My dad called me fairly late Monday (Has it only been barely two days?) – late for him, anyway – to tell me that my uncle had died. I’m in shock. Complete, total, disbelieving shock. I find myself numb… sad…. He was young – barely 50 – and so vibrant, full of life. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like someone who was so full of life should not be living….
He didn’t have any children, but oh how he loved being an uncle – and he REALLY loved being a great-uncle. How he would smile and his face would light up when he was around Annabelle, Clementine and Judah! I was so looking forward to seeing him and seeing how happy he would be when Judah would inevitably smile and laugh when Uncle Steve would chase him. I know it would have completely delighted my uncle, and my heart aches at the fact that they will never share those moments, that Judah will never hear my uncle’s big, echoing laugh, will never get to have a relationship with this generous, fun-loving, boisterous man who loved and celebrated life.
This Saturday we were supposed to have a family Christmas, a late celebration with everyone gathered at my parents’ house… celebrating that we were home from Nigeria, celebrating being together again, celebrating Judah’s first birthday, celebrating all that God has done this year….
And now… now I don’t know how if I really know how to celebrate…. I don’t know how to be normal. It sometimes feels that life should stop for a moment to mourn with people, but it doesn’t. It still goes on. Urbana still continues, babies still need to be fed and bathed and played with, people still go to work, we still need to eat….
This Saturday. Four days. We were supposed to see him in four days. After months and months of waiting for this trip home, waiting for this reunion, our gathering will be so different than our usual loud, fun (and let’s be honest, sometimes argument-filled) gatherings.
And I know that people always say, “But I just saw him” or “But I was going to see him!” when something like this happens, as if somehow just seeing someone guarantees that you’ll get to see him again, but what else can you say? How else can we deal with the shock of having someone ripped out of our lives, of suddenly being faced with the reality that the person you just saw or were just going to see is no longer there to hug, to hold, to talk to, to see, no matter that every pore in your being longs for even one more day, one more chance to squeeze him so hard that he would never doubt how much he is loved (not that one more day would really be enough, though)… one more chance to make up for the fact that you forgot to call him on Christmas this year and dang it, on his birthday too, even though you kept meaning to?
I’ve been avoiding asking the question, “How are you?” to my family because I know how we are. We’re holding up. But out of reflex I asked my dad that on the phone and then told him, “That’s a dumb question, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but we have to ask it,” he said. But how do we respond? “I’m missing”? A part of me is gone, is incomplete in some ways. Maybe it’s like learning to live without a limb – or without electricity. I don’t think I’ll ever REALLY be used to it, but I deal with it, cope, and some days, really, I don’t think about it too much. I light a candle and grab a flashlight and know that flashlights and candles and nights without light are the new norm. Some days, though, it’s all I can think about. Nothing feels quite right. Always there is a sense that something is missing, no matter how bright the flashlight is blazing, that it isn’t supposed to be this dark, that this isn’t how life is supposed to be.
A bad analogy, but maybe loss is a little like that. Sometimes I feel fine, and other times the loss will slam me square in the heart and I’ll start crying as the reality hits me a little more (because there’s still a part of me that doesn’t REALLY believe this). Some moments seem almost normal, yet always lingering beneath the surface is this acute awareness that this isn’t how life is supposed to be, that there is something, someone, missing, and yeah, you cope, you deal with it because you have to… but it isn’t quite right.
I miss him. I miss him already.