I found out late this afternoon that my uncle died today. Suddenly, at 58. I wasn't prepared for the way this hit me. And I don’t know what to do with myself but to write a bit about it. There seems nothing else to do. And wish that I weren't here, but was instead there, with people I love. Family, and my own love.
He was my mother’s twin brother. I am worried, in the first instance, about her. When she phoned me, she was not as distraught as I’d have imagined she would be – and I know it hasn’t hit her, a much, much, much deeper grief that she hasn’t even encountered yet. I know this because of the circumstances of her life, of his life. His life always – his whole life – but also, especially, just recently. Just in the last few weeks.
We spent an awful lot of time talking about my uncle when my mother was visiting. She was worried about him. She phoned every day, trying to get hold of him. She checked in with one of their sisters about him every day. His wife had just left him because he was an alcoholic. Full of rage. Emotionally abusive. She had moved out into my other uncle’s house, taking their thirteen-year-old daughter with her.
He was a profoundly damaged man. In some ways, hurtling toward destruction. Nearly died of heart disease a year and half ago, but hadn’t quit the smoking that was killing him. Hadn’t quit the drinking.
But when his wife left him, he tried to turn it around. For these last two weeks, he’d been going to AA meetings every day. Was looking into a residential rehab program. When my mother was here, he phoned once while we were out, and left a soft, forlorn message trying to reassure her that everything was – or would be – alright.
My mother tells me she talked to him for an hour last night. He was sick with worry, apparently, that the family thought he was a monster. She tried to reassure him that nobody thought that.
Today his heart failed. And he died.
So I think of him, trying so hard to remake his life, and the screaming injustice of being stopped so soon. And I think of my mother, his closest sibling, his twin, for goodness sake. A recovered alcoholic herself, who saw through to the core of him – as many of us couldn’t , or wouldn't – and knew, and knew, what a good person he was.
I think of his children - a young girl he was so proud of, and a boy in his twenties, shy and sweet and standing by his father these last couple of weeks. What it feels like to watch a father live the way he has - so wounded - and then to lose him.
I think, too, of the larger family. It is large – my mother is one of seven children – and soso heavy with its own baggage, much of it centering around him. I know that losing their brother hurts. I know it hurts in an especially confusing and acute way because of where he stood in that family. Of where he had stood his whole life. Ever since he was a child.
And I think of my grandmother, losing one of her children. And what that must feel like because they didn’t really speak, she and my uncle. She – and these were her words, or at least an approximation – had never felt connected to him. He lived with that, she’s lived with it. And now he’s gone.
And it’s strange and terrible to feel that you’ve somehow failed someone. By writing them off. That’s what I did, I think. Because he was such a hard man to handle, because his profoundly insecure personality tended to grate. I didn’t take him seriously. And the worst part is that I knew. I knew how damaged he was, and at least some of the reasons why. And I still wouldn’t really, humanly engage with him. That’s selfish, and profoundly wrong. I am sorry for that.
My mother said she was grateful that he’d been released from the pain of his life. She believes he’s in a better place. I can’t say, of course, that I feel he’s anywhere now. I can't make anything of this. No lessons, no consolation, no nothing. Just the injustice of it, for him. Just hurt, for everyone else. And oh, my poor mother.