I lost my Uncle last week .. he was my hero and my friend and I loved him very much. Along with my aunt, they were a part of my whole life so far.. the good part. They helped me grow into the person I am.
Why is this one different I wonder? My uncle was lucky enough to live an extra two years longer than his doctors prognosis of only six months. He battled several rounds with 6 different cancers and that is what finally took him from us. He never once gave up, he fought back so he could take care of his beloved wife. She was fighting her own personal battle with dementia.
These two people were so dear to me while growing up and even later throughout my life. When she recieved the diagnosis it was communal, they were both in it together. This is where their love story really sets in. Along the way it intertwined with my own life, which was not a love story. They were always here to give me a safe place to ‘land’ when I needed it..
I feel I need to share their story again (which I have posted on here before) only so I can finish mine.. of what I want to share today.
Written six years ago.. about my Aunt and Uncle
“Did you ever have a fight that made you think about your marriage and wonder if this is going to work?” I ask my frail aunt living with the debilitating symptoms of dementia. We are both seated all comfy-like in their living room
“Well.. it wasn’t really a fight, but I did have a confrontation with him about his job once”, she replied. My uncle had a great job working on the ‘D.E.W. line’ a government position of defense up in the far north that required him to be away from home for long periods.
She continued, “he came home on one of his weeks off and I just told him he couldn’t go back up there.. see.. the kids didn’t know who he was when he came home, and I didn’t like that.” “What did he do” I asked. “Well.. I think at first he didn’t think I was serious but we didn’t fight about it because it was a fact and I just stated it,” she said quietly.
My soft spoken Aunt is so calm , I very seldom have seen her angry, ever. These two are my favorite aunt and uncle and they have shown me such dedication and caring for each other that I have never seen in anyone else.
My uncle never had to do anything in the house, like washing clothes or cooking or cleaning. My aunt held down a fulltime job as well as caring for four children, one a set of twins. I’m sure he did other stuff, I guess, because it takes two people to make a marriage work.
My aunt always seemed to take a special interest in me. My mom had six of us to raise after she left my dad, I was the oldest at 12yrs. I think she felt sorry for me because I was always looking after my brothers and sisters, my youngest brother was only a baby.
They lived close by and I liked spending time there away from all those kids, maybe? I also looked up to my Uncle, he is only less than 10 years older than me, but he was always my idol.
“What are you two talking about?” my uncle asks from the kitchen where he is making lunch for us. “All your shortcomings!” I answer flippantly with a laugh. “You know” my aunt lowers her voice “he is so good to me, I’ve told him he doesn’t have to do all this,” she says. “He won’t even listen to the idea of putting me in a home” she says this with such a sense of wonder.
She is right, my uncle doesn’t even consider this an option. At each stage of development of this insidious disease, he tackles it singlehandedly along with my aunt.. with dignity and such humour.
Maybe that is the saving grace, we laugh a lot during my visit. My aunt has a new development, there is nothing wrong with her eyes but the disease has short-circuited signals to her brain and she is losing her ability to see.
Years ago my uncle took up scuba diving, while my aunt is deathly afraid of water. My aunt was always game to try new things with him. He patiently held her hand while they were in the water and never left her side. He made sure she was comfortable beside him.
Her eyesight was so poor that she couldn’t see all the colourful fauna and fish while snorkeling, because she couldn’t wear her glasses, so he figured out a way for her to see. He had a mask special made for her with the glass finely ground to aid her eyesight! He cared that she should enjoy, as well, all that he could see.
“Ok.. are you two ready for lunch?” he calls out from the kitchen. He helps my aunt out of the easy chair and she puts a hand on his shoulder and follows him to the kitchen. “Think we should go to the bathroom?” he says. “Oh.. why not” she turns to me and says “we do everything together now” and she laughs.
As we are seated she tells me how this once useless man, that never had to run a washing machine, now does everything around the house. “How does my hair look” she says, I say “not good” and they both burst out laughing. I am kidding of course, he washes and blow drys her hair everyday! She has shoulder length blonde/grey hair.
My aunt is so funny and we laugh out loud about all the dumb things that pop up and some poignant ones as well. We reminisce about our younger days (I am growing older along with them) the time she borrowed grandpas car. She took me looking for my friends (I had hardly any) to celebrate my 16th birthday, because she thought I deserved to have a party, and she was determined to give me one!
“Every girl should have a 16th birthday party” she said. We lived on welfare because my dad didn’t send support money to my mom, so we didn’t have money for anything else but basics I guess. We found a couple of my friends and we went back to my aunts house and had a pop-up 16th birthday party for me.
“Was there any indication that anything was wrong or what was your first sign of maybe something wasn’t right?” I ask them now about her dementia, because I am curious .
