Yesterday morning, I woke up to have the news that my uncle Mark had passed on be the first thing I heard.
Uncle Mark was my favorite uncle. Don’t get me wrong – I love all my aunts, and uncles, and my cousins, too. But something about Uncle Mark was special. I don’t know what it was about him that made him so special to me, but there was something. He was a really great guy.
He was very proud of me and my books. He bragged so much about me to his boss that she decided she wanted signed copies of my books – the first books I ever signed for someone that I wasn’t related to. I don’t know if he had even read them when he was bragging and persuading her, but the pride that he had in me made me feel more pride in myself.
When I was eighteen, I decided to move back to Michigan, which is where I was born and where much of my family is. When I made that decision, he got me a job at the restaurant he worked at. I was a hostess there, with absolutely no experience, and filling out the application was merely a formality. It was clearly nepotism at its finest. lol And though he’d put his reputation, and potentially his job, on the line for me, he didn’t hate me when I decided to quit a month later and move back to Florida. I’m sure he was upset with me, maybe even downright angry, but he never held a grudge about it. I guess he remembered what it was like to be eighteen and stupid. That is one of those things that I look back on now and wish I’d known then what I know now, because I do regret putting him in that position.
Maybe part of what made him so special was that he was single and had no kids of his own. All of my other aunts and uncles are married, and have at least one child. And there is a difference in how you see kids when you are a parent and when you aren’t. My other aunts and uncles, though never trying to take the place of my parents, did tend to think like parents. I didn’t get in trouble, exactly, but I did get watched like a hawk and was expected to behave. Not that Uncle Mark let me get away with not behaving on those occasions I was in his care, but he was just…different, I guess. He didn’t think like a parent. He just thought like an uncle who was spending some time with his niece. I remember him taking me to the mall when I was fourteen, and he bought me a sweatshirt – one that I still have in my closet, in fact. It was a $50 sweatshirt (one that, looking back, even I can’t believe I chose something that cost that much. I never spend that much on one item these days), one that my parents, grandparents, and probably anyone else would have said no to, and he bought it for me without blinking an eye.
I haven’t seen Uncle Mark, or any of my other extended family, in ten years. I know exactly when it was because it was the first time they all met my kids. I’ve wanted to go back and see my family for a long time now, and it really makes me sad now that he’s gone and even if I could go now or in the near future, I can’t see him. I can’t give him a hug and thank him for talking me up to his boss, for being so proud of me. My kids can never get to know my “cool” Uncle Mark – they can only know what I can tell them about him. And we all know that telling stories about someone is never the same as having your own stories with that someone.
His death was sudden, and we don’t yet know what happened. He died during the night. In some ways, I’m glad it happened that way, because at least he (I hope, anyway) didn’t suffer, didn’t feel any pain. But in other ways, I hate that suddenness because it seems to make the pain of losing him so much worse. There was no chance to say goodbye, no chance to say thank you for being so awesome or I’m sorry for being so rotten when I was too young and stupid to know what you’d put on the line for me. I guess I can only hope that he knew I felt both thankful for him and sorry for what I did so long ago.
It’s still too strange and new to think he’s gone. I’m torn between trying to accept it and thinking that it’s just a bad dream and I’ll wake up and things will be fine.
I love you, Uncle Mark. And I miss you already.