I’m a believer in G-d, but sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense. In the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, my cousin Michelle — who had been battling Crohn’s diseases and subsequent complications — passed away. Michelle Susan La Rocca was 31 years old. A wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, and friend to countless people. Everyone says she is at peace now, and no longer suffering. And I do believe that — I do. It’s just hard to conceptualize that a piece of your childhood, your upbringing … is no more. That, while her spirit lives on, life has left the body of someone you love so very much.
We cousins were inseparable, spending summers learning to swim in Nana’s pool, eating mac-and-cheese (our fave!), adventures to Action Park and Waywayanda Lake, recitals and games, countless cousins sleepovers, playing silly games like Sardines, “bear hunting,” holidays, family parties, birthdays, trips to the Sussex County air show and Turtleback Zoo and Space Farms and the Poconos … though we lived an hour away, we grew up with our cousins. From the earliest memories of all of us sitting around a yellow Little Tykes table to the most recent ones — family reunions with the next generation and weddings, Michelle was an integral part of us.
Michelle was a fighter. She never let her illnesses get in the way of living. She was a dancer. A straight-A student who, in spite of being in and out of hospitals since she was 9, graduated high school with honors. She went to college. Always compassionate, following graduation, she became a special needs teacher until her illness prevented her from being in the workforce. She got married to her lifelong love, Anthony, two years ago. She bought a home. And she traveled — even when it meant finding a dialysis center in Hawaii. Her illness was very much a part of her life — that’s unquestionable — but it didn’t define her. And that’s unquestionable, too.
She was brave, facing unspeakable odds. And she fought til the very end, til her body just couldn’t handle any more. Everyone says she is at peace and no longer suffering and I know that is true. But it doesn’t take away the hurt or pain we all feel for a beautiful young woman whose life was cut much too short.
I am heading to NJ tomorrow morning for the wakes and funeral. It will be a quick trip — the first trip home I am dreading in my life — but I know I need to be there with my family. For my aunt, uncle, cousins. For Michelle’s husband Anthony. For my parents. For our family.
For anyone who can or would like to, donations in Michelle’s name may be made to the Crohn’s Disease Foundation www.ccfa.org 386 Park Ave S, New York, 10016. I know it won’t help Michelle in this world, but maybe it can help someone else.
Godspeed, cousin. May you rest in peace now, free from pain and suffering.
You are so very loved, and you and your sunny smile and sweet voice will be so immensely missed. Our prayers are now for Anthony, your family … all who love you.