Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Other Side of the Moon (In Memory of Jerry Newhouse)

I have said before, I come from a large extended family with many cousins, second cousins and so on. As a family, we are close when we are in the same space, but when we pack up and leave that space, we go back to our separate lives. Don't get me wrong, we care about each other and through social media, we keep in touch but through distance and years, the opportunities to share space only come along sporadically. This has always been the way we have done it, as all of us are scattered all over the country, but with time and age, I am starting to realize what we all might be missing.

Yesterday I got a text from the daughter of one of my first cousins. It let me know that my cousin Jerry Newhouse, had just passed away. My heart sank as it felt as if someone had just squarely punched me in the gut and taken all my air away. His death was not unexpected as he had been battling cancer off and on for several years. In the past weeks he had grown weaker and his cancer had grown stronger making the prognosis inevitable. Still though, we hoped. We prayed that there would be a turn around....that final Hail Mary play. It didn't come.

I spent the rest of yesterday thinking about my cousin and how he had touched my life. This was something I had been doing a lot of lately.

Growing up, us first cousins saw each other seldom. Since Oklahoma was home base for all our get-togethers and reunions, those were about the only times we got together. There was always the initial awkward, getting reacquainted time and then within minutes, we were all best buddies....playing in the yard, taking walks on the road or just hanging out by the barn. We bonded, we hung out and then we said good bye until the next time. Some of the kids would visit each others homes during the summer and some of us became avid pen pals, but sadly.....that was the extent of our closeness growing up.

In the late 1970's, my grandfather became ill and was hospitalized. It was touch and go for awhile and my mom decided to pack my brother and I up and go to Oklahoma City where my grandfather was hospitalized. We ended up staying with my aunt and uncle and their three boys in the city. I remember feeling a bit out of my element at first with all these boys. Their youngest son was younger than me and the other two boys were older. The house was filled with "boy" stuff and I had no idea what I was going to do. Immediately though, my cousin Jerry who was about nine years older than me made me feel at home. He gave me free reign over the family record player and introduced me to the group ABBA. With nothing else to do, I played that record a million times over. He and the other boys teased me constantly in a good natured way and in the evenings they sat around and taught me how to play a multitude of card games. What could have been an excruciatingly uncomfortable time for all of us, turned out to be a lot of fun. As Grandpa became stable enough for us to go home, I felt really sad to be leaving these cousins behind. Knowing this, Jerry came up to me as I walked out the door and said, "We have decided to make you our honorary sister." I can't begin to tell you how special that made me feel.

After that, I saw Jerry and the boys from time to time at the occasional reunion and family funerals. Then about 1992, I decided to head to Oklahoma for a few days. Life was closing in and I was confused about many things and I simply needed a change of pace. I stayed in my Grandpa's old house on the farm with my aunt. There was something about that farm that just made me feel at peace. Although I had never lived or grown up there, it felt like home.

At the time Jerry was the judge in the little town of Hinton and on hearing that I was at the farm, he came out for dinner after court. We laughed and talked around the table until Aunt Margaret shooed us outside so she could clean up. I remember us sitting on the picnic table in the yard and him asking me point blank what was going on. I had not said anything about anything being wrong and I was caught off guard by his directness. It caught me by such surprise that the words just came flying out. I sat there and told him what I was going through, what I was feeling and my inability to get my life figured out. I felt about ten years old as I fought back the tears all the while wondering what he must be thinking of me. Then as direct as before, he said to me, "Okay, you know what the problem is, now how are you going to fix it?"  He was direct, but there was no judgement and no disrespect.

The question silenced me. All the words stopped. Then he put his arm around my shoulder and said, "As your honorary big brother, I say you have the answers to your questions. I have every faith that you know exactly what to do and where to go from here. You just have to believe in you." Those words were the first time I really felt like someone saw me as an adult and had faith in my ability to act as an adult. He didn't try to give me answers. He knew that deep down, I already had them. I didn't figure out all the answers that night, but his words definitely gave me the confidence to put myself on the right track.

He then talked a little about what was going on in his life. Like all of us he had hit rough patches and yet he was weathering the storms well. Then out of the blue he said, "See the moon?" It was an amazing moon that night. It was full and it illuminated the dark country sky. Looking up at it, he continued, "Do you ever wonder what is on the other side of that moon?" Honestly, I had never thought about it. He continued, "It is beautiful. How can we have any real problems when we get to look at something like that?" We sat there for awhile just looking up and then he said, "Someday I will know what is on the other side and if it as pretty as it is here tonight." Those words stuck with me and seldom have I seen a full moon that I haven't thought of Jerry saying that.

After that night, we did keep in touch by phone on occasion and email from time to time. When his mom (my aunt died), I went to her funeral and visited his dad once when he was sick. When Tim died, I spoke at his funeral. I remember looking into the faces of those who were there to honor my husband and there sat Jerry. It touched my heart.

In the last few years, we have communicated some by email but most of our communication has been through his daughter as she did social media and he did not. I kept up on his health through her and he kept up on my life through my blogs.

His health began to start declining about two years ago. Then his daughter became engaged and it became his mission to walk her down the aisle. That beautiful day came for both of them and he got to give his baby girl to a man who he knew would love her and take care of her. It was a day that I know gave Jerry both great joy and great peace.

Since that day, the cancer in him progressed. For awhile he tried to aggressively fight it with surgery and chemo. The doctors then told him that best case scenario he had just a few years. From that point it quickly went to months, then weeks and then days. In the last few weeks as he was released from the hospital and able to go home under hospice care, he and I texted. I sent him pictures and he would reply when he was up to it. We knew it was coming. I was bracing myself and yet all the while, trying to get comfortable in denial, but the reality won out.

Today I read his obituary and I realized that there was so much I didn't know about this man. He was a lawyer, a judge a VISTA with Americorps and a social worker. These last few years he had been helping those in need. I couldn't help but think as I read it, that he had been helping those in need most of his life. As his last contribution to this world, he was leaving his body to science for cancer research. That made me cry.

So this cousin who had such an effect on my life not once, but several times over the gone. I wonder if he knew how he had helped me and what being his honorary sister meant to me? I don't think I ever told him. I truly regret that.

Now, tonight as I look up at the moon, I am listening to ABBA and thinking of you. I am smiling through tears, because I know, now you know......what it looks like....... on the other side of the moon.

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