My cousin Nikki had this light within her. It was so bright that I admired her from the moment I was born. I admired her joie de vivre, her compassion for others, and her fierce determination to be only herself. When I was young I felt both important and fully seen by her, as well as a bit small in comparison to her large and wondrous presence. She was truly beautiful inside and out and I loved her dearly. I love her still.
When I was seven, I remember hanging out with Nikki at her parent’s house. We were playing in the living room at the bottom of the stairs. I was having so much fun and feeling so loving towards her that I shouted out excitedly, “Hey, can I call you Nik!?” To which she immediately answered with a smile, “As long as I can call you Jam.”
When I was nine, Nikki took my brother and I for breakfast at the Pancake House in South Haven, MI. When we left, I ran in flip-flops down the pavement hill home. Nikki ran behind me yelling, “Slow down, Jame, you’re going to fall!” No sooner than the word ‘fall’ passed her lips, I fell. My knee dug into and scraped across the gravel, blood spraying over the street, and then she was there. Picking me up, lovingly scolding me with a kind smile, “I told you you’d fall.” She carried me the rest of the way home.
Nikki taught me to have true love and adoration for elderly people. Not compassion or pity for people that are older, but genuine respect for those that have lived long lives and experienced many things. She gave me insight into knowing there’s a lot to learn from our elders. I now find myself in various life situations seeking out individuals in their older years because I find them to be interesting people with which to engage. I always think about Nikki mid-conversation and how she would have wanted to join in the discussion.
Nikki would sometimes tell me that she and I were too much alike. We shared a love for people and writing, as well as acute honesty and bluntness. Sometimes it worked for us and sometimes it didn’t. We had a complicated relationship with some growing pains in our older years. We always loved each other; it just wasn’t always easy. We had some years when we were distant. And mixed into those years we had some years where we were connected, when we knew about each other’s lives and loved each other well. Our relationship may have been challenging at times but it was always very real. I know I loved her and I know she loved me.
When I heard that Nikki was gone, a part of my grief was the loss of time. I’m sure we would have reconnected again and I know she would have wanted to see my son grow and know about my life. I know I will always long for one more swing with her in the hammock in South Haven. Make her some more lasagna. Sing loudly along to the radio together. Dance like no one was watching. I love Nikki always. I know she loved me. I love her still.