Earlier this week my cousin Dickie, was placed on palliative care after pneumonia and sepsis did irreparable harm to his heart and lungs. Yesterday, just before sunrise we lost him. Dickie was the oldest of my maternal cousins and was developmentally challenged. When he was born in the late 1950’s, it was common for children like Dickie to be institutionalized and be kept out of sight of polite company. Fortunately, our family has never been too worried about polite company. My aunt and uncle were committed to keeping Dickie at home and raising him as normally as possible. Dickie went everywhere his parents and siblings went- the grocery store, his sister’s plays, his brothers’ basketball, and baseball games, family gatherings, etc. He was part of the family and having Dickie around had always been our normal.
As child and teen I would often accompany my aunt and Dickie to run errands and watch my cousins David and Dan play varsity sports in high school. With his warm smile and generally sunny disposition, Dickie had a tendency to make friends wherever he went and was usually greeted warmly. However, we did sometimes run into people who had not met him and my aunt before. Sometimes they would stare. Sometimes they would point. Sometimes they would say rude, ignorant things under their breath. I pitied those people. Seriously. My aunt Madeline was NOT one to pretend she didn’t notice their attention. She was much more likely to walk right up (or speak LOUDLY from where she was standing) and set them straight on what ‘normal’ civilized behavior looked like. She was a mistress of making people squirm and feel 6 inches high when they deserved it.
Tragically, my aunt and uncle died within eleven months of each other my sophomore year of college, leaving my cousins Cathy (then 26), David (then 23) and Danny (then 18) with the responsibility of caring for Dickie. To say that my cousins’ lifelong commitment to Dickie has defined the words loyalty, bravery, compassion, respect, and love for me would not be an exaggeration. He was their brother in every sense of the word and they were constantly by his side during this last hospitalization.
Please hold Dickie’s spirit, my cousins, their spouses, their children and our aunt and uncle in the light. They are extraordinary people experiencing unfathomable loss.
We are all the richer for knowing Dickie. I cannot express how much he will be missed.