It’s been a weird few weeks in a lot of ways, and I’ve been exhausted. Today when I woke up, I got the message from one of my cousins that her dad (my late mother’s brother) had passed away. He’d been sick for a relatively short period of time (well, that we know of- he hadn’t been to a doctor in almost 60 years), and was diagnosed with end stage esophageal cancer. He was getting it treated, and long story short, they found him very early this morning just before his heart stopped.
I have so many emotions going through my mind. First, I feel for my cousins, their spouses, and assorted grandkids and great-grandkids. Their dad had never been easy to deal with, but he was the only dad/in-law/grandfather on that side that they’d known. It’s a loss, regardless of how close they’d been, or what he’d been like to them over the years. There is no chance for additional healing at this point, with him directly. They can only fish through their own memories and pain, and figure out how to remember him over the long run. It might be easier to deal with anger now, but there will still be some degree of the type of pain that comes from a little kid who lost their daddy- even if it comes out sideways. The only dad they knew is gone.
I feel sad for my uncle, that he created his world in the way that he did. He and my mom were siblings. My mom also had multiple sites of cancer, and while she beat it, the radiation to her brain left her demented for the last 10 years of her life. She wasn’t mean or unkind (most of the time), but before her cancer, when I was a kid, she was hard to ‘read’ – and that was very hard as a kid to figure out. I didn’t know if she liked me, and sometimes she was unkind (though I don’t think she always meant it to be that way), and it took until my 30s to figure out that it had nothing to do with me… she was wounded in some ways that I knew about, and undoubtedly in ways I had no clue about. Their mom was orphaned at age 6, and she had her issues with attachment (that she talked to me about- not just me speculating), which didn’t help with being a mom to her four kids- though her issues were more with ‘omission’ than ‘commission’…she was afraid to lose more people, and didn’t want to get too close. She turned 100 years old two days ago… and today she will find out that she’s outlived a second ‘child’.
It’s sad that my uncle pushed people away by bullying them (that was when he was being kind). And at other times, he was very generous in hosting family reunions that were no easy or inexpensive tasks. There were a lot of us roaming, eating, and talking through a full weekend. Sure, some of it was to show off his home (which is very nice), but he didn’t have to do it. I ended contact with him when he lied about a conversation that was deeply hurtful, and he called me ‘human debris’, and said he was ashamed to be my uncle. Fine. No more relationship. End of story; I won’t stay through that sort of thing (and that was a drop in the bucket compared to being raised by him), though I did e-mail him when I found out about his illness to let him know I’d be praying for him, and if he had any questions I could help with as an RN, I was available. I’m not sure if he answered back, or someone else did, but I got a reply. I know I can feel OK in that I reached out. But I’m still really sad that he died. Mostly because he left so much unfinished business with his kids and surviving siblings. I feel so badly for them. None of them ever did anything to warrant the way he treated them.
In general, to folks who have pushed people away by being abusive jerks, fix it before your time is up (which could be anytime, we are never guaranteed a tomorrow). Understand that your interactions mean something, and leave lasting impressions and scars. The world isn’t all about you, but how you either add to it, or make things worse for others. For those who are afraid to lose someone, so you keep people at an arm’s distance, know that you also have an impact on those around you, especially if you have kids.
For those who have been hurt by someone close, especially as a kid, know that it wasn’t about you. It was the one who caused pain who had the problem. You may have gotten the brunt of their character defects, but it shows that they are damaged- it would have been anyone there at the same time if it wasn’t you. Yeah, it hurts, is maddening, and feels very personal… but for someone who is incapable of functional, healthy relationships, it’s all they can pull off in life, and that is pathetic. I’m not saying to not feel what you feel… I’m saying it’s not about you. I had to figure that out before I moved back to my home town to help take care of my mom. IF I hadn’t figured that out, I’d still be living 1250 miles away (where I’d been for 17 years). In the years I’ve been an RN (since 1985, though disabled in the last several years), I’ve seen a lot of families’ pain that really stemmed from the hurtful one not being able to give what the others needed. There were some who were outright sociopaths, but most were situations where the damaged ones didn’t know any other ways to interact. It was the best they could do, and/or had no clue on how they were hurting people. Absolutely no insight about their impact on others. It was their normal.
My uncle is dead. My cousins are having to deal with whatever ways they grieve. My grandmother lost another child. My surviving aunt and uncle lost a brother- another sibling. But, I think saddest of all, the chance for reconciliation and building good memories is gone for all of them. I’m still reeling from three very significant deaths this year in my family (on the other side), and while my relationship with this uncle was purposely estranged to not get any more of his crap, I still feel badly. I remember him when I was a kid, when we got together (and I’m guessing he was on his best behavior), and it was good. His wife/my aunt (who passed away several years ago) was a bright part of my life. It’s hard to explain, but it’s kind of like him dying takes away more of her.
I’m rambling… just be decent to each other, and don’t let relationships erode because of ego or general apathy about how interactions can be so deeply scaring. Reach out, and try to make things right. Don’t be someone who others want to stay away from. Know that at the end of the day, you didn’t do anything to hurt another person. Especially family. Truly be able to rest in peace whenever your time is up.
If my uncle were here, I’d say “I wish we’d had a better relationship during these last several years, but I’d never wish anything bad on you. Nobody deserves to have a painful death, or to have to deal with cancer. I just wish I knew what made you OK with treating people how you did. I have a feeling I’d be more sympathetic than angry, since you and my mom came from the same family. Regardless of anything else, you were still my uncle.”
To my cousins, aunt, and uncle (grandma isn’t online)…. I’m SO sorry. I’m sure his death hurts in a lot of ways.