He lost his battle with cancer on September 30, 2010. Beside him was his wife, my estranged aunt, his companion of twenty years. My father, Piper and I were also there, the most undeserving of any of his loved ones to receive the blessing of the final goodbye. Why? As I said before, my father and I (and in relation, Piper) had a rocky relationship with my aunt. While He had been diagnosed with lymphoma in April, we hadn’t found out about it until July.
When I heard, I called her. Voicemail Box is Full, I heard. I let it go, figuring I’d try again later. Later became September. “He’s not doing well, and She’s a changed woman now”, which I can understand. We had heard His time was becoming increasingly limited, and we decided to see Him. He had been moved from home to the hospital where my daughter was born, the floor above labor and delivery. Thursday I received an email, “You should call Her today, and go see Him”.
I called Her. Shame and sadness catching in my throat as I prepared to leave a voicemail, when her voice answered the phone. “Hello?” She said, warily. “Hi, it’s Amber”, I said back, shaky with tears. In my arms I was holding Piper for strength, for I couldn’t remember the last time I heard Her voice, although I do know He was well still. “I was wondering if it would be okay if Dad and I came to visit you guys today.” She began to cry, as did I, and unsure of where I stood, I said, “If it’s not okay, I totally understand…” “No, no, it- it would be great-” sobs breaking into her sentence. “-I’m just not sure if He’ll be able to open His eyes for you-” again, tears breaking through. I silently cried, my face pressed into Piper’s head, inhaling that Johnson’s No More Tears shampoo smell, ironically wetting her head with my own tears. As we both cried, I said, “I’m So Sorry.” Why hasn’t anyone invented a stronger phrase than that? How it is possible to convey how utterly shattered you are for another with those three words that are used far too easily nowadays? We agreed Dad and I (and Piper, for lack of care options) would visit them in the hospital.
We arrived, and hugged. I cried some more, seeing the fragile shell of a man who, less than a year before, had been so strong, so gentle, so kind. “It’s NOT FAIR”, my dad said, as he held His hand. “He is a frigging SAINT of a man, and it is just NOT FAIR!” He cried out. She, nodding Her head, continued Her post at His bedside holding His other hand, mopping His brow. You could see the dedication, feel the strong love She had for Him, trying to boