Lessons my cousin taught me

Julie and I at my 8th or 9th birthday party

I’ve been absent a while. This summer has been a whirlwind of fun – and tragedy. Beside the quick passing of my grandmother, my cousin, my hero growing up, passed away unexpectedly last week while on a business trip. We’re still waiting to find out how.

What we do know is she texted her aunt at 9:30 p.m. No one heard from her after that. She missed her morning meeting, and concerned co-workers asked hotel staff to check on her. They found her there.

Julie was 9 years older than me and the sister I never got but wanted desperately. She was beautiful, vivacious, dramatic and great at cracking people up with her witty, self-deprecating and sarcastic sense of humor. Growing up, my family spent many weekend evenings at her house. I would join her in the bathroom as she got ready for her night out, watching every move she made with her curling iron and makeup brush so that I could look just like her when I grew up. I would listen to the same 80s metal music she loved, tuning into MTV to stay up to speed on the latest hits. And when my mother would occasionally declare, “You’re acting just like your cousin,” during one of my dramatic moments, I took it as the highest compliment.

In her 20s, Julie contracted Lyme disease, and it advanced pretty far before it was caught. It affected her joints and brain. A pure miracle, the disease went into complete remission when she became pregnant at 29. But she continued to have health issues, many of which she chose to keep to herself. As a result, I saw her less and less as we grew older, and she frequently missed family events due to her battles.

Despite this, as I reflected on her life this week, I realized she was so much of who I strive to be every day, imparting lessons I want to share so that you can realize just how amazing she was:

1. Embrace who you are

Julie was always herself. She didn’t hold back if she was meeting someone new or adjust her behavior if someone had an issue with it. She cracked jokes, said what she wanted to say and, occasionally, would “chug” liquor-infused whipped cream – her favorite. For her 40th birthday, I even made her a “holster” attached to a necklace so that her whipped cream was never too far away at parties.

2. Don’t be afraid to change

Jules was an incredible entrepreneur. After college, she started a dog care/walking business that grew rapidly in just a few years, just before doggie daycare became a household term. After getting Lyme disease, she sold the business and pursued a career in HR consulting and job placement. When the economy took a turn for the worse and she was laid off, she started her own consulting company. Julie was a fighter and amazing problem solver.

3. Be nice

I never heard Julie say anything bad about anyone. Julie was one of those people who made everyone feel welcome and accepted. And she was the biggest sweetheart in the world, often texting me to tell me she loved me or I was her favorite cousin. Not surprisingly, she touched a lot of lives. Approximately 1,000 people came to her wake. The line was out the funeral home door for three hours.

4. Just smile

No matter what was happening in her life, Julie had a sense of humor about it. Her smile was infectious. I’m not sure why, but I can guess it’s because she knew what was truly important in life: her family and friends. She was an incredible mother, wife, sister, daughter, cousin, friend… you name it.

Facing everyday stresses, it’s easy to forget these simple lessons we’ve learned. But I ask you to honor my cousin and remind yourself to do these things today – at the very least. The world needs more Julies.