So I have often talked about my Burke cousins, the children of my father’s older brother. There were 9 of them originally (the typical Irish-Catholic family) and their early lives were difficult for many reasons. They lost their sister, Julie, when she was very young and then some years after that they lost their mother, my Aunt June, and their brother, Mark, within a few months of each other. Losses like that can break a person. But not my cousins.
Susan and I are the same age and she is as grounded and kind and wonderful a person as you could ever hope to know. I remember her wedding to her husband, Rich, and the look of love on his face as she walked down the aisle was enough to make you weep. And all these years later (30 or so, if I’m counting correctly), to watch the way they look at each other and see their love and dedication and friendship and devotion is awe-inspiring. They have a fantastic daughter who is the center of their universe and a great extended family that they adore.
Karen is a person who has been through so much and yet goes on no matter what. She and I affectionately call each “crazy bitch” and she opens her house to anyone and everyone at a moment’s notice. She is a tireless worker, a great friend, someone who refers to herself at the fourth Burke daughter of my parents. She is a whirling dervish of energy and a wonderful parent to her beautiful daughter.
Steven is like the son my Dad never had. When Steven was looking for a job, my Dad got him a job as a UPS driver, where my Dad spent many years working. It became a career for Steven and, when he retired, he made a point to take my parents out to dinner to thank my Dad for helping him and getting him on the right path towards a great job. He’s funny, charming, an incredibly hard worker and proud of the two men he raised.
When my Dad died in 2011, they were all there for us constantly. They were some of the very last people to see him, traveling from the tip of Long Island to central New Jersey (a three-hour trip on the best of days) to spend an hour with him that last weekend of his life. They told him how much they loved him and thanked him for everything he had done for them over the years. They loved him as much as we did and were as broken as we were by his death. When the holidays rolled around that year, they included us in both their Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations to try to make what was shaping up to be a sad time of year for us better. And it was because we were surrounded by people who shared the same blood we did, who had a connection to my Dad (and my Mom) that few other people did.
They saved us that year and they continue to save us. Visiting them, which we’re not able to do nearly often enough, is like going home. We laugh, we cry, we remember, we tell stories. Everything about them makes me happy and I know my world is a better place because of them.