By Spring my beloved Uncle James had been battling Stage 4 cancer for eighteen months. "Uncle" doesn't do the role he has in my life justice. For he was friend, mentor, hero and father. He was one of those rare spirits whose magic touches everyone they meet with their warmth and open arms. Through a drink and a spot at the dinner table he could make anyone feel known. Both him and my Aunt Martha have this uncanny ability to just love people in the most authentic way. Something I am forever grateful for.
I knew he was deeply ill and that it was possible that we could lose him, but it didn't seem real. How could there be a world where he didn't exist everyday?
I called my older sister on a Thursday late morning, the last week of March. The calls that happened in the next hour ....changed everything. The doctors had told him the news of where his health was at, and he made the decision to let things happen naturally and stop fighting. Within hours they were calling family to get there as fast as they could. The rest of that day is a tear filled blur. I got to Portland and to his hospital room by midnight, and as he woke slowly I knew it was the end, you could feel it everywhere.
Over the course of the next few days I watched as my extended family descended upon the hospital and then hospice home for my uncles final days.
I can't talk about those days yet. It was undoubtedly the most beautiful way for him to say goodbye and the most heartbreaking experience I've ever had.
We didn't know exactly how much time he had, and I made the decision to head back to San Diego. I remember standing outside of his room pleading with God to make it not real and to somehow grant me the strength to say goodbye to this man I loved so very much. He did and I was engulfed in the most real peace I've ever known. My uncle woke as I came to say goodbye. He looked me straight in the eye as I told him I loved him and kissed the top of his head one last time. Walking out of that room was the single most difficult thing I've ever done.
On April 3rd he left this journey to start another.
The weeks and months that have followed that early morning have been the hardest I've ever known personally. Pain, loss, depression, grief....are very real things. For someone who prided herself for always being the strength in the storm...I had finally fallen apart. Someone asked me how I felt over the summer and I remember saying that it felt like I was a glass pitcher someone had thrown and shattered, and then had been hap-hazardly glued back together.
I can't even write this without big tears- this year flipped the switch on weeping for yours truly. But I am daily overwhelmed by gratitude for two things.
First. That I had someone like that to say they were proud of me. That they loved me.
Secondly. I have never felt the presence of God more powerfully than I have this year. He's been right there through every step of this journey.
My heart is still broken and goodness do I feel tired. But astoundingly grateful for his life. Last April, I led his funeral mass in several prayers and as I looked out into the crowd of 500+ gathered to honor his life I knew our lives had been graced with someone unlike any other. He was an ordinary man who loved extraordinarily. A gift I hope to carry throughout my lifetime.
I don't know exactly how to navigate this journey except take it day by day. Some are better than others. But I am so grateful. Sad but grateful.
I share all of this to encourage you to tell the people you love...that you LOVE them and cherish those simple quiet moments. Take the time to make that phone call, send that letter- because you truly don't know what will come and it matters. If you are in the midst of a painful journey, know that there are others there too. Remember to breathe deep and take another step. Keep moving.
In the beautiful brokenness of 2012, I have learned the importance of real love and friendship.