Death does not wait

Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Day to Day | Comments Off on Death does not wait

Uncle Joe

“Have you ever lost someone you love and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for the time when you thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back.”
Mitch Albom, For One More Day

This is a continuation of the last post.

A week later, my son and I would be on a plane headed for Michigan. He was eleven months old and would soon be meeting my dad’s side of the family for the first time.

I called home as soon as I landed in Michigan and made plans to meet my Uncle Joe for lunch. Since he didn’t feel comfortable with me staying at my own home, I stayed with another one of my aunts and uncles.

The minute I walked outside of Detroit Metro, a very muggy August evening was there to greet me. The weather seemed to be getting hotter as the night went on – the complete opposite of what happens in San Diego. My mind was racing, and I couldn’t fall asleep because I was thinking about seeing my family the next day. In particular, I was thinking about all the things I wanted to say to my Uncle Joe. We were always at odds with each other when I was growing up. We knew how to push each others buttons and did it often.

After a lot of tossing and turning, I took my pillow and blanket and moved to the front room where it was a little cooler. I woke up at four-thirty in the morning because the room actually felt chilly. I remember sitting up half asleep and watching the curtains blow in the breeze. It gave me a really weird feeling because it was still extremely hot and humid except for the odd breeze. Laughing at myself for almost feeling afraid to stay in the room, I chalked it up to nerves and jet lag and moved back to the bedroom.

That morning, my aunt came into my room around seven in the morning. I was awake, but not up yet. My head was in a fog as I was hearing her say “Honey, I don’t know how to tell you this, but your Aunt Sarah called and I’m afraid I have some bad news.” She went on to tell me that my Uncle Joe died in his sleep during the night.

It doesn’t matter how many times I say it, type it or write it, it’s still surreal. I was stunned beyond words. My heart aches now as much as it did then. It just couldn’t be. I couldn’t possibly have gotten that close to seeing him only to have him die a few hours before we were to meet. I would never get to see him again, not alive. In the back of my mind, I’ve always wondered if the odd little chill in the air was his way of saying goodbye. Whether it was or wasn’t, the thought offered a sliver of peace on the days that I really needed it..

It was such a horrible feeling that even now, years later, I just can’t put it into words. I hadn’t been able to tell him everything I wanted to, that’s what this whole trip was about for me. I hadn’t had the chance to apologize for the hard times, I hadn’t had the chance to really tell him thank you, or how much I loved him, and he hadn’t had the chance to see my son. I was devastated and felt utterly and completely blind-sided.

Throughout his funeral, I sobbed and ached as if my heart was being ripped out of my body. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever cried that much in my entire life. I don’t think anything has hurt that badly, in that way. I remember my cousin Debbie coming over to me in the middle of the service and hugging me and I just couldn’t stop crying. Deep, uncontrollable sobbing that felt as if it would never end. His is still the hardest death for me because I didn’t have the closure I needed, and at the time it felt as if life had just played the cruelest joke in the world on me. I was angry at him for dying on me while I was so close. I remember that he wanted to wait until the next day so he could “clean up”. The hurt of being so close was unbearable. I was just a few hours too late.

I remember seeing my cousins- his sons, and looking at them and thinking that they were carbon copies of him at different stages of his life. I remember thinking how strange it was to have just lost him, yet feeling like I was looking at a younger version of him. I was so grief struck, and shocked that I really don’t remember very much else of that trip.

My uncle’s death taught me one of the most painful lessons I’ve ever learned. It was with his death that I experienced the pain of words left unspoken. Even though my uncle and I loved each other, and we both knew it, I never got to tell him all the things that I wanted to. I denied myself the inner peace I so desperately needed when he died.

Eventually, his death taught me how to forgive myself, and how to forgive others. His death taught me the importance of letting go of our pain. I learned how important it is to tell the people in our lives how important they are to us, how much we love and respect them, to say “thank you” and “I love you” while they are still here. It taught me that we never know when we might be seeing someone for the last time, and how important each and every encounter really is.

What has death taught you about living?

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