The week that I started 10th grade my cousin passed away.
I still remember the final phone call I had with her.
It was a 3-way call with my grandparents and my cousin, who was 6 years my junior (on the one hand she was like a younger sister to me, sleeping in my room when her family visited, on the other hand I looked up to her because she was wise and perceptive beyond her years).
My grandparents and I were wishing my 8 1/2 year old cousin well on her upcoming trip with her mom to Costa Rica.
Near the end of the conversation, my cousin’s line disconnected a bit prematurely.
I didn’t think much of it then, but in hindsight it began to represent to me how she left us prematurely.
To this day, I am paranoid about someone accidentally dropping a call with me mid-conversation, fearing it may be a harbinger of what is to come.
Raleigh’s trip was to be the vacation of her life. She loved animals and all things that walked and breathed (inanimate objects too!) and in her trip to Costa Rica she was going to get to visit all kinds of exciting wild life.
She was 8 1/2.
Her parents (my uncle and his wife) were recently separated, so it was a mother-daughter trip.
About a week later, I got a call from my uncle. He asked to speak to my mom, but being the friendly and loving niece that I was (and still am) I asked why he was calling. At the time I was working on an electronic birthday card for another cousin on Blue Mountain (nostalgic, right?). His birthday was the day prior, but better late than never.
The call was not a good one.
The conversation that went down is forever etched in my heart and mind.
I let my mother know that my uncle had some news for her about her niece’s welfare.
My mom went down to meet my uncle in Galveston, Texas where my cousin had been medevaced.
Raleigh surpassed all her doctor’s expectations and fought for her life for two weeks.
I don’t want to go into the details of how she passed at this moment. Rather I want to celebrate her life.
Raleigh continued to be my mentor and guiding light, even after her passing. In the tumult of my twenties, I would often ask myself, “What would Raleigh do?”
Whether it was caring for the natural world around her or being kind-hearted to her peers. She was self-assured. She fought for what she believed in. And she inspired others to believe in it too.
I want to say she was an amazing young woman.
But when she passed she was only 8 1/2.
How is that possible?
She exuded so much maturity, so much wisdom, so much spiritual sensitivity.
I remember watching her often taking walks on the curb by our lawn. Just walking in solitude in nature.
To be honest, I thought it was weird.
What did I know, I was just 12 or so at the time.
And it would be 12 more years till I would feel the healing power of simply being present in nature.
Yesterday I co-sponsored a Nature Center event at my daughter’s preschool.
This morning my friend texted me to thank me.
I told her about my cousin Raleigh and what an inspiration she was and is to me.
I broke down into tears.
When tragedy and/or trauma occurs we barely have the wherewithal to process it in the moment.
The first stage is survivial.
It’s been 20 years now.
The tears will never stop.
But neither will the inspiration.