“Well” my uncle pipes up, “I came home for supper one night and she has this wonderful casserole with a thick spaghetti like sauce in it and I eat it.” He continues.. but I felt there was something missing although I didn’t say anything. The next day I asked her if there was anything else that should maybe have been in that sauce.
She says ” no” and then she burst out laughing and said ” gee.. I forgot to put the noodles in!”
Well we all laugh at that and I marvel at my uncles desire not to be disrespectful to her cooking, omg .. that is too funny. When this disease was first diagnosed my aunt and uncle decided to go, and do, and see everything they could before it would become too difficult.
They travelled to many different countries either flying or cruising, travelling as much as they could and they made incredible memories. They did it right I think to myself, enjoy today and just do it, don’t wait until it is too late and circumstance makes it impossible.
I share a memory I will never forget.. when I was 13 yrs old. A well-to-do aunt from my dads side had invited me back with them to Ontario to spend a couple weeks vacation, I was so excited! My mom said a flat out “No.. we don’t even own a suitcase.. and I am NOT sending you to her with your clothes in a bag!” (I think she was embarrassed )
The tears I shed, oh my.. then my aunt came through for me! She lent me her really nice suitcase and I think she even made sure I had something nice to put in it, I only remember the suitcase and how happy I was that she made it possible for me to go. That suitcase also came back worse for wear and she scolded me. She didn’t remember that and I felt sooo bad, but she also forgave me.
We settle back into the living room while my uncle does the cleaning. “So did he go back up north?” I ask my aunt .
She looked at me and said “no.. not even for one more rotation.. he stayed home and found a job back here.” Wow.. it was just a fact and sometimes you need to make your family your first priority. I give my aunt a really big hug and tell her how much I love her as tears flowed from my eyes as they are right now.
“What were you two talking about in the living room?” my uncle asks me as I am leaving .“Oh” I say ” I am going to write a story about you two” I tell him, “and I will send it to you” I give him a big hug and tell him how much I love him too.
May 5th 2015 my uncle Gary and Auntie Marilyn celebrated 52 years of marriage!
She passed away a little over two and half years ago
So back to my story.. why am I feeling so bad and why is it I can’t stop these tears? Its not like my uncle and I never discussed his dying, because we did. We even had a haphazard email and texting relationship that was kinda morbid, me asking if he was still with us and him giving me a flippant response. Our cryptic humor must be genetic.
We discussed how sometimes we hear things .. I hear my mom say my name every once in awhile. And he hears my aunt moving about, esp. at night. I got to experience that last time I stayed in his house.. he was in hospice. I’m not saying it freaked me out but I mentioned it to him and he understood exactly.. saying the same things I heard.
He looked upon dying as inevitable and he was putting in time until he was with my aunt again. This is not to say he quit living, its just that every time he decided to make a life change the cancer popped back up. This necessitated him turning his attention back to that. That alone should have made him cranky, but I never witnessed it.
The outpouring of condolences on my FB page was quite surprising. I live my life quite openly and that is just how I roll, he was much more conservative. He didn’t mind me writing about him though and he enjoyed my ramblings. The reason for my writing here today is not only to make sense of what I’m feeling but also to acknowledge that outpouring of love.. it is humbling.
I have also decided that there is a phrase I am going to try and eliminate from my vocabulary.. he or she “is in a better place.” I have said it myself so many times but now it just rings false in my ears. Maybe that is why I am hurting so much, that better place is here.. he needs to be here dammit!
There-in lies my hurt.. and understanding is starting to seep in. This is what writing it down does. I am certainly not in a better place, and if he is, I want to be there too. Its not fair he has to die and we have to stay and mourn him. Good people should not have to die.. eventually I know we are all going to die but, but, but.. why the good ones?
The condolences have helped, friends taking the time from their busy day to message me.. I thank you. I am not in a ‘better place’ I need time I guess. He is now with my aunt and all those that went before him.. I had messages for some that he promised to deliver.
His funeral was a celebration of his life, his children and grandchildren made his spirit shine through loud and clear. There were stories that made us laugh and made us cry. He was such an optimist.. even his hospital ‘mate’ thanked him upon his leaving, for making his stay better. My uncle never had a bad word for anyone.. he was just that kinda guy.
Uncle Gary, your presence in my life has always been a positive experience. Good men do exist and you were living proof of that. You and Auntie Marilyn helped make my life a better place to be. I have so enjoyed our recent times together, well I have enjoyed all of our times together.. except when you were driving. I will save that story for another day.
I love you both so much .. but like you said to me at hospice “I already know that” and I’m thankful for that. To all that read this.. take the time to tell those you love, so they know it too.