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