Hello, awesome readers.
Yesterday I visited with my uncle and aunt. Their names are Jacques and Louise. As I write that last sentence – their names are Jacques and Louise – the words echo in my brain with conviction. Present tense.
When I arrived at their home yesterday, I was warmly greeted by a scattering of people I’ve known all my life – cousins and my aunt’s sister – as well as family members that I don’t know enough – my cousin’s children and their children. I can blame distance and a busy life but when faced with a looming end, the truth is harsh: choices.
I hugged my aunt, pretending not to notice the loss of her hair hidden by a scarf. Hidden yet so obvious.
My uncle, who just hours before had been temporarily released from a three-month hospital stay, was sleeping in another room. A hospital bed had been placed in the spare bedroom, I would realize later.
Jacques and Louise have been married forever. Their lives so intertwined with family and work that they’re rarely referred to as separate individuals. It’s always been Jacques and Louise; like a lush vine filled with a lifetime of children, a family business, children’s children, life-long friends, and conversations filled with coffee.
Despite the treatments and loss of hope and hair, my aunt is still very much herself. Her laugh. Her voice. Her presence of mind and love for talk. She’s grateful to be here, she says.
For her, ‘here’ means for Jacques.
Hours later, my uncle has mustered enough strength to join everyone in the living room. It takes a cluster of people to gently set him up in ‘his’ chair. He needs a blanket. He’s always cold now, they tell me.
Jacques is closer to the end than my aunt. His body is small and week; his voice is frail. His skin, the colour of an impatient death that has already stolen his essence.
I feel awkward. What do I say? How do I touch him?
Within days, perhaps hours, my uncle will be going back to the hospital. Not for care but for comfort. And that will be his end.
As I sat with this side of my family yesterday – Jacques and Louise, their three children and their families – I was in awe of their strength. Two pillars crumbling before them at the very same time and yet they’ve managed to store away their sorrow and fear and sense of loss. Instead their faces are strong and happy; abiding and kind.
Quietly, I sat beside my uncle. Intentionally distracted by two sweet little girls. My cousin is a grandmother and this strikes me as odd. A reminder that I should visit more often.
There was so much I wanted to say to my uncle.
I love you …
Thanks for sitting with me and helping me choose songs for my cassette … what was I, seven?
I already miss you …
These words pass through my mind but none of them feel right.
“Did you sleep well?” I ask instead.
He shakes his head, no. A certain sadness, much unlike my uncle, emanates from him. It dawns on me that I’ll never hear his laugh again or get to watch as he tilts his head back and crinkles his eyes. He’s “here” but most of him is already gone. I want to know what he needs from me and don’t know how to ask. I want to hug him but I’m afraid to hurt him. So instead I pull the two little girls on my lap and talk to them. I ask them questions about their three- and seven-year-old lives.
But really, my attention is on my uncle. My aunt. And the void. The room, although filled with people that have come to express their unspoken good-byes, is being swallowed by that void.
During my drive home I think about death. I think about family. I think about the meaning of it all and wonder if there even is a meaning. I imagine a world where there’s no saying good-bye for the last time, but rather it’s more like dropping someone off at the airport.
“Enjoy your vacation. I’ll see you when you get back … I’ll see you when it’s my turn …”
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