At my women’s circle last night, we celebrated the Equinox, lamented the passing of one of our member’s close friends, and spoke at length about the letting go and death that seems to be part and parcel of this time of year.
When I arrived home hours later, my husband Craig greeted me with a silent hug and told me my aunt had called to tell us that Laura, my beautiful 42-year-old cousin, had passed away suddenly.
I can’t say that Laura’s death itself comes as a shock. About 13 years ago, she was exposed to aspergillus mold spores, and developed a chronic lung condition that had landed her in the hospital, and at death’s doorstep, on more than one occasion. Each battle left her lungs more scarred and less resilient. A reaction to medicine 10 years ago left her with reduced kidney function and near-total loss in hearing. She’d been in the hospital the past few weeks but seemed to be rebounding. Last night around 9 p.m., her body said “enough.”
Laura’s physical life from age 30 on was an odyssey of periodic pain and fear. She fared much better in other realms, with a wonderful husband, loving mom and sister, and a circle of devoted friends. Her husband Jonathan wrote this morning, “Laura and I had no illusions that her ongoing bronchiectasis would kill her sooner or later but we never imagined how hard or how fast the end would come. In the end every moment I could spend with her was precious. We were together for 25 years, married for 15, and I was proud and grateful to have such a loving and caring companion who never once faltered in her love for me.”
Laura’s mom is my mom’s younger sister and to this day, my favorite aunt, though I did not meet this branch of the family till I was 10. I’d spent my younger years in New Jersey; she spent hers in the San Fernando Valley. My mom and my aunt were separated when they were younger, and let’s just say it’s never been an easy relationship. There’s a certain emotional distance in our family but despite that, I got on like a house on fire with Laura and her whole family.
I recall spending a week with them soon after meeting. It was summer, and like most Valley kids, Laura and her sister Erin went to crafts camps, rode their bikes and played at the pool. We connected instantly, and under Laura’s tutelage, I learned more about reproductive functions than I’d ever known up to that point (her mom believed in full disclosure; mine remained mute on the subject).
Later, when they moved to a cottage in Santa Monica near the border of Venice, I’d visit and we’d head to the beach together. Laura enjoyed a level of trust with her mom and a subsequent freedom that I did not, and these visits were always very illuminating. Those were the years of the New Romantic Laura, she of the flamboyant clothes, spiky hair and multi-hued eyeshadow.
A few years later, I was at UC Davis while she was at UC Santa Barbara. She and Jonathan continued to be together, while I plowed through a series of regrettable relationships. She’d listen and laugh, but she loved my stories of journalistic exploration and was amused by my hippie lifestyle. This was the age of Laura the Goth. The hair was ever-wilder, the makeup, darker.
Flash forward to our weddings, mine in 1994 and hers in 1995, to Jonathan, the ever-stalwart and sweet man in her life. In Portland for their wedding, their minister failed to show up. Recalling that Craig and I had performed weddings before (we’re fully certified, Church of Universal Life ministers, got our licenses right out of the back of Rolling Stone), she asked us to step in and marry them. We did, and Laura and I shared some good laughs over that through the years.
They eventually bought a beautiful old home in Portland, near her mom and an ever-widening circle of friends. When she became ill, she stopped working for a long time, then worked part time as she was able. In recent years, she started an online crafting business. Jon has a great job, traveled often, and was able to be there when she needed him most. He took really good care of her.
Our conversations in recent years were too infrequent, and I last saw her in 2007 when we visited Portland. Unable to have kids of her own, she loved mine and was very sweet to them. She’d gotten into beading and knitting, and we connected in the realm of crafty in a big way.
Though I am not shocked that her body finally gave out, I find myself reeling with sadness and regret for all that wasn’t—for the half a lifetime she and Jonathan were robbed of, for the family who’s lost a daughter, sister, cousin, for the ways in which I could have been a better friend to her, but wasn’t.
I’ll remember Laura always as laughing, snarky, funny and bold, unafraid to tell you exactly what she thought. Rest in peace, my cousin. I’ll miss you.
Sept. 22, 2010