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My heart is extremely heavy tonight.  As most of my regular readers will know, I’m from a very large family of Irish descent.  I have been exceptionally blessed to have grown up surrounded by a myriad of cousins who have been some of my best friends.  Today I learned of the sad passing of one of those cousins… my lovely Ronda.  She went to sleep last night and never woke up.   I’m shattered.  She was a sweet soul who loved her family deeply and has left behind two sons, lovely young men, who I know will make their mother proud, as they always did.

Growing up in this huge family, there were different groups of cousins.  Nearly everyone had someone who was around their age.  In my age group, there was a heap of us.  There was Julie, Maureen, Wendy, Kerrie, Dianne, Ronda, Deb, Gail and me.  Julie sadly passed away in her early thirties of breast cancer, leaving behind three gorgeous kids and a broken hearted family.  Julie and Maureen were the oldest, then Wendy, Kerrie and me, then Ronda and Deb.  Dianne and Gail were a bit younger again.  What a childhood we had.  We lived right across the state of Victoria but we caught up often.  Our parents were from an extremely close family of 9 children, and they took every opportunity to catch up with each other so we kids got to spend those times together.

Cousins are the first friends you’ll ever meet.  They are how you learn to share and play nicely together.  You don’t ever remember meeting them, they are just there.  As kids we played together, spent school holidays together, fought, cried, laughed, shared secrets and dreams with each other.  I don’t remember what we talked about.  I don’t remember what we fought about.  I don’t remember what we laughed about.  I only remember that we did.  Mostly, I remember that we were all there.  Always present in each other lives without it ever being a big deal.

Ronda grew up in Melbourne and going there from Geelong felt like the big smoke.   Aunty Grace and Uncle Swannee had a huge rumpus room in their house so it was usually the central meeting place for the family to spend time together.  The parents could sit and relax with each other, knowing that the kids would have at least one other kid their own age there to play with.  They didn’t see much of us while we were there as we all used to head off to play together as soon as we got there.  It was bliss.  We played music and sung and danced to our heart’s content, generally without being yelled at to turn the music down, as our parents were too busy catching up with each other to really notice it.

It was at Ronda’s place that I first learned the skinhead dance.  Now unless you’re a child of the 60s or 70s you’ll never quite understand the significance of the skinhead dance.  Oh it was dreadful.. You sort of stood on your tip toes and moved your knees in and out making a loop with your legs while you would move your arms in an ever so cool way.  Ronda was the QUEEN of the skinhead dance.  She did it with such confidence and we would all join in.   They were the best of times.

At her wedding years later, I can still see her lift up her wedding dress and dance the dance with encouragement from us.  Her 21st party was a dress up affair and we all had a ball then too.  You see a lot of my memories of Ronda in our youth, was in a party atmosphere.  We did spend lots of holidays together but that also felt like a party.  We got married around the same  time, had kids around the same time and then  didn’t see each other very often other than, sadly, family funerals.  When we did see each other though, nothing changed.  A cousin who  you’ve grown up with is the most unique friend.  It’s not a relationship you have to think about.. It just is! Is what you might ask?  It is natural.  It is easy.  It is fun. It is family.  You don’t have to work at it.  You don’t have to try hard.  You are allowed to be yourself with no exceptions.

As the years passed, I saw more of Ronda again.  By this time, all the big birthdays were happening for our parents generations, so we spent more time at parties, although they were quieter affairs by this time.  Then we watched that generation start to get sick so the visits were more frequent and sadly, we’d all catch up again at funerals.  We took our friendships for granted because they were just always there.  With the advent of Facebook, we all got to catch up with each others lives much more and it was fantastic.   A quick private message to say hi kiddo, what’s happening, was a great way of renewing the relationships over and over again.

Late in 2012, Ronda and her friend Michelle came to Sydney on holidays with Ronda’s sister Peggy and her brother in law Freddy.  Ronda and Michelle came the extra miles to visit me up here in the Blue Mountains for a few days.  I was recuperating from an operation but it was so damn good to spend that time together.  Lachlan  (my son) was still living here at the time and everytime he spoke to Ronda he called her Fish.  She didn’t know why to start with, until he offered to go  get her a movie… a fish called Wanda…  (though he said Ronda).  I will never forget that deep throaty laugh when she realised why he was calling her Fish.  She sat down with me and I showed her a DVD I had made of my Mum’s photos.  I looked up to see tears rolling down her cheeks as she looked at the photos of my mum and our uncles who had passed away.  Ronda always had the softest heart.

A few weeks ago, while I was in Ireland, her beloved Mum (my Aunty Grace) had a stroke and passed away.  I couldn’t get back for the funeral and I wish I was there to support her.   We chatted though, and she talked of how lost she was without her Mum.  She took it so badly as she was so close to her mum.   I told her she needed to be kind to herself and allow herself to grieve but i think she thought she should be stronger than she was.  I just wanted to hug her and tell her it would all be okay.

Well last night, she fell asleep and didn’t wake up again.. Her big, soft, kind heart stopped beating and she went to be with her mum again.  She was only 51.  Way too young.  She leaves behind 2 sons who have grown into lovely young men and a family who will mourn her loss for years to come.  I too, will miss her.  I will miss her friendship, her laughter, our chats, our jokes and most of all, her beautiful heart. Ronda,  I wish I’d taken the chance to tell you I love you the last time we spoke, but I thought there’d be more years for that.. but you knew it, just as I knew you loved me. We’re cousins.. we just know..  Fly free beautiful lady… You will be sadly missed.  PS.. I love you kiddo!

Cousins by birth.. Friends by choice