My cousin Mandy joined my wife Leora and I for dinner earlier this week. It was a lovely evening – particularly because it was the first time we’ve spent time with Mandy since the start of the pandemic.

Family members getting together for a meal shouldn’t be a novel concept and in most cases, wouldn’t be the subject of my weekly blog. The difference is just over three years ago, I didn’t know I had a cousin Mandy and Mandy didn’t know she had a cousin David.

What brought us together

May, 2018 was a hectic month for Leora and I. Not only were we packing up our condo to move into a new place on June 8th, we were also preparing for our family wedding ceremony in Quebec’s Eastern townships on June 17th. Although we had a lot going on, the one constant was my Sunday morning phone call with my Nana, Sybil Carsley. I always made sure to make time for that.

Nana was not her usual self on the morning of Sunday, May 27. She sounded distraught. Before I even had a chance to ask her what was wrong, she said “David, there’s been a tragedy in our family. (My great-uncle and Nana’s brother) Jay’s grandson died.”

Jay’s grandson was my cousin and Mandy’s brother Shane Weigensberg, a talented, vibrant young man that sadly, I never got to meet. Per tags4shane.com, ‘Shane loved his family, loved life, loved giving of himself, helping others, and loved the excitement of living somewhat on the edge.’

Shortly after that phone call, I went onto Facebook and connected with my cousin Elayne Kazenel Weigensberg (Shane, Jamie and Mandy’s mom). I introduced myself, expressed my condolences and we both agreed to meet up the next time I would be in Montreal.

Our meetup

Elayne, Mandy and I met up at a Starbucks in Montreal later that year. I still remember Elayne and Mandy’s warmth. My two cousins, despite the unthinkable tragedy of losing a son and brother, were both so happy to meet me. There wasn’t a single moment of awkwardness during that conversation. It felt like we had known each other for years.

The three of us made a point to stay in regular contact from that day forward and I’m so glad we did. We have a special relationship that I truly value.

Our dinner this week

Mandy is an amazing person. She’s thoughtful, bright and extremely caring – a trait she attributes to her mom’s influence. At dinner, she shared how Shane’s passing has impacted her. Like many others who have experienced loss, Mandy has good and bad moments. She said she’s fortunate to be surrounded by so many people who care about her, but oftentimes gets frustrated by comments people make when she shares her feelings.

This is something I can relate to. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to lose a sibling, but I know what it’s like to experience grief and loss. While no two losses are the same and grief is always immeasurable, here are two constants that apply to every person who is dealing with grief:

  1. They are extremely vulnerable.
  2. They find comfort knowing others are there for them.

For many, point 2 is tricky to navigate. Imagine you’re at a memorial service and are in line to support the grieving family. You’re feeling anxious. You want to say something comforting but don’t want to make the situation more awkward by saying the wrong thing. You’re next in line and your anxiety has now translated to stress.

Here’s a tip: you can never go wrong by expressing your condolences and saying you’re here for that person. You don’t need to say anything else. What’s more important is for you to listen. Let the other person share how they’re feeling. Meanwhile, don’t feel like you need to offer solutions. Just listen. The person will appreciate your presence.

Gratitude

I’m really happy to have Mandy in my life, but I do wish the circumstances that led to us meeting were different. In the meantime, I think it’s important that we all do our part to honour Shane’s memory so please visit tags4shane.com and purchase a Shaney bear today.

Mandy

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