recent years. It would be fair to say Jess and I did not have a great deal of overlap in our mutual interests, but my affection for her was profound given that she was vivacious and funny and always loved me even if I was distant or prickly or too self-involved for my own good sometimes.

I do not want my cousin’s death to be treated like a cheap reveal for dramatic effect. I’m not going to use it as the dramatic equivalent of a punchline. So, there. She is dead. And that, in part, is why I haven’t lately updated.

This was not an expected passing to say the least. She was only a handful of years older than me and though I feel old as dirt some days, as the years are counted I’m really just not all that old yet.

She just took a bad fall and we lost her. This was a woman who’d survived addiction and rehab and pushed herself so hard to become what she wanted to be, what she always was, truly. She’d striven to get her nurse’s license, she’d gotten married, she and her husband had moved out to the country. This is where “…and they all lived happily ever after.” Is supposed to be written!

To this very second, it seems absurd to me that a fall could take her from us. After all the work she’d done to build up the kind of life any one of us would be proud of, it is monstrously, unspeakably unfair that the decades of prosperous, joyous years she well and should have had ahead of her are now gone. I’m not just lying in bed crying the hottest, angriest tears I’ve ever cried these days. But I’d be lying to you if I tried to say my resentment toward fate and the universe for this has fully abated. My answer to grief is almost always angry and I am very, very angry about this.

But it’s not going to bring her back and she would never want me to live in resentment toward everything, not even for her.

Which is why at the service, I did not speak on any of that. Instead, I told them stories about her, about how when we were kids, she’d taken me out to my first sushi restaurant and tried to convince me that the wasabi was guacamole, that I should eat the whole pad of it they’d given us if I didn’t believe her. She almost got me with that one. Or the time she’d run up to me excitedly at Christmas and shown me a big brick-like object and told me it was called a Gameboy. It was like showing fire to a caveman. Little me had no idea you could just carry around Nintendo like that! What witchcraft is this?!

Or the time at our Grandfather’s funeral, I had proclaimed that I did not feel worthy of his legacy. That I would have to somehow find the strength and love that he’d brought to all of us and carry it forward with the other grandchildren. And I’d locked eyes with Jess in the audience, tears streaming down her face, and she’d nodded to me. It was like a silent promise between us. We would carry this together and we’d make sure Grandpa loving us into our current moment would not be for nothing.

I begged the people at Jessica’s own funeral to carry her love and her strength forward the same way. Because it can’t just die with us. And I could never do enough good to make up the karmic debt we owe all on my own. Not if I dedicated the whole of the rest of my life to saintly acts and I surely will not be doing that.

Her life mattered to so many people. The church we held the service in was full and everyone was thankful to have known her, to have been her friend, to have loved her.

There will be more happy posts in the coming days, but today I’ll just close by saying I love you, Jess. I’ll miss you. And I promise you that the strength and love we swore to carry forward will endure.

For both of em’ now. We’ll do it for both.

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