Loss and Belonging

[Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.]

It finally happened… it took a long time and I did not in any way believe we would be immune to what so many others have had to endure over the last 18 months. It was, in fact, an incredible privilege that it hadn’t happened until now. But we can say as of Thursday, September 2nd, my husband and I have lost a family member/close friend to COVID-19.

Julie was my husband’s cousin, but they did not grow up together; in fact, they only met in middle age, about 7 years ago. Her mom was doing some genealogy work and discovered that her dad, who was adopted, had several half-siblings out there in the world, one of which was my mother-in-law. After some initial skepticism, we all determined that it was actually true and we began to reach out and get to know this entirely new branch of the family.

Fast forward, Julie’s father and my mother-in-law have both passed away. My husband and I even made the trek 80 miles away to her father’s funeral, even though we did not actually know any of the family very well at the time he passed away. It felt important to be there.

Since then, we have made several trips to visit Julie and her husband, Ron. When my band plays in the local festival in their small town, we make a point to drop in and visit. We were really still just getting to know them, but they were always so welcoming. Every time we were there, visiting outdoors during the pandemic, she made it feel like home. Like we were welcome, like any other of her friends and family members.

The last time I talked with Julie (we were really just developing a friendship, independent of the family connection) was in June. Our text conversation ranged from our respective isolation and loneliness to our religious upbringing or lack thereof, to music we liked, to the occult. Julie was always open and honest and, while we were very different, I never felt like she treated me like anything less than a good friend, someone she cared for. We didn’t necessarily agree about things, but we could have deep respectful conversations and just be ourselves.

Since I hadn’t heard from her for a few months, I reached out the other day just to say hi and check in. No response. I let it go for 24 hours or so and then texted again, though I’m loath to be too intrusive on others, especially through text. Still no answer and I started to worry a little. I asked my husband if he wanted to check her Facebook and/or call her mom. He said the last Facebook note was from nearly 3 weeks ago. He contacted Julie’s mom and heard that Julie was in the hospital, on a ventilator and nearing the end. We are devastated.

We got the word that Julie passed away today. She had just turned 51 in the last 2 weeks. She leaves behind her husband, her two daughters, her mother and her sister, brother-in-law and two nephews.

The true gift that Julie had was that she was so open and really made everyone feel like family. That sense of immediate connection and belonging is something that takes a special kind of person to create and hold for others. She was so secure in herself and her being that she would make you feel that in yourself, even when that was normally a stretch. And that’s all that anyone really wants is to feel like they truly belong somewhere. She did that for others. And it is a shame that she is no longer with us.

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