Because of My Cousin

Many of you who know me well are aware that I always have a bunch of projects going on. One of the things I’ve been working on lately — one quite near and dear to my heart — is a very special undertaking my cousin Meredith asked me to do with her. She’s calling it Charlie’s Angels.

Not the kind with Bosley. I’ll explain.
(TW: death)

As a writer, I find myself revisiting certain events in my life through my creative work. These include growing up in my family’s legendary grocery store, laboring with my classmates in tenth grade to free a trapped deer from a barbed wire fence on the side of a highway, the unexpected death of my cousin Chuck when we were in middle school.

This was Chuck’s last school picture, taken in 6th grade, less than two months before he died.

These events that had such a profound effect on me during my formative years keep coming back, in various ways, in my writing, as I continually try to parse out their meaning and effect on my life.

You’ll see from the following post by Meredith, Chuck’s younger sister, that his death was quick and shocking. Meredith was nine, I was thirteen, and Chuck was twelve when he suddenly passed away from what my mother had called “acute adult leukemia.” Meredith and Chuck were my primary social circle at that time in my life, and my ensuing grief was transformative: I retreated; I quit playing the piano; I cried myself to sleep every night for six weeks. The adults around me, also spiraling in their shock and sorrow, had no way to help me, and so I kept my sadness as far inside me as I could. But later, when I had children of my own, I found that the normal fears involved in parenting had become compounded with my buried grief, so that every unusual headache and every unexplained bump or bruise had me calling our pediatrician for reassurance.

My cousin’s faith sustains her. I admire this kind of strength, but I have found in my own life that action is the surest way to dispel my own anxiety. Meredith has brought our shared trauma back to me in a way that allows me to act, and so I have joined her campaign to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society this spring. (There are more details in her post; I hope you will give it a quick read.)

This October it will have been thirty-five years since Chuck died. This spring’s campaign feels like a powerful way to acknowledge the raw sadness we’ve all carried around with us for so long.

My own personal goal is to raise $5,000 over ten weeks (starting today), so that other families will avoid the loss and pain that ours has known, so that other critically ill children will benefit from the newest, life-saving treatments being developed even now to fight these horrible cancers. No donation is too small or too large, so if you are able to contribute and feel motivated to do so, please follow that impulse, because action dispels anxiety.

If you feel encouraged to contribute to our campaign, you can do so by clicking here to visit my personal fundraising page. On that page you can also see an absosmurfly ADORABLE picture of us when we were little kids. 

The campaign launches today, and any team (such as Charlie’s Angels) that raises the most money by 5:00 p.m. today gets an additional $2,500.00 to add to their total from a dedicated fund meant to bolster our efforts.

Without further ado, here’s Meredith’s post, which also contains exciting information about advances being made even now in the field of cancer eradication. Thank you for reading it, and thank you for reading about my own part in this story.

***

from Meredith:

My family and our entire community were changed forever on Saturday, October 31, 1987. That was the day my 12-year-old brother, Charles Joseph Jamail (better known to friends and family as Chuck), was called home by our Lord.

It all started just a few days earlier. Chuck was complaining of headaches after having played soccer. They continued with no relief, so Mom took him to the doctor. They ran some bloodwork, and after getting the results, my mom was told he needed to go to the hospital immediately. He was admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital on Thursday, diagnosed with Acute Monocytic Leukemia, coma-induced on Friday, and brain dead on Saturday.

I was just nine years old when Dad delivered the news. I had just arrived home from being at the museum’s Halloween carnival with a friend. There was an overwhelming number of people scurrying around my house, inside and out. Having been at the hospital just the day before and seeing Chuck in the ICU, my heart leapt for joy at the thought of him already being home! When my dad knelt down to greet me in the front yard and told me that Chuck had passed away, I only felt one thing…absolute disbelief. I can’t recall how long it took for me to realize this was our reality.

Since then, I periodically ask my parents to share with me their recollection of the details of that week, although, my questions for them have changed over the years. Recently, I asked my mom how in the world she was able to turn off the life support. Her response? The Holy Spirit. Wow! My mother, an absolute pillar of strength. As a mother, I have tried to imagine myself in the same situation. I can’t.

