Today, my cousin Dean-o would have been fifty years old.
It’s been two years since he passed away suddenly.
For the last few years of his life, he lived in another province, so when we got to see him was few and far between. I have many regrets about the fact that I did not reach out to him sooner, because I feel like I missed out on a large portion of our relationship – the adult one. As it is, most of my memories come from when I was a child.
When my mother was expecting me, Dean was seventeen. In woodshop he made for me a set of wooden building blocks, probably better than anything you could have bought at a store. Each one sanded to softness and all the edges smoothed off so chubby baby hands could not get splinters. I have a vivid memory of him dressed as Santa Claus, coming in from the chill of outside with an enormous package for four-year-old me: an easel for my avid painting. When I was seven, it was a stable for my collection of My Little Ponies.
I remember his laugh: a deep-voiced “hehehe”. I remember how much he loved to wear flip flops and drink beer, to make off-colour jokes and spend time messing around in boats. As a teenager he played drums in a garage band. He was a volunteer fire-fighter and often dressed as Santa Clause for local fund raisers and events. He designed houses for a living – at least at his happiest. When he had children of his own, you could tell that they were his life. He glowed when they climbed on him, or called him daddy. He lived for them, and I think his divorce and the landslide of awkwardness afterwards was difficult to bear.
I think that’s why he moved away and I think why his visits were so sporadic: not because he wanted to be apart from his family, but because he didn’t know how to deal with it’s new shape.
He died too close to Christmas. We all went out on his parents boat and shivered and cried as we consigned his ashes to the Bay where he’d spent most of his youth. The sun was out and refracted off the ripples on the surface. An Osprey graced us with his presence when my Aunt opened the box. The breeze lifted the lighter ash as it fell, spreading it over the surface and the flowers we’d tossed in moments before.
I miss you terribly Dean-o. Happy Birthday wherever you are.