Originally posted on 9/19/19
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”-John Lennon
Y’know, I’ve never been a huge Beatles fan. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy much of their work, I’ve just never been a fanatic. Maybe that’s changing. Yes, I know that the lyric is from a solo John Lennon, the point remains the same. That point? I don’t know. Then again, it’s irrelevant because the words he wrote are painfully true.
A few weeks back, I dropped my son off at school and went to grab groceries for my mom and my uncle (who happens to live next door to her). Both suffer from Retinitis Pigmentosa, so neither of them drive. When my uncle came over, he was short of breath and talking about going to the hospital if he didn’t improve.
Fast-forward to a week and a half ago, and he was in the hospital. Anemic. Blood loss. He received a transfusion but a question remained: where had the blood gone?
Then we got the news and it wasn’t what we wanted. Colon cancer. Confident that it was caught early, the doctors gave an optimistic prognosis. The initial surgery went well, but things took a turn. Soon, we were hearing about septic shock and organ failure. Days earlier we were looking forward to a full recovery, now we were slapped in the face by a cold and harsh reality: my uncle wasn’t coming home.
The Anger of Loss
To be completely transparent, I am not a person who handles this type of thing particularly well. I got angry. I was angry at the doctors for the massive swing in his status. I was angry at my inability to do anything to make the situation better. I was angry that my family was having to go through this. Above all else, I was angry that my uncle was being taken from us at 60.
I’m still angry, but I’m doing my best to make peace with it. I’m also no longer at a loss for words.
I look back at things: the stories he would tell of his wild youth, the loving uncle that myself and my cousins saw, and the chronic worrier, something I am all-too-well familiar with in my own life. There are endless stories I could tell from my own childhood, but I’m far too weary to get into all of that right now. Still tired, still angry.
What sticks out the most to me is my uncle’s relationship with my son. From the day he was brought home from the hospital, Jack was inseparable from his great-uncle. If I had a dime for every hour they spent together, I wouldn’t be writing. I’d be on a yacht somewhere off the coast of a secluded island.
On the weekends that I would take Jack to spend with his Oma and his uncle, I felt good. I knew that Jack would love it and I knew that my mom and uncle would as well. I would get calls about pillow forts and wheelchair races. The calls usually ended with Jack setting the phone down and running off to resume play.
When things with my uncle took that damned turn, I had to sit Jack down and tell him. I realized that through everything, I kept thinking about him: how he would react, how much it would hurt, and how little I wanted to have that conversation with him. It didn’t break my heart; it ripped it out, stomped on it, doused it in kerosene, and set it aflame before pissing on it to put the fire out. This was the single most painful thing that I have ever had to do.
So, as we prepare to lay my uncle to rest, I find myself reflecting more on my son’s time with his beloved Uncle Neal rather than my own. That’s not to say that I don’t have those same positive memories (I do) or that I haven’t reflected on them (I have), it’s just that this has all been more heartbreaking because a child is having a hero ripped away. This loss is his as much as—and perhaps more than—anyone else’s.
And just like that, someone’s cutting onions again.
I love you, Neal.
Jack loves you too.