My own memories are spotty, the details fuzzy – after all, 35 years is a long time passed. The loss of my perfect brother, the one frequently mistaken for my twin, has shaped me maybe more than anything else in my life. My prayer, my hope has always been that no other mother, father, sibling, son, daughter, cousin, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or friend will have to experience what our community experienced. But what could I do to make an impact?

Chuck and Meredith together, probably in the late 1970s.

A wonderful opportunity finally presented itself: I have been nominated by a childhood friend to be a candidate for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) Man & Woman of the Year “MWOY” campaign. Seems to me like the perfect way to make an impact!! When asked to do this, I felt excited, but also overwhelmed and nervous. This is a huge task, and an even bigger honor! 

Since 2000, 40% of all new cancer therapies approved by the U.S. FDA are blood cancer therapies. Breakthrough advances in blood cancer research are now helping patients with other diseases, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, as well as non-blood cancers, including breast, pancreatic, brain, bone, liver, lung, kidney, ovarian, prostate, skin, stomach, melanoma, and lupus nephritis. You don’t have to look far to find someone you know who has been impacted.

With the mission and work of LLS, prayers are being answered. From the efforts of MWOY candidates who have come before me, LLS has been able to provide financial assistance for travel and medical costs for local patients, fund research, and provide general information, education, and support for patients and family members (including identifying clinical trials, support groups, etc.).

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is also reimagining pediatric blood cancer care with the LLS Children’s Initiative. LLS is striving to make children’s treatments safer, less toxic, and more effective—and ultimately, they will find better treatments and cures. While many children survive acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of pediatric blood cancer, the treatments are harsh and outdated. The long-term effects of current therapies can create severe life-threatening complications. And survival rates for children with other high-risk types of leukemia, such as acute myeloid leukemia, are very poor.

LLS Children’s Initiative is investing over $100 million over the next five years toward global, groundbreaking children’s blood cancer research and patient support. They are tackling pediatric blood cancers from every angle as they are the leader in a global pediatric master clinical trial and they continue to offer a wide range of free education, 1:1 support services, financial assistance, and advocacy on behalf of all young patients and their families.

LLS Children’s Initiative is investing over $100 million over the next five years toward global, groundbreaking children’s blood cancer research and patient support. They are tackling pediatric blood cancers from every angle as they are the leader in a global pediatric master clinical trial and they continue to offer a wide range of free education, 1:1 support services, financial assistance, and advocacy on behalf of all young patients and their families.

I am so excited about this opportunity to make, what I intend to be, a significant impact in the cancer community! I would love your partnership in doing so. My personal goal for our team, Charlie’s Angels, is to raise $500,000. Please know any amount you give could mean the gift of life, to a stranger or a friend.

***

Once again, if you feel encouraged to contribute to our campaign, you can do so by clicking here to visit my personal fundraising page. Thank you for reading!

 

 

Poem-A-Day: Justin Jamail

If the name on this post sounds familiar, it’s because today’s poem is by my cousin Justin. He lives in New Jersey and works in New York; that should give you significant context for this very recent poem of his. In other news, I love his work not just because it is good, but also because he and I are fairly unique together in a very large family.

This Federal Bower, Misprision

Dieting through the Wednesday we made
of the weekend, constrained by the constraints
of another’s delays, and misprision!  I have made
a dog glad at least and am not a little pleased
at not being pleased that none are better lied
to or fled.  Friends, who I may never meet again,
spring or ramble through a scentless expanse
one is almost tempted to refer to as a universe
before considering that even expanse enthrones
screens with perspectives, just phone light on
the dial of the day.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

photo by Amber Reed

Justin Jamail is the author of Exchangeable Bonds (2018, Hanging Loose Press) and has published poems and commentary in many journals and online publications. He is the General Counsel of The New York Botanical Garden. He studied poetry at Columbia University and the UMass Amherst MFA program. He grew up in Houston, TX and now lives in Montclair, NJ.

12 Days of Christmas Music That Doesn’t Suck, 2014 Edition (Day 6)

So have you finished your holiday shopping yet? I sure haven’t. Maybe I can get around to that on Tuesday, because, you know, hope springs eternal.

You know, if you’re stuck trying to figure out what to get for someone, Finis. just went on super-sale today. No idea how many days that will last, but it won’t be very long. You can find it at the various links below for just 99 cents, for a limited time.

