This is a hard time of year for me. In 2007, my dear old friend died at age 41. In 2010, my elder maternal cousin Theresa died at age 45. In 2012, another old friend and brother to my college roommate died at age 45. His name was Kevin.
I’m now older than all of them and that is difficult to process. I have many regrets that I didn’t stay in better touch or reach out more often or just do something differently. I miss them and still grieve their loss in my own way.
On Tuesday (yes, Election Day), another cousin died. His name was Brian Koerber and he was just 41 years old. We had only met in person one time, but we were facebook friends.
Brian and I were cousins on both sides of my family. Through my paternal family, we were second cousins – we shared a set of great-grandparents (Edna Lescallette 1892- 1958 and John K. Kerr 1894-1924.) My father is first cousins with Brian’s mother, Janis. Their fathers were brothers.
Through my paternal family, we were fifth cousins – we shared a set of 4x great-grandparents (Nicholas Bleichner 1801-1894 and Elizabeth Zins 1816-1880) The Bleichners had eight children. Catherine, the eldest, married a Gallagher and that eventually led to my maternal grandmother, Val Kramer Pryor. One of their sons, Nicholas Jr, married and that eventually led to Brian’s maternal grandmother, Helen Shook Kerr.
It is not remotely scandalous that my great-uncle Jimmy Kerr married my 3rd cousin 2x removed because they were not related at all. In fact, I just unearthed this fact over the summer – learning that Brian and all my second cousins connected to him are in fact connected to me twice.
This sort of thing happens quite a bit in regions were very large families had somewhat limited dating pools in the 19th century. It happens in my tree with some regularity.
And there’s a poignancy to realizing that I’ve missed my opportunity to spend time with this special person, missed the opportunity to get to know him beyond Facebook and genealogical records. It hurts, actually. I’ve always said that I’m much more interested in connecting with my living relatives, no matter how distant, than I am in digging up details on my long-lost ancestors.
What about the recently-lost relatives? The ones you just missed meeting? This happened to me in 2016 when I learned that the openly gay cousin of my grandmother had died a few months earlier.
Two relatives and two good friends, all 45 or younger. All survived by their mothers whom I know and love. Surviving the death of your adult child has to be a special sort of trauma. All dying senseless deaths that make no sense, but how would they?
I am really sorry that I didn’t more proactively reach out to Brian, that I didn’t allow this new interesting twist in our family connection spur me to action. What’s the point of collating all of this information if not to share with my cousins and their children?
I’m not going to make some over the top pledge to contact all of my cousins. But I am going to always remember Brian and how much he loved his critters. I am going to make sure that his daughter has access to the family tree (if she wants it.) And I’m going to try to do better than honoring my living relatives on the occasion of their death.
Rest in power, Brian. You were much-loved and greatly missed.