Today has been a day of waterfalls. This morning I took Justin and the two grandkids to Bozenkill Falls at Christman Sanctuary in Duanesburg. We had a wonderful time hiking and finding so many natural treasures: a variety of fungi, toads,grasshoppers, dragonflies, acorns, jewelweed and crayfish as well as human made ones such as bridges to cross, wooden walkways, stone walls and even a “Dwarves house.” It was magical for them and magical for me to be able to share all of it with them. They took my mind off of the troubling news I had gotten on the ride there, and the waterfalls were soothing, drawing me in with a yearning to stay for the day. But, the day moved on, taking me with it and, in the late afternoon, alone and at loose ends, I found myself longing for that never-ending flow again. So, I drove to my new friend’s property in Rensselaer to another waterfall. And now, sitting by that waterfall, I’m thinking of Nancy, my younger cousin who has just died. Regrets keep swimming around and then washing away on the rushing torrents of water. Because we cousins were so close as kids and spent so much time together, this is a huge loss.
Growing up is never easy, and Chris (my brother) and I had a particularly tough time. I often think of our family as bi-polar. It wasn't that either of our parents was diagnosed with that but the whole family dynamic was wrapped up in it. My dad was fond of reciting, “There was a little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid.” That pretty much describes what family life was like in our house. Sometimes our parents were very loving, playing with us, taking us to fun events such as parties and potlucks, going on trips, reading to us, singing with us and generally being very engaged and supportive. Other times they were violent and mean-spirited, tearing us down, ridiculing us and trying very hard to break our spirits. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it, and it was often like someone just came along and flipped a switch. We couldn't always tell it was coming, especially if we were immersed in something fun. Then, “Wham!” It would hit you like a fierce storm and leave you reeling. But I had a refuge.
I had three cousins and an aunt and uncle who lived across the Long Island Sound from us. They were in Hempstead, Long Island, and we were in Stamford, Connecticut. Sometimes I would stand on the beach, looking across the Sound and imagine them on the other beach looking over at me. Kenny was a month older than me, Nancy was a month older than Chris, and Jimmy was in-between all of us. Altogether, we made quite a lively pack of puppies. My dad and their dad were brothers. Both families were equally dysfunctional but in different ways. As adults, Nancy and I talked about how freeing it was to jump into the other family’s dysfunction and escape our own because it was different. We all spent lots of time together. It was only an hour or so drive, so we spent weekends and any other days off from school visiting. Whenever the families could get together, they did. As we became adults, faced with our own personal demons, we drifted apart.
A week and a half ago, my brother threw me a family party to celebrate my 60th birthday. I was so thrilled to see Nancy. She had battled with depression her whole life, as most of us in the family have done. How could we not? That day, she looked like she was doing well, though I knew she was still struggling. Now today, she is gone. I don’t know yet how or why. I’m not sure it even matters. What matters to me is that she was in my life and will always be a part of who I am even though her body is no longer here. And I already miss her.
I called the friend on whose land I am sitting, feeling the healing energy of this magical spot, to thank him for the gift of this sacred spot. He put it into a unique perspective for me. “Congratulations,”he said. “She has graduated and moved on to the next realm, on a new journey.” Just after I hung up the phone, a dragonfly came by for a visit. Nancy had been ready for a long time to move on. As sad and wounded as I feel right now, I am happy that she has found her way out of her suffering and hope that she has finally found happiness. Goodbye, Nancy. You were much loved.