I’d like to post an older piece occasionally, just to revisit it. I’ve always been a writer, but I haven’t always shared my work. Some of these early writings were my first attempts at storytelling. This is a piece from 2014, written on my phone, from my car, on the eve of my uncle’s death.
Sometimes when you say goodbye, you don’t realize you truly mean ‘goodbye.’
I’d hugged him so many times over the years. If I had known that time was the last, I’d have held him a little tighter, a little longer, and made sure he knew I loved him. I think he knew. I hope he did. That’s the way it is with family; you take for granted the other person knows you love them, even if you don’t say the words you will someday wish you had.
I think we forget our time in this world is limited. Especially when someone has always been around, a constant–like the sun, the moon, or the stars. You don’t think much about how beautiful they are until the clouds roll in and the sky falls dark. But you realize the clouds will fade and the sky will be bright again–if you wait long enough.
It’s on those dreary, seemingly unending days that we have the most faith. We know the sun still shines, and the moon still glows, and the stars still twinkle just as brightly behind the clouds. They don’t cease to be when they are hidden from our view.
The same is true when someone we cherish is gone. They may not be there for our hands to touch or our eyes to hold, but they live just as loudly and love just as fiercely–even if only in our hearts.
Yesterday I took care of patients at work while trying to hide my broken heart. Every moment a reminder someone like me was taking care of my uncle in a hospital far away as they prepared to let nature and God take over.
I’d been caring for a lovely woman who didn’t speak much English and had asked her to cough for me. “You cough,” she said. “No, YOU cough!” I told her.
I was instantly thrown back to a moment as a little girl, laughing with my beloved grandmother over a traffic sign. It’d quickly devolved into something reminiscent of an old black-and-white comedy routine.
“No U-Turn. You turn?”
“No. You turn.”
“No, grandma, you turn!”
“No, YOU turn!”
The memory was so vivid, so immediate. I heard her laughter, saw the blue of her eyes, and felt the way she pointed her finger into my chest to tickle me. Her face was smooth, her smile bright. For a moment, she was real, and she was right beside me. I ducked into an empty room and quietly broke down.
“No… you turn,” I whispered.
It was as though she (the universe, God, my own grieving heart, whatever you feel comfortable with) was there to tell me his turn had come. It would soon be over, and he would live only in our hearts and our memories. And like her, he would be perfect and happy and laughing. Though the memories might make us cry, they would be as beautiful and as real as the moments they’d captured. He would be with his parents, his babies, and everyone he’d ever loved– everyone we’d ever loved.
I realize these words won’t help his family much as they sit holding his hand, tearfully whispering their love and apologies, clinging to every moment they have left. They won’t give his wife one more sunrise in his arms or his children the last hug they so desperately wish for. It doesn’t give me back the few moments when I hugged him last–when I could have told him that I loved him and thanked him for being a good uncle. But didn’t.
I hope those memories of him will help my aunt cherish the nearly 40 years they had together. I hope they will help his children remember their father always loved them, even when he couldn’t always put his arms around them the way fathers do.
If you have a moment, please remember them, all of them, during this challenging time. Pray for his wife and his children, for his grandchildren, and his sister. And pray he spends his last moments without pain and instead wrapped in the love of the family and friends who will miss him so very much.
You have been a wonderful uncle, Michael. And I love you.