I had a beautiful cousin, whose name was Emily, and she died last week. She was 36.
Do you know people who just seem to "get" things? I don't know if I'll explain this properly, but I'll try. Emily understood things. You would explain something, perhaps badly, and she would just understand. I could switch from serious to sarcastic in a second, and she was always right there with me, the whole time; playing along. You could talk with passion about something that meant a lot to you that you couldn't tell anybody else, and Emily would get it. And it wasn't like you just thought she understood, she could repeat back her understanding of your situation perfectly, and she would be right.
Emily was on the same wavelength as me, all the time; but Emily was on the same wavelength as everybody; all the time. She was bipolar, and I think she lived her life feeling not quite the same as everybody else. She was introspective. And analytical. And smart. And so, so funny. And I think it was this combination of things: her immense intelligence, and the way she felt about herself in the world, that made her as understanding as she was. I felt so comfortable around her, and honestly I don't feel that comfortable around people in real life, most of the time. She had a gift.
Her loss will be felt very very strongly in my house. She was my regular babysitter and was here often and she had this incredible connection with my children. She would spend hours playing Pokemon with Child 2 (after he insisted that he teach her how). She listened as he rambled on and and on and on about whatever was happening in his Minecraft world. She was fun, and she was funny, and he loved being around her. I'll never forget that the last time she babysat Child 2 was jumping up and down saying "YAY! Emily will be here in 10 minutes!!"
But her connection with Child 1 was the most remarkable.
As a parent of a child with autism, one of my hopes is that I can help him find adults who can act as mentors. Adults who have an understanding of his world and who have experienced similar things, who can help guide him through his life. Emily was not autistic, but I think that she spent so much of her life feeling "different" from everybody else, that it allowed her to create such a beautiful bond with Child 1, who is also so "different." She would tirelessly take him on elevator rides, and to the various stores that he wanted to visit. They watched BART trains together, and she never had a need to ask "why does he like BART so much?" she just knew. He loves his trains, and she knew how it felt to love something. She would often mention how much she could relate to him and his quirks. She got it.
I already miss her so much. We didn't even talk every day, it was about once a week or so, but I already feel her absence from my life so strongly. My children will miss her so much, and I don't know if they understand what death really means, but I grieve for the sadness they will feel as they begin to understand the reality of her being gone.
The last few months had been hard for her; she had been struggling. In my phone I have the last communication we had; a text message I had sent her. It says "I hope you're doing okay. If you ever want to come and just hang out here you are always always welcome. < 3 " I don't think I will ever delete it. I'm just so glad that the last thing I said to her was that she was loved and she was welcomed. She didn't respond, but I hope she knew that I meant it.
I don't think this makes a whole lot of sense, my writing is choppy and I apologize. I'm very sad, and I'm doing my best to explain how awesome she was. Emily would have understood.
If you are so inclined, you may be interested in making a donation in her name (Emily Salzfass) to Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.