Take It Easy

Today our family laid cousin David to rest at Allentown Presbyterian Church in Allentown, New Jersey. The church sits on a hill next to a large pond, trees running alongside the water’s edge. The cemetery lies on rolling knolls, and holds some of the oldest gravestones in New Jersey (some date back to the Revolutionary War). It is here where we gathered to say our goodbyes.

It was supposed to rain today and my brother and I weren’t surprised; any Cooper family funeral we can remember took place under unfriendly skies and violent rain. Prepared for the bad weather, we were instead greeted with cloudy skies, a cool breeze, and intermittent rays of sunshine. During the church service, the sunshine flickered through the old, wood-paned windows at the most appropriate times. I remember when the reverend called David a gentle a giant (he was 6’5”), and a devoted husband and father. The sunlight fell on David’s closed casket, right where his face would be. It was as if David was smiling in approval, happy that he’d be remembered in that way.

No matter your faith or religion, I think we all look to something bigger than us for answers sometimes. Today was one of those days for me.

Sitting in the church, I remembered the last two miles of my marathon, and how tired I was and how much pain I was in. A Team in Training coach from a different chapter ran alongside me for about a half-mile, and asked how I was feeling.

“I’m tired and in so much pain,” I said, as I looked ahead trying to find the finish line.

“Who is David?” coach asked. He’d clearly read David’s name on my shirt.

“He’s my cousin and he’s kicking leukemia’s ass right now, coach!” I yelled.

“Then keep going,” he said. “You are helping David with every step you take.”

Coach patted me on the shoulder and reassured me the finish line was near. “You got this,” he said before falling back and out of sight.

Those last two miles, I believe David was running with me. I remember digging as deep as I could to find the strength and the determination. If David can fight cancer, I can finish a marathon.

I thought about this moment briefly today as I blotted my tears. David inspired me to keep running that day, and here I sit and question, Why him? Why did his life end so early? I’m not sure I’ll ever find an acceptable answer.

David’s wife, my cousin Lori, told me today that David found inspiration in me. I was surprised and touched. We kept each other going, perhaps not knowing the significance the other played. He kept fighting, and holding onto hope and the possibility that he’d beat leukemia. I kept running, believing that I was making a difference in David’s life. Doesn’t that make all the blood, sweat, and tears worth it? To have something to hold onto, to fight for, to achieve?

After the graveside ceremony, family and friends bid farewell to David, lightly running their hands over his casket and whispering somber goodbyes. But for those who knew David, he wasn’t a “goodbye” type of guy, and his brother-in-law reaffirmed that today during his eulogy.

“David never said goodbye. It was always ‘take it easy,’” he recalled.

Take it easy, dear cousin. You are deeply missed, and I will keep running for you and fighting the good fight until my legs can no longer carry me.

In Remembrance
David A. Hicks
September 6, 1966 – December 23, 2014

Here is David at his daughter Courtney's guitar recital on June 1, 2014! Lookin' good, right?!

David and his daughter Courtney at her guitar recital on June 1, 2014

 

July 2, 1994

David and Lori wed July 2, 1994

The Good Fight

When we remember people or places or things, we never remember everything. We remember parts. When I think about my first memories of David, I remember two things: his monster truck and his waterbed—both indicative of the 80s.

David was the cooler older cousin. He drove cool cars and had Kiss posters on his bedroom wall. If you asked him if you could play in his bedroom, he’d always say yes, and there were no restrictions attached. This meant Wacky Wall Walkers on the wood panel walls. It also meant playing on the waterbed.

Growing up, David was the only one I ever knew with a waterbed, and I thought it was the neatest piece of furniture imaginable. I remember the first time I asked for permission to actually touch the “mattress” (I always kept my distance and just looked at it). I remember pushing down on the blanket, watching my hand go down and the surface area around it rise up. The sound—a cross between a gurgle and the ocean’s tide—was soft. The ripples traveled under the fuzzy, black blanket and to the edges of the wooden bedframe.

I remember David standing in the doorway, watching me. “You can climb on the bed if you want to,” he said in a slow, Southern-like twang.

What a bizarre feeling. As I climbed over the bed’s edge and put my hands and one knee down, the lack of stability nearly caused me to flop forward on my face. I crawled to the middle of the bed and lay on my back, stretching my arms and legs out like a starfish to keep myself steady. The water gently splashed below me and then settled.

“Pretty cool, right?”

I looked around the room and ran my hands over the polyester blanket.

“Sooooo cool,” I said.

Out of all the moments my brain allows itself to remember, it chose that one. It must have been special.

Fast-forward 23 years, and here I am remembering David at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. His wife, Lori, cooked enough food to feed the fire department, and the table was set as if Martha Stewart did it herself. It was the most special Thanksgiving to me, not only because we spent it with David and his family, but because it was the type of Thanksgiving I always wanted. Everyone sitting around the table laughing, drinking wine, and passing the mashed potatoes and biscuits. My older brother and I teasing each other while no one noticed. It seemed surreal.

My cousin David lost his battle with leukemia on December 23, 2014. He fought long and he fought hard. It is now up to us—the family—to keep him alive through stories and photos. It is up to us to keep fighting the hard and long battle against blood cancer.

This year, I trained for my first marathon with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Team in Training (TNT), and raised more than $4,000 to help find a cure for blood cancer. My chapter alone raised $250,000—enough to fund five researchers for one year. For 2015, the “Do It For David” campaign will be an even bigger success. I will surpass this year’s fundraising goal and shave 30 minutes off my marathon finish time. With the support of LLS, my TNT coaches and teammates, my family, and friends, we will keep David’s memory alive and help other blood cancer patients along the way.

It’s what David would’ve wanted—to keep living our lives and fighting the good fight.