Last week, a real person in my life passed away. My father’s Uncle Mike, my grandfather’s baby brother (strange to think of a 66 year old man as a “baby”, yet some people always remain that baby or “little one” in our eyes, don’t they?), lost a battle with cancer.
I am, of course, saddened by Uncle Mike’s death. I am saddened by the death of any good, loving person – and Uncle Mike definitely qualified. A special ed teacher for many years, he was also a father of four, and my dad’s favorite uncle. He also had a great sense of humor and was very loved by everyone who knew him.
He passed away last Wednesday. I was unable to write about it until now because while it saddened me to know he was gone, it also brought up a more painful reality for me.
If you’ve read Tangled Deceit, then you may remember the last line of the acknowledgements, which reads: And yes, Grandma, I still insist you must live forever.
The line was included as part of an ongoing joke I’ve always had with my grandmother. Like any child, I once believed that my grandparents would live forever. Then my mother’s father died when I was five. That should have been the end of that illusion, but it just made me more convinced that my father’s parents would live forever.
They are now in their early 80s. I am 34, and you would think that by now I would have accepted that one day, they will no longer be here. But I haven’t. Or rather, I hadn’t. My grandmother had lost both of her brothers already, and that should have convinced me.
But it wasn’t until now, when my grandfather’s baby brother gave up his life to cancer, when my grandfather believed it should have been him, that I was truly struck with the reality that my grandparents will not live forever.
And even though I’m in my 30s and should be able to accept it, it still breaks my heart. I couldn’t write about any of this before today because I couldn’t think about any of this without crying. In fact, even as I type this, I’m crying.
I realize now, that if my grandfather’s 66 year old brother can die, then every day I get to have my grandparents alive now is truly a gift.
My great-grandmother, my sons great-great-grandmother, died a few years back. She was 98 years old when she died. I have one photo, only one, of five generations: her, my grandfather, my father, me, and my two sons. That photo, above all else, is the one thing (other than my children) that I would do anything to save in a fire. It is the only tangible proof I have for my sons that they did once get to meet her – and they did only meet her the one time.
I have so many treasured memories of my grandparents. I have few of Uncle Mike, because I never had many opportunities to see him. I know what a wonderful person he was, and I wish now that I’d had more chances to see him. I wish that his grandchildren would have gotten to have more time with him.
I cherish all this time I’ve had with my grandparents. I spent a summer with them when I was 14 and my grandmother broke her ankle. They used to visit us when I was a child and a teen. They took my cousin David and I to Silver Springs, and another cousin and I to MGM Studios. They have always been supportive, loving, and brutally honest.
I wish I had the power, in real life, that I have as a writer. I wish that I could determine whether my grandparents lived or died. I wish I could have the power to decide that Uncle Mike deserved more time with his family, or at the very least, that he deserved a much less painful death than what he got. I wish a lot of things.
I think what I wish most of all though, is that I could be four years old again and still believe that everyone would live forever.
R.I.P, Uncle Mike. You are missed, and you won’t be forgotten. You will always be loved.