2.19.2020

My uncle died suddenly and this is what I have to say

I just found out a couple of days ago that my uncle died suddenly, and today would have been his birthday. He wasn't a young man, but it doesn't matter how old someone is when they pass away; it's still a shock and is still sad, even if they've been sick for a while. I find it irritating and not comforting when people think it's no big deal when an older person dies. For instance, when my dad died, he was almost 90 and had been sick for a while. It still took a while to get over, and when someone was talking about their dog dying and I mentioned my dad, the person said it was no big deal because my dad was old. Age doesn't matter. So if you're grieving someone whose "time" had come, there's nothing wrong with struggling with it, and it's okay to cry about it and mope, because we all want people to live forever, and it's hard to see them go.

I did the right thing with my parents: I had decided many years ago to help them because they were getting older and initially my mom had serious health issues, and I thought it was the right thing to do. I didn't have kids and didn't have much of a career, and I was willing to stunt that to help them out. Eventually my mom died just when my dad had become very ill, and then in the midst of that, my sister became very ill and died, so I really had to help my dad out. Actually, I could have hired someone more full time to help out, but by that point, I didn't have much to give up; I wasn't on any kind of intense career track and I didn't have anything to lose, so I spent a lot of time with him. I achieved what a lot of the millionaires who live around me haven't: I helped two elderly people live with dignity, and that's worth more than the luxury car and penthouse a lot of the NBA stars who recently descended upon Chicago have. Having no regrets and knowing that I've helped people is priceless, and while I have my own dreams to pursue right now and am older than others who have the same goals, I would absolutely do it all over again.

While I was helping my mom, she didn't want me to talk about her illness, so I didn't say anything for more than a decade. It's really amazing how ignorant and judgmental people can be when they don't know your situation and can't put it in a box. People would tell me to get a full-time job, one person would ask how many hours a week I worked and then add some negative comment, others would think I was rich because I didn't have a typical schedule. However, I was pursuing different things, but because my life didn't look the way other people my age were living, I felt bad when dealing with people's criticism and quizzical comments and demeanor. I internalized their negativity and I regret wasting so many years worried about what others thought. Absolute waste of time...don't do it.

One of the few people who knew about my mom's condition was my uncle, her brother. And she had told him what I was doing for her. I'm pretty sure some other folks knew, but for some reason, he was the only person who went out of his way to thank me. He didn't like to travel so I didn't see him much, but when he came to town, he would pull me aside and tell me emphatically that he was very appreciative of what I was doing. He would even grab my arm to make sure I understood how he felt. I was surprised because he was so intense about it, but it really made a difference. A lot of times when we're on the sidelines on the outside looking in, getting a word of encouragement from others means a lot. And his intense sincerity made it even more special.

Another time when he was in town, I was talking with him about writing and the group and anthology I'd published (thus the initial reason for my business). I also told him about the different places I was working. Instead of getting the usual questions or sarcastic comments that provincial people had thrown my way, he simply said, "You're an entrepreneur!" I had never thought of that, and I wasn't even making much money, but that simple statement was very encouraging. Especially since he was a professional and well-off person, it meant a lot. He had recognized that I was doing things my way, and there was nothing wrong with it.

And it makes sense because he himself had done a lot of different things, and what makes his reaction even more remarkable is that he had become very successful. He went to a good medical school, became a doctor and a professor, he spoke to groups (he was supposed to speak to a physicians group this week) and had written articles, and even wrote a successful novel. He told me that he bought a house from the money he made from that novel, and he also bought gifts for other people. And that was in addition to having a prominent, well-paying job. He was also good at investing, so he was all-around a very talented, smart person. There aren't many people who can do so many different things, plus be successful at it. But he had achieved so much, and I had a lot of respect for him.

He wasn't an easy-going person and had his negative points, and unfortunately, some folks only focused on that. I think that's because some people are so negative and critical, and perhaps envious, that they don't bother to step back to appreciate a person's overall accomplishments and pursuits; they only look at a slice of a person's life. While I knew that he wasn't perfect, I always admired him, and wanted to talk to him more, especially about writing commercial fiction.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I told my writing group about him and how I wanted to talk to him about how he got published. I really assumed I'd be able to talk to him, especially since he wasn't ill and was a very lively person who seemed to be destined to live a long time. He liked to talk to different kinds of people, he went out at least a few times a week, walked around his east-coast city, and was interested in what was around him.

Then I got the horrible phone call a couple of days ago. He was gone. I was so shocked, and was walking around my mid-west city when I was talking to other family members about it on the phone. I just couldn't believe it. The uncle who had been so encouraging the few times I'd seen him, and who had done so much, who I'd wanted to get advice from, was totally gone. Just like that. And I absolutely regretted not talking to him. I should have called him. I shouldn't have assumed anything.

So I'm writing this to tell everyone to not assume the people you admire and love will be around. If you have something to say, say it. If you're wasting your time with jerks, stop doing that and get around the good, positive, supportive people in your life. Don't waste your time with people who will pull you down, and don't fill your life with junk just because it's there. Pursue quality and stay in touch with people because you never know if they'll be here tomorrow, or even today. I wish I'd made the effort to communicate more with my interesting, smart, successful uncle, but I didn't, and I have to get over the regret. I also have to focus on good people and experiences, and make sure people know how I feel because I don't want to live through this shock and regret again.

I also have to finish the novel I've been working on, the process I whined about last month. I finished the first draft, and didn't feel very motivated. That's one of the things I wanted to talk to him about...how did he stay motivated? What was his writing process? I don't know because he's gone. But going forward, I'm going to use his memory and success to keep me motivated, and if I get published, I will dedicate the book to him. That should be motivation enough.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

I'm so sorry about your uncle. And your mom, and your dad, and your sister. And I'm especially sorry that the other people around you failed to support you in your grief. Frankly, they sound like a bunch of assholes.

My uncle also died recently. He was a crazy, self-destructive alcoholic, but I loved him anyway. Still, he hurt a lot of people in his life, so he died somewhat isolated, although his wife took very good care of him. There was no funeral. To me, that was the worst part. No funeral. As if he wasn't human. As if humans didn't mourn him.

It's a cold world we live in, but when you read and when you write, you learn that you are not alone. So thank you very much for writing this.

Margaret Larkin said...

Thanks for reading and sharing!