Uncle Brad always seemed to like Christmas. When I was 8, and the only niece/granddaughter for another year, Uncle Brad got me a super cool vinyl suitcase with a matching vinyl umbrella. Both were white with embellished neon pink and turquoise lines, in line with early 90s fashion. When I went off to college at Eastern Michigan, he bought me my first college sweatshirt and a calling card so I could call my long distance boyfriend. The next year, he bought me a string of Christmas lights that were lit-up cows with Santa hats. I hung them proudly in the kitchen of my college sophomore year duplex. They paired well with the Bruce Springsteen chore chart and giant Bob Dylan head poster.
When I was home to visit at the tail end of October this year, Uncle Brad asked for the Anderson's bag to be brought down from his room. He unearthed a set of tractor Christmas lights he had been saving for 20 years, in the same bag he bought them.
"Those were like the cows you bought me," I said. He didn't remember. He smiled broadly looking at the box. We didn't talk about time. It didn't matter what day it was. He wanted to hang them up for people to see them. So did I. After four days of puzzles, leftover lunches and the beautiful leaf-littered farm, Uncle Brad hugged me weakly before I caught my plane back and thanked me for flying across the country to see him, even if it was just for 4 days.
He passed away 7 days later and I catch myself forgetting that it happened, then accepting it happened, and feel everything all over again.
My dad gave me the news that they gave my Uncle Brad "one month" on October 2nd. I cried so hard I couldn't breathe. I drove my Jeep through the mountains haphazardly and pulled into the beach parking lot to cry until I felt people staring.
There are many people that deal with death gracefully. They understand our mortality in a matter-of-fact way and I'm sure they all grieve, but an edge seems to be missing from their view. I've never been able to grasp this, let alone practice it. I am reduced to a depressed, hollow shell of a person for weeks, desperate for something to be funny again, but always going back to the fact that I will never see this person again. The finality shakes me until I eventually wedge things in between the sadness. It fades, but it never disappears.
When my Uncle Brad died, I told myself that I had a lot of time to prepare. I told myself that it wasn't a shock, that I did my best to see him before he transitioned, that it was okay that I couldn't go to the funeral. But me as a whole felt like I had failed. I felt selfish that I had chosen to live 2,000 miles away, especially when my whole family assembled after the funeral to light his fireworks and drink his homemade wine. They sent him off in such a beautiful way. That was closure, Ronau style. But what was I supposed to do?
The first news with ticking time attached is always the hardest. Crying always feels like it has no bottom until you become aware of your surroundings and that someone may be feeling uncomfortable. But you never feel like you're done, like the sadness of this person being pulled away from you in this strange doctor-given time frame ever leaves. It just hangs there, in the door frame, in the last holiday photo, in the tractor Christmas lights he wanted so badly to hang in October, and it never leaves.
Maybe I don't want it to leave. I'd rather be sad than forget. And all of these people that have left, that still stir the hollow crying, the deep sadness that never goes away, I'll take it to remember we had you for a while. How incredibly lucky are we?
Last week, my acupuncturist led me through a powerful Tibetan trauma practice that helped me reach the closure that I sought. It's called Phowa (pronounced po-wa) and it helped me transition through the grief and the guilt of being far away from my family at this time. If you're dealing with grief, even years later, consider reading through this practice. It's an amazing way to process the transition of death.