On my mom's side of the family, at least in my point of view, first cousins are siblings and second cousins are first cousins. This has been particularly true of my relationship with my second cousin, Camie.
Camie is one of those women that I always wanted to be. I first remember hanging out with Camie when I was in college and she was in high school and she lived in Utah for the summer. I knew her prior to then, but we were enough apart in age that she was one of those "younger cousins". That meant she was 3 years younger. But that summer, we played and played and she became one of us. From then on, if Camie showed up, I wanted to be there.
Camie loved everyone, and made you feel as if you were the most special person around. Her life's goal was to serve. She left on a mission for the LDS Church as soon as she could, and traveled the world much of her adult life, living in war torn countries like Kosovo and Afghanistan, helping to rebuild. She met her sweetheart, Tommy, on one of her adventures, and we all marveled how she managed to find him. I once asked her how she managed to pay for all of these adventures and she shrugged and said, "People just give me money for this stuff." She also knew people in countries all over the world and always had a place to stay.
One time she showed up in the middle of the night and surprised me and woke me up by turning on the light in my bedroom. I didn't even mind! A few years ago when she showed up in Utah, she called and said, "I'm here! Come down!" It never occurred to me not to. I got in the car and headed to see her.
When she was diagnosed a few years ago with breast cancer, I remember feeling devastated. Not because I saw her very often, but because I knew that my time where she would burst into my life was coming to an end. She hung on for four years, courageously avoiding medications and valiantly trying to control it with healthy living. She was my hero - accepting life as it came.
I remember the last time I saw her. She told me a wild story about living in Afghanistan. She wore a burka and had gotten a ride to the US Military base to go to church, but didn't know how she would get home. She befriended a little Afghan boy who told her that his dad could give her a ride home. Apparently his dad was an Afghan warlord. And yet, she didn't fear for her life. Maybe she knew that her life wouldn't last long, and that she needed to just live it.
Camie passed away this morning. I have experienced waves of sadness and waves of gratitude - that she is free from pain, and that I was blessed to know such a person. I think of her reunion with family members who have gone on ahead. The summer after my Freshman year of college, Camie came with my cousins and me to take our sweet grandmother to lunch. I have a picture of all of us together. My grandma died in 1992. I imagine that Camie is giving her a big old hug from me.
I haven't had time to really sit down and cry for my sweet cousin. I don't expect she would want me to. She never hung around a place for very long. She would just smile and say, "I'll see you when I see you." So I will say the same thing to her. I know that someday I will see Camie again. I am grateful for that knowledge. I rejoice, knowing that my sweet cousin has gone home, where loved ones surround her and welcome her. And when it is my turn to go, she will be there waiting to give me a hug and welcome me home, too.