My cousin Betty is burying her husband today. Cancer strikes again, but I think Russ struck a few blows to that fiend while he had the chance. He had many ups and downs in his journey, but during his good times, he made sure he had some fun.
We visited them periodically over the past few months. More than once we would find Russell in bed with no appetite and no energy and we'd think perhaps it was the last time we would see him on this side of the grave. Next time around, he would be back to normal, it seemed, joking and talking and being his old self.
Toward the end of June, we stopped by their house and found Russ in bed, not feeling well at all. We both went home depressed, feeling bad for Betty as well as for Russ. "It won't be long now," I thought to myself.
Nephew Scotty called a couple of days later to tell us he was coming over for the Fourth of July. I told daughter Rachel and her family to join us.
Cliff said, "You ought to call Russ and Betty and invite them."
"Oh my," I answered, "I don't see any way Russ would feel like going anyplace."
"OK," Cliff said.
But I kept getting the nagging feeling that maybe I should invite them over, whether they were able come or not. To my surprise, Betty asked what she should bring and said they'd be here. I couldn't believe it.
They came bearing a gooseberry pie. Russell ate everything he could get his hands on, and had a perfectly wonderful time. He and my daughter shared their thoughts on cancer, cursed the villain a few times, and had a couple of laughs in the process. There is an invisible connection between people who have struggled with cancer, an intimate bond that we outsiders can't comprehend or penetrate. The two of them said more "between the lines" that day than the rest of us said in all our conversations.
And that's how I will always remember Russ, the way he was that day. He may have been down, but he wasn't out. We would have missed an incredible time if we had not invited them.