The change was noticeable when we were home at Christmastime. Our parents are now the matriarchs & patriarchs. We were already calling ourselves the "crazy aunt & uncle," but now we're officially no longer the younger generation. Our nieces & nephews & first-cousins-once-removed are now the "kids." It's strange to be the adults.
Last week the sea change was again made evident when my eldest cousin passed away at the age of 58. She had beaten cancer several times, but not this one. Despite a 14 year age difference between us, Gayle's passing really hit me hard. She was the first of the twelve of us first cousins on that side of the family (I am 9th, if you're wondering), but we have all always been close. I spent summers at various cousins' houses, or they spent time at mine. We had holiday dinners, family camping trips, & reunions overflowing with extended relations.
It never seemed odd to me to have such a large family, nor did I feel distant or disconnected from any of them, despite differences in ages or living miles apart. There was a "meme" going around the internet awhile back about how cousins are our first friends, & my life really reinforced that theory! Even now, as adults, my cousins are among my dearest friends - I am always glad to see them & spend time together.
When I heard that Gayle had been moved to hospice with very little time left, I was really shaken. The first of my cousins. She played with me when I was little, even though she was a teenager. She settled the squabbles between me & her youngest brother. She sang at my wedding. She could be found, with a guitar & a big smile, leading the Family Hootenanny at every reunion. She loved & supported me & mom, & our whole big goofy family - & we all knew it, every minute of every day.
For the several days that she was in hospice care, my heart was full of thoughts of Gayle. It was hard to focus on other things. Once she had passed safely into Heaven, I was able to relax. I'm still terribly saddened by the loss of her, but comforted in the knowledge that she is at Peace, & that she loved "our whole big goofy family - & we all knew it, every minute of every day."