For eleven long years, I was the youngest of my cousins. As a child, this bothered me somewhat, as I looked up to everyone, and had nobody smaller or younger than me. So it was with some excitement that I learned in 1988 that I was going to have a new cousin. We lived in the Philippines at the time, and my aunt called us with the news . She also mentioned that they were coming to the other side of the world to visit us for Christmas. 1988 was a very exciting year.
So it was that my aunt and uncle came to visit us in December. By that time, the baby (I was hoping for a boy) was making his or her presence known, and I remember my aunt sitting on the couch and letting me feel her stomach to feel the baby kicking. While they were visiting, we took them around to the presidential palace and other touristy places, and we took them out to see the beaches and islands, riding bangkas (rowboats with wooden pontoons) and even doing some snorkeling. The Philippines has some amazing coral reefs, and snorkeling is an absolute must while visiting. That month was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my childhood.
But we had no way of knowing about the horrible year that was about to begin.
In March of 1989, our church had a retreat during Holy Week, a week full of traditions and superstition in the Philippines, in which people get their palm branches blessed and put them on their doors to ward off evil spirits. On Good Friday, many people beat themselves mercilessly with whips laced with shards of glass, and others are literally crucified, all in an effort to be forgiven for their sins (completely missing the point of Jesus' sacrifice). Most Philippine Catholics believe that Jesus is literally dead on Black Saturday, the next day, and they don't dare do anything for fear that if anything bad happens, Jesus won't be there to help them. It was that day that the church retreat ended and they carpooled back to church to return home. On the trip home, both tires on one side of one of the vehicles blew, causing it to roll. Most of the passengers were women and children, and it did not have seatbelts. Those who didn't hold on were thrown, and everyone was taken to the nearest hospital, which was on a skeleton crew already because some of the doctors and nurses didn't dare report to work because of Black Saturday. My parents, who had not attended the retreat, hurried to the hospital to be with them, and I went to a friend's house. It was a very anxious time waiting by the telephone to hear news. One of the passengers was pregnant, and she was the main priority at the hospital. I will never forget the pain I felt when our friend hung up the phone and told me, "Cynthia is with the Lord." Neither she nor the baby made it. I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it 22 years later. Fortunately, all the others in the accident recovered.
June 1 (May 31 in the US), we got word that my beloved paternal grandma had lost her battle with multiple myeloma. That was even harder to take. November 6, my maternal grandma, who I knew more and treasured deeply, lost her battle with breast cancer. We also lost another woman from our church that year, also from cancer. Another close friend from our church passed away the following year from a heart attack.
But through the deep pain, God sent two shafts of light at the perfect time, when we needed them most. Annika was born on April 20. Though we were far away, my new cousin - my first younger cousin ever - was truly a Godsend. We celebrated her arrival, and her picture was a bright spot in our house. The picture of my grandma, who was struggling with breast cancer, holding her brand new baby granddaughter was truly a treasure. December 13 brought another treasure in the form of my wonderful cousin Darcy. If it weren't for Annika and Darcy, and my dependence on God, I don't know how I would have coped with all the loss of 1989.
We returned to the US in 1991, just in time to visit my paternal grandpa for the last time before he passed away. Shortly after that visit in California, we continued on to Seattle, where we were greeted by my aunt, who was holding her young daughter Annika. So it was that I finally got to meet my beloved cousin at SeaTac Airport. Over the next week, I got my first taste of babysitting, and I got to know Annika better. She was somewhat strong-willed (my maternal grandpa predicted that she would be a general when she grew up), but she was, and remains, truly precious. I got to meet Darcy later that week, when their family visited, and an 18-month-old Darcy looked up at me like I was some weird stranger.
It has been fun watching Annika grow. One particularly memorable time, my great-aunt and great-uncle in Montana celebrated their 50th anniversary. We had a talent show, and at one point the younger kids sang a song. They all came up to the front in no particular order. As the emcee introduced them, those of us in the audience watched in amusement as Annika moved her cousins and second-cousins around. Pretty soon, everyone was arranged in order of height, much to the emcee's surprise.
In 1993, Andrèa joined the family, and she is another huge blessing. Since then, Annika has been a wonderful big sister as well (to Andrèa, that is). :-)
It seems hard to believe that the time has flown so fast, and today marks Annika's 22nd birthday. I have watched her graduate from high school, and later from Seattle Pacific University with a degree in nursing. I am incredibly proud of my cousin, now officially an RN. She came at a time when she was desperately needed, and she has blossomed into an amazing person that I truly admire.