And in honor of the shopping frenzy — but also very much because I’m thrilled that some of my cousins arrive from out of town tomorrow — I’m giving you a Straight No Chaser song today, “Christmas Can-Can.” What’s the family connection, you might ask? One of the guys in Straight No Chaser is my cousin-in-law.

Enjoy! And get that consumerism on. Time’s a-wasting!

*heavy snark*

*maybe*

 

 

And speaking of cousins, where can you buy Finis.?* So glad you asked! Be sure to spread the word. (It’s just about the only way to sell books these days.)

Amazon

Smashwords

Oyster Books

Barnes and Noble

Scribd

Kobo

Baker & Taylor’s Blio

Apple’s iBooks Store

*  Did you see what I did there? Yep, those of you who’ve already read Finis. will understand.

***

P.S. — It appears that the music videos aren’t showing up in the emails when these posts go out to my blog subscribers. Don’t know why that’s happening, but the videos are showing up nicely when you click on the link in the email to go to the blog directly. Thanks for subscribing, and thanks for clicking in!

Featured Poet: Justin Jamail

You might notice something about today’s poet’s last name, and that is that it’s the same as my last name. That’s because today’s poet is my cousin, who is also a poet.  We have an enormous family with very, very few writers in it.  He and I are about six years apart (he’s younger), and technically he’s my second cousin, though in a family as large and, in some ways, as tightly-knit as ours, that isn’t really distant.  We weren’t close when we were children, but we became friends as adults.  He had been living on the east coast for years when I met him again, back home in Houston, at his father’s funeral.

Our aunt came up to me after the service in one of the rooms of the funeral home where the mourners were having a sort of mercy dinner and told me, “You know, your cousin Justin is a poet, too.  You should go talk to him about that.”

“Oh, no,” I replied.  “I don’t think this is the right time for that, do you?”

She leveled her patented I-know-better-than-you-and-am-going-to-tell-you-what-I-know-because-I-love-you look at me and said, “Frankly, today,” and she gestured around the crowded salon, “I think he’d rather talk about anything else.”

“Okay,” I sighed and gingerly walked up to him. I waited for him to finish the conversation he was having and when he turned to me, I said, “Hi, Justin. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m your cousin Angélique, and Aunt Barbara told me to come and tell you I’m a poet.”  Then I shook my head.  “We don’t have to talk about this now.”

“Oh yes, hello, that’s wonderful,” he said with genuine kindness.  Then he gently took my elbow and gestured to a nearby couch and said, “Please, come tell me all about yourself.”

The last decade, we haven’t lived anywhere close to each other and see each other only now and then, but I consider him a close cousin and a dear friend.

Here’s his official bio:  

Justin Jamail is from Houston, TX.  He lives with his wife, the playwright Amber Reed, in Tokyo.

 

***

Four Negronis in Singapore

 

When one thinks that recorded human history
has taken not more than seven or eight weeks,
and that even our sun, though an immense ball
of party talk, is a pygmy beside most of the furniture,
the figures of remotely viewed people begin to dwarf
this country’s houses into comparative insignificance.
The farthest source of commentary
that can be seen with the naked eye
this afternoon is a faint splotch
available in a few university libraries
so far away that its import takes a million
episodes to traverse the intervening glasses
of cool relief and fan-conditioned conquests.

 

Ekphrasis #1

kids, ca. 1981
photo taken by MaryBeth Jamail, probably in 1981

I wrote this sonnet when I was in college, meditating on the theme of love presumed to be inherent in the sonnet form. I thought, love takes many forms, and so, this…

***

Lullaby for a Crying Child

When my cousin died (olive skin and thick
black hair and twelve years old laid under dirt
and roses) I realized that death is
not a one-way gate, but is a long silk skirt

in the rain:  shadows of skin inside the silk
(bare legs running to get inside, get warm)
stick to my skirt until I peel the silk
from my skin, and hang it in the bathroom.

My cousin (body of a child with eyes
and mind that have just turned twenty-three)
visits me in my sleep, touches my fingers, and I
look at him, then through him, and he leaves me

but not alone.  And I wake to rain and
my skirt dripping from the shower curtain rod.

***

This poem originally appeared in my first published volume of poems, Gypsies.