His cousin's name was Duane and he was the sweetest soul. He and his sister often made me wonder whether my daughter's sunny and optimistic nature might be genetic, a strain running through some of my husband's extended family. My family tends to be more like me and my son: Quick to engage in verbal jousts, anxious underneath the functional exterior, always thinking several steps ahead instead of enjoying the what is-ness of the moment. Duane made my husband's stature, by no means small, look normal-sized. It turned out his young heart was working overtime, it was enlarged, something we only learned when it seized in a massive heart attack last Friday morning while he was on his way to a work meeting. He collapsed and died on the spot.
That night, my husband kept remembering his little cousin at four or five, visiting the family in Antigua. My husband was already a teen then. He remembers being struck by Duane's hero worship of his dad, by the way he insisted with earnest seriousness that his daddy was stronger than Spider Man. What about Superman? his older cousins teased. Yes, his daddy could beat Superman, too. "He sure loved his daddy," my husband said. "I remember thinking that I hope when I have a son, he'll think half as well of me."
Duane and his dad were cohorts to the end. They used to take golfing vacations together, and even worked together after Duane retired from pro football. Now, he's gone, and I cannot even imagine how his parents must feel. Or his sister, who had just touched down in Paris to be a bridesmaid at a friend's wedding, who had to turn around immediately and catch a flight home. There were more than 600 people at the funeral this morning, my husband texted me. And the teens on the football and the basketball teams Duane coached stood along the aisles in full uniform. Across an ocean, the rest of his family, the ones who could not travel to be there, held a simultaneous memorial service in St. John's, Antigua.
Last weekend, as my husband made arrangements to travel to be with his relatives who were gathering in Toronto, he was moved by how gratified his family members were at the news that he would join them. He had forgotten, I think, how much he matters to them, the big cousin, the firstborn nephew, the deeply loving family man. It was good for him to remember. And Duane might have given him yet another parting gift. Perhaps he whispered to him as he passed out of this world, because my husband did go to see a doctor this week. In the midst of sadness, I exhaled.