In Memoriam

As I write this, too early on a morning when I can’t sleep, my uncle is still alive. But today is the day the decision will be made to stop giving him medication (other than painkillers) – I think they call it “compassionate care” – and he will pass away anywhere from one to several days from now.

Naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about him lately and wanted to jot a few memories and impressions down, since our daughter will never know him, and the contrast of life within me and death outside me feels too poignant at the moment to ignore.

My uncle (my father’s second oldest brother) is and always was a mass of contradictions. He was borderline schizophrenic. Incredibly intelligent in some ways and unbelievably naive in others. He was, hands down, THE most inappropriate person I have ever known (of course, most of that simply could not be helped). He was many things, but one thing he was at all times was unfailingly honest, which made him in turn a delight and a terror to be around. You could always count on him to say something cringe-worthy… it either embarrassed you or you thought it was hilarious. Sometimes both.

When I was a child, I’d spend hours watching National Geographic with him – or any nature/animal related show on PBS. He transferred his love of the animal kingdom to me early on… along with his passion for conservation. These things, I will cherish. He was also a bit obsessive about not wasting water or paper as well as recycling everything. [Some of that has rubbed off on me, too – I go crazy when people waste paper towels or Kleenex – just ask my husband!]

My uncle was a devout Atheist. No joke – it was like a religion to him and he was active in Atheist organizations. As soon as I could write, he handed me stacks of money and instructed me to cross out the word “God” in “In God We Trust” and write in “Atheism” above it. I have a vague memory of this annoying my parents, but I don’t recall anyone putting a stop to it. My favorite was when evangelicals of any kind would knock on the door of his Hollywood home: Christians, Mormons, Jehova’s Witnesses, and the like. He relished challenging them and when they would try to hand him a pamphlet or book, he would immediately say, “I’ll buy your book if you buy mine!” and offer them a variety of materials from his Atheist organization. I have to admit, that still makes me chuckle. I’m no Atheist, but I have always admired the tactic.

A few days ago, when he was still alert, my dad told me there was a Korean priest who visited my uncle in the hospital and was trying to convince him to get “saved” before it was too late. He told me they’d been talking for hours and neither one showed any signs of changing their minds. I thought that was funny and kind of sad at the same time. Personally, even though I can believe it comes from a good place in a person, I think it’s the height of arrogance to push one’s beliefs on another human being, especially when they’re at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.

I remember when my husband first met my uncle. It was in Seattle, just over two years ago, when my favorite uncle (my dad’s oldest brother) passed away – some say from the cancer treatments that weakened his heart, but I think it was from a broken heart after the passing of his wife months prior. At any rate, I’d been telling my husband so many outrageous stories about my schizophrenic uncle that he couldn’t wait to meet him and see it all for himself. The afternoon my uncle flew in, I was with my dad, meeting with the real estate agents and attorney handling my uncle’s estate. We were at lunch. And I’ll never forget reading my husband’s text message letting me know my uncle had arrived: “The Korean woman sitting next to him on the plane was very nice, but she had no erotic juices.” I nearly spat out my Diet Coke!  It still makes me laugh to this day. That’s how my uncle talks… because that’s how he thinks. It’s crude, gross, funny, and always completely inappropriate – but the man has no filter.

Both of my uncles on my father’s side of the family, inherited their father’s “happiness gene.” (My grandfather’s tombstone reads “The happiest man in the world.” And by all accounts, he truly was.) My uncles were both happy nearly all the time, regardless of circumstances. My dad didn’t get those genes at all. He’s the worrier, the responsible one… and sadly (although I am grateful) the one left to take care of everyone else in life and death. So whether my uncle was ranting about religion, “Jew Judges” (a favorite topic of his after a difficult divorce and custody battle), sexual “hang-ups” (another favorite topic) or whatever was on his mind at the time, he was inherently jovial without a malicious impulse anywhere in his makeup.

I remember him once saying to me, over lunch with my dad and my other uncle, “There’s no reason for you to be so fat!” (I wasn’t fat, mind you.) But I was pissed off. And knowing that no one else was going to stand up for me or say anything, I quickly and sternly said, “You shut up! Nobody asked for your opinion.” There was a moment of complete silence at the table and then he smiled and laughed (even I was confused). And then he said, “I like that. I like that you put me in my place. I admire that.” And with that, all the tension was gone.

One of the saddest moments I had with him was in a conversation we had at the airport in Seattle. He was talking about his childhood and growing up and about some of his obsessive/compulsive behaviors, and it was obvious to me and my husband that my uncle was very aware of some of his shortcomings, and equally aware that he simply could not control his behavior or his thought process. I don’t know if it was a moment of clarity, or if that consciousness is always brimming under the surface, but it kind of broke our hearts a little. That’s quite a heavy burden for anyone to live with… to be aware, yet incapable of doing anything to change it.

In a few days at the latest, he’ll be gone and, I believe, for the first time in a long time, he’ll be free of all that imprisoned him here. He’ll be an amazing, happy, generous spirit. And someday, I’ll see him on the other side.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Daryl
    Jul 17, 2012 @ 15:12:59

    Your uncle sounds like an interesting and kind of amazing person. I hope he’ll soon be at peace.


  2. Laura
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 07:04:11

    Your Uncle sounds like an amazing man that did the best he could with a difficult disease. I’m so sorry that you are going through this.


  3. msfertility
    Jul 22, 2012 @ 11:20:08

    Thank you, guys. Tomorrow is the big day… and I’m really worried about how my dad is going to handle it. I wanted to be there at the hospital with him, but he’s not in favor of that because I’m pregnant and he’s worried that I could catch something. I don’t have that fear, but my husband agrees with him, so I guess I won’t be there. Feels a little frustrating since I really want to help.


  4. msfertility
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 10:02:58

    Strangely, about 5 minutes after I left that last comment, my uncle passed away peacefully on his own. I’m so relieved that my dad was spared having to make a life & death decision for his brother and that my uncle died without pain or struggle.


  5. Laura
    Jul 25, 2012 @ 05:30:28

    I’m so sorry for your loss.


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