I don’t talk about family very often. I prefer to keep that side of my life private. However, life throws curveballs and sometimes, as a writer, it’s better to get it out.
On September 2, 2012 I lost not only one family member but two. One I expect to happen sooner than later. The other rocked me to the core. Death is a fickle mistress with no rhyme or reason on when someone moves on to the next life.
On July 27, 2012 I got a call from my mother that my Uncle Vic wasn’t answering his phone. She was panicked but, knowing the trickster Uncle Vic was I decided to call myself. No answer and when it did pick up, it sounded like background noise. Apparently he’d messed up his answering machine. Not long after the initial call, my mother called again and said we had to go. I thought the worst. Uncle Vic, an uncle I had so many old and new memories with, might be gone from this world. I ran out of work without a word and met my mother for the long trip to Pittsburgh.
We come to find out he was found unconscious at his house with the gas on. When I got to talk to him at the hospital, I tracked the days he could remember and estimated he’d been unconscious since sometime Tuesday afternoon. We didn’t get to his house but according to the reports it was far from livable. He couldn’t go back.
Enter one of the reasons I came along. For some reason, I have a knack for talking people off a ledge. My ‘job’ was to convince Uncle Vic that he couldn’t go home while making him realize it was his decision. I succeeded. It didn’t take too much beyond telling him if he lived where we were, we could visit a lot more. The light in his eyes warmed me. He never went out much but never turned away company.
A week later, he moved almost four hours away from where he’d lived most of his life to be where we could get the proper care for him. I told him he’d taken care of people most of his life, it was time he allowed someone to do the same for him. It wasn‘t going to be easy. Signs pointed to him having another stroke.
Another reason my mother leaned on me is I can take it. I’m her rock when she needs it and the situation is more than her stress level can take.
Uncle Vic and I had a special relationship. We both loved to talk about sports so when my mother would go out to Pittsburgh to clean the house and I could get off work, I went with her. I sat in the living room and had delightful conversations. I kept him company while my mother cleaned. It kept Uncle Vic from picking on my mother, a favorite past time of his.
With Uncle Vic close, I visited twice a week. Thursdays usually wasn’t too long as I was on my way to work but Sundays I stayed until he was ready for a nap. I even went over with my mom to watch a Steelers preseason game. She said he groused the whole time until I got there. He was waiting for me to get there. Yep, it was sports time.
I often said if I bothered with a bucket list, one item would be to watch a hockey game with him. I got in two and hoped to sit with him for the first game of the season.
God, however, had other plans. The phone rang early Sunday morning September 2, 2012. It was my mom. She told me that my grandmother was in the hospital and not doing well. Then came the bad news…something I never expected. My Uncle Vic had died during the night. I lost it. I waxed from deep heartache to waning anger. I was thinking about how I should have made more time to see him this weekend between working and getting things done. You know, regret? Sunday was the day I spent time with him and I had planned to spend a lot of time with him. I barely heard my mom apologizing for doing it over the phone. I didn’t hate her for it. This way I had the time I needed to gather myself for church. I had to go otherwise I’d be curled in the bed.
I lost myself in singing and playing my flute at church. I broke down when the priest mentioned my uncle for prayers of the reposed soul. Afterwards, I put my instrument away and decided to put the petal to the metal and go to Pittsburgh.
My uncle was gone and my grandmother was in the cusp of death. I let my husband know through my uncontrollable sobs. My son greeted me at the door of our house in a big bear hug. He’d been told by Dad what happened. While my son didn’t get to know my uncle on the depth I knew, but he’d visited him in Pittsburgh and at the home. He knew his wit and beautiful mind. Had my son not just started college, I would have taken him with me.
I am truly blessed with the family I have. The comfort level from my son and the concern of my husband were like the weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I would need that strength halfway through my journey out west.
More on that another time.