I am writing this 10 days early, because who knows whether I will have the same amount of uninterrupted alone time 10 days from now.
Five years ago today, my cousin died. He was in a car on the tracks when a train came by and dragged his vehicle nearly 100 feet. And just like that, he was gone.
Josh was 30 years old and I was in my early teens. I didn’t know him very well. I cannot ever feel the same type of warmth he brought to my other cousins’ lives, and I will never be able to feel the same pain they feel in their hearts every time they think of him. He was the random cousin who signed his name when I walked around the campfire with a sharpie and a white t-shirt, trying to collect something from everyone. He was the cousin who played the guitar around the campfire and played country songs with such a full, soulful voice you had to listen. I cannot ever know his light or feel his friendship, but I know the richness and sorrow that his voice pours into my heart when I listen to him sing in YouTube videos.
That’s one powerful thing about the internet: it makes it easy to mourn for those we barely knew, and it allows us to mourn from a distance. If I had grown up 50 years earlier, I may never have been able to feel the same emptiness in my heart for a cousin I barely saw and hardly knew. To mourn him properly, I would have to make trips to his grave or memorial site, both located in Ritzville, Washington. Instead, I can sit alone in my room on the fourth floor of an apartment building in Thessaloniki, Greece, and scroll through his Facebook feed, look at photos of him with his daughters, watch videos of him singing, and become overwhelmed with grief that this man in no longer in the world. The internet allows us to understand our losses, and to remember them even when time and location would not normally allow.
I see the pain of Josh’s loss etched on the faces of my family members. I feel the lack of him when my cousins talk about him or post old photos on his page. I feel his loss when I listen, over and over again, to his cover of American Soldier. A rendition, I might add, which I think is better than the original.
And I see and feel all of this from a computer screen thousands of miles away. That is the beauty – and the pain – of this crazy, connected world that we live in today. I miss you, Josh, and I will continue to miss you more and more through the lenses of those who loved you most.