Yesterday would have been my amazing cousin Kate’s 40th birthday. She died earlier this year after a long, courageous struggle with cancer. I have a lot of amazing cousins, and I feel a deep connection with many of them. Even in a bounty of great family Kate was special. She was my friend. She was my little sister.
Kate lived in Northern Virginia for years. We would meet for lunch at the park in Farragut Square a couple of times a year. She was one of the first employees at the US Green Building Council and was the senior vice president there when she died. Her job was a large part of her identity. Her position sent her around the world to meet with amazing leaders. Most people - including most of her own family - had no idea of her position in her industry. She never bragged. She didn’t boast. She put her head down and did the work. Even in her last months I asked her if the stress of her job was worth the stress on her body. But to her it was. It was her drive. Her work pushed her to the next day. Until it didn’t.
She didn’t brag … but she was kinda my little sister so I would get the occasional phone call to let me know what she was up to. “Hey Bronson, I’m in San Fransisco. The mayor sent a limo to pick me up from the airport to take me on a tour of wine country.” That was my favorite call. She had this little devilish smile that I could see through the phone.
One afternoon when I was visiting her during a rough patch, she told me just a little bit about the time she met Desmond Tutu. Her boss (and one of her closest friends) gave us the whole story at Kate’s memorial service. Meeting Rev. Tutu was one of the few times she put herself out front, by asking for the honor of picking him up at the airport. Two greats together.
During one of her first of many cancer fights, I forced my way over to her house to keep her company. She never wanted to be a bother, but her folks needed to head home and I didn’t want her to be alone. So I told her I was coming over and that was final. I brought a stack of DVDs for a distraction and picked up a smoothie she liked. She was in a lot of pain that day. But she laid on the couch in her living room and we talked for hours. We agreed about many things in the political sphere, and disagreed about many things related to religion. She loved to challenge my opinions, and I her. She was such a private person and she held her cards very close to the vest. But even if she didn’t say words of disagreement, I knew the look she would give me. Kind of a knowing smile. “Are you serious?” “How are we related again?” Her energy was really low that day so we kept the conversation simple, and I reminded her that if she’s tired she should go to sleep. I could do some dishes and hang out until she was ready to send me packing. After she took a short nap she suggested we watch one of the movies I had brought. Much to my surprise and dismay, she had never seen “Blazing Saddles.” I’ve seen that movie 15-20 times and I still laugh my head off every time. Kate giggled occasionally, then got quiet, then fell asleep again. It’s impossible to watch one of your favorite comedies sitting next to one of your favorite people knowing the pain they’re in. Knowing how challenging the future will be. Once she was asleep I couldn’t find any laughter.
I love you sweet Kate and I miss you like crazy. You packed more into 39 years than most people do in a lifetime. You made the world a better place just by being true to yourself. We didn’t deserve you.