Some members of my family are out of town right now. Several of us needed to stay home and hold down the fort. Separate as we are, we are all together, supporting each other in any way we can because right now, my uncle, the one closest in age to my mom, is in a bed in a hospice center. He is struggling and fighting and battling. And he is losing.
He is losing to cancer.
He has fought this battle for ten years. Ten long years. The same amount of time that his son has been alive.
This uncle isn’t one we saw every holiday or even heard from often. We moved a lot being a military family. And he always chose to live life on his terms. Always on his terms.
He was around a bit when we were young children because we all lived within driving distance, and the thing I remember most is his energy and his incredible physical strength. The collective memories of my brother and other cousins in our age range all can recount the times when we would swim in a pool where my grandparents lived. We’d literally hang on him three deep, and he’d fling us all off effortlessly, laughing. And we’d swim back furiously, begging for more, climbing onto him with our slippery bodies and teetering on his shoulders, just waiting for him to fling us off him again.
He was a tree trimmer for much of his life, which is incredibly dangerous. Climbing massive trees to the tippy top. He had stories to tell.
He learned lessons the hard way. Always the hard way.
But then when he had his son, well into his 40s, he changed a bit. He was softer. He was a father. Parenthood transformed his countenance, as it does all of us, I imagine.
The last advice he gave me was during a recent visit in late July. I told him about how I had kept my AJ out of soccer and convinced them to play other sports because of the time commitment that soccer was and how hard it is to work even the other sports in to our schedule.
He scoffed at me, looked me in the eye, pointed at me and said, “So? If they want to, it’s your job as a parent to do it. Of course it’s a time commitment. Of course it can be exhausting. But it’s your job as a parent. NOTHING is more important.”
His children played soccer. BOY, did they play soccer. His stepson is almost an adult now, and he lives, eats and BREATHES soccer. We may very well be watching him someday soon with all the other great soccer players. He’s that good.
I broke his gaze and felt ashamed and selfish. I tried to make a lighthearted explanation of how I let AJ do baseball and was ready for football. He just shook his head and told me again to make sure I had my priorities straight.
[The kids still aren’t in soccer, but if they do ask again, I’ll lean to the yes because it’s the right thing to do… even if I don’t want to.]
He wasn’t cruel in his advice. He knows I cherish my children and give them all that I can. He just reminded me that there is always more.
He’s not old. Definitely not old enough to be wasting away as he is, just 54 years here on this earth.
The nurses told my mom that we go out the way we lived our life. It was a sobering thought. Once she told me this, there was silence on both ends of the line as we thought about our own lives, wondering how we would go out.
It certainly explains why he’s fighting so ferociously. His kidneys are failing him though. He lives in constant pain and sometimes confusion.
His time is short. Very short. I said my goodbyes to him, hugging him a little tighter than usual last time I saw him.
My heart aches for the loss his son will bear. For the loss my grandmother will experience, going through the pain of losing a child. For my mom, losing her brother. For his friends, his loving, loyal friends who have been by his side constantly. For the world in losing such a fighter. For me, my cousins, my siblings, losing that strong uncle that once upon a time tossed us like feathers across a blue, shimmering pool that only exists in our memories now.
If you’re the praying type, maybe remember him tonight, that he may have peace.