Nothing Gold Can Stay

Since reading the article in The Wave two weeks ago about Annie McMahon, I’ve been thinking so much about my cousin Tommy, who also suffered from Cystic Fibrosis.

In the beginning, everything seemed normal with my cousin growing up. My godparents never let on to all the troubles and pain they lived with.

Tommy was my cool, older cousin, always messing around and being nutty. I remember the block parties in Brooklyn, on Herbert street where my great aunt lived. I’ll never forget the time I was running down the street screaming for dear life. Tommy being 8 years older than me, easily caught up, grabbed the back of my shirt and poured a bucket of ice water down my back. I think I was laughing and crying at the same time!

At family parties we would have eating competitions – meatballs, hotdogs, chicken wings or whatever was in the sternos. All the cousins would chant for their favorite. The excitement grew as some of the kids visibly slowed down and the winner became apparent. It was always Tommy or my cousin Steven who won.

I was around 10 or 11 years old.  The phone rang in the middle of the night. It was the call. My Mom woke the kids up to tell us the news. Tommy was getting lungs! I remember feeling excited and happy. Before I went back to bed though, I saw my mom sitting at the kitchen table with her rosary beads.

I think we visited Tommy once or twice in the hospital. I don’t remember much about his recovery. We were blessed, his new lungs were not rejected. And things got back to “normal”.

Tommy and my sisters would go out to the city to the Limelight. And he took Maria to her first concert, Nirvana… oh I wish! As I got older we’d  also go out to bars, Halloween parties or just hang out at my mom’s house or Tommy’s apartment.

I’m so glad my cousin got to know my husband Matt. Tommy came to his band’s shows sometimes in Brooklyn. I remember once we were driving to Galapagos. We took two cars, I guess there were a lot of us. I turned on a yellow and he followed and got pulled over. He was mad, but didn’t let on too much.

He knew so much about music. And he was hilarious. I swear he could have been a famous radio personality or podcaster. I remember so many times laughing so hard my stomach hurt. He had that gift.

Tommy was at my wedding, this was 2009. He didn’t get up from the table. He was pretty sick again at this point but I know he wanted to be there for me.

I remember once Tommy telling me something to the effect of, “I can’t stand when people complain about being hungover, I’m sick all the time and I can’t do anything about it.” I know he was angry about his circumstances. I think of this a lot, at times when I drink too much. What a waste of time and health.

I participated in Annie’s plunge in 2011, after Tommy passed away the month before on January 21st. People were taking shots to warm up beforehand. I didn’t partake. The adrenaline rush of plunging into 35 degree water was better than any high alcohol could have given me that day. I raised $2,300 and I still feel proud of that.

Tommy was only 38 years old when he passed away. Now that I’m older than he was, it feels so surreal. He was too young. It drives me crazy when I hear people talk about ignoring a birthday or saying negative things about getting old. I always think of my cousin when this happens. I’ll make a light comment, “Well, I’m glad I’m just here on planet earth!” But it’s not a joke. We should be grateful for every day we have. They are so precious.

Diseases like Cystic Fibrosis have a ripple effect on families and friends. I’m thankful to share only a little bit about my cousin with you. There is so much more!

Annie’s has a story too. If you missed this article published a few weeks back, here.

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