I was not prepared for monsoon season in Arizona. I’m not built to withstand hot weather, especially when it is also damp and muggy and windy. In Sacramento, where the heat is appropriately dry, you sweat and your sweat evaporates and cools you, doing what sweat is supposed to do. But during a monsoon, nothing wicks away the sweat. It sticks to you and makes you feel even hotter.
I was in Arizona for my cousin B’s memorial. B had passed away the previous week after a decades-long bout with a mitochondrial disorder called Leigh’s Syndrome. I hadn’t seen her over fifteen years, though I’d talked with her on the phone sometimes, and always sent her a gift for her birthday (a stuffed animal, usually, or a shirt with a Disney character or boy band depicted on it). But it was a hassle to get out to Arizona where she lived with my aunt and uncle, so I never got around to it.
Even though she was a week gone, I hadn’t really experienced my own moment of grief until the ride from my family’s hotel to my aunt’s and uncle’s house. I had thought to myself that I was looking forward to seeing family I hadn’t seen in over a decade. I thought to myself, I was really looking forward to seeing B, who I knew would have a big smile and hug for me. And that’s when I really had my “Oh shit, she’s gone” moment, and I really knew that I would never see her again.
The music director of the Presbyterian church where the memorial service was held chose “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” as the prelude, which brought a smile to everyone’s face. As the remembrances went on, I got a picture of my cousin as a person who, despite her challenges, was loving and kind and outspoken and occasionally grumpy, but who gave wonderful hugs and usually had a smile on her face. She loved the Care Bears, she loved boy bands, she loved her menagerie of stuffed animals (who each had their own name and their own unique personality, and who all sometimes got into trouble). She loved her parents. She loved her cat, Maggie, who loved her in return.
I could have spoken during the memorial, could have added my own remembrance, but I didn’t. I didn’t trust my voice to stay steady. A lump was forming in my throat. I wanted to weep; I wasn’t sad for B, but for those who loved her. I was sad for her mother, who wouldn’t have her company anymore. I was especially sad for Maggie, who would never again get to cuddle with B, and who wouldn’t understand why (cats, I am convinced, feel grief and miss the people they choose to give their love to).
I Googled Leigh Syndrome when I got back to my hotel room. I learned that it’s also called “subacute necrotizing encephalomyelopathy”, which sounds unpleasant. And it is. The symptoms listed in the Wikipedia article aren’t exactly like the ones that B seemed to experience, but, then, disease descriptions are often like that. Every individual experiences a disease in their own unique way.
Just like grief.
It was in the hotel room that monsoon season really hit, and I sat on the bed and cried.