Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Uncle Tommy

This weekend was rough. Actually, I don't think "rough" is an adequate description. I lost someone very dear to me, someone dear to quite a lot of people--some I know and many I don't know. We had no warning. Just a phone call Thursday afternoon that my Uncle Tommy was admitted to the hospital for heart related issues. We were told it was serious but not to worry. Just pray.

So we did.

I went to bed that night like any normal night. But when I woke up, it was to a text message from my mom saying he'd passed away in the early morning hours.

How does one react to such news? It had been a while since I'd lost my grandfathers--my first face-to-face with death--but I am older now. I discovered there is no difference between a 14-year-old's reaction to sudden loss of a loved one and a 25-year-old's. I cried.

Shock. Disbelief. At first, it was just a few tears, but then it devolved into an avalanche of racking sobs as the full enormity of it came crushing into me. He was gone. He is gone. And nothing I or anyone here on Earth can do can bring him back, even for a second.

I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge that he is with the Lord. (And John Wayne, his hero.)

Like any member of the Millenial generation I found an appropriate John Wayne quote and shared it on my Facebook page. Family and friends reacted. But it wasn't enough.

So, I cried a bit more. I went over to my parents' home and cried there with my sister, mother, aunt, and grandmother, standing in the kitchen, hoping the nightmare would end but still being productive--it's bean canning season.

The familiar smell of freshly canned green beans washed over me like a clichéd soothing tide. Uncle Tommy loved to grow things. I knew with certainty that he would approve of the steaming pot on the stove and smell.

Since then, time has been a bit wonky. We were in a state of suspended animation it seems, waiting and yet not waiting, for that moment when we would all gather together, as is custom, to say our goodbyes. We drove from all over to meet, homing in on his location like geese seeking shelter. We found him and, yet, we didn't.

I was supposed to be hosting a house warming party at our first home together. The Husband had been working so hard all week to get the outside of the house ready, while I worked inside to finally unpack all of those miscellaneous boxes.

Instead, my husband drove a Dramamine-d and Klonipan-ed me nearly four hours to Alexander City. I'd never dreaded arriving there before. The place of so many family gatherings and summer excursions to Lake Martin became a place I wished miracles of life could happen spontaneously, and if not, that time would stop and I wouldn't have to see the same look I saw in the mirror reflected on the faces of people I love.

Time didn't stop. Before I knew it, we were there and I was surrounded in a sea of grief. But, because this moment was about my Uncle Tommy, mingled in with the tears were choked laughs as we recalled stories about him. His wish was for a celebration, so we tried, in our weak human way to give him that.

It's easy to be selfish and want to prolong the crying part of a loss. Yet, Uncle Tommy never took the easy way and expected us--no matter what we did in life--to do our best, even if our best took us down the harder, less-traveled path.



So, here I am. Chopping away at the undergrowth of my own mind, reforging that path I traveled eleven years ago. I'm refinishing a cabinet for my fine china. It's calming. Each scraping swipe with refinishing spirits removes the old stain and I imagine it is cleansing me as well.

Soon I'll apply a fresh tint to the wood, making my mark on this piece that once belonged to someone else. I imagine Uncle Tommy smiling and telling me to be sure to go with the grain. Don't ruin the integrity of the wood. Don't rush the process. Do everything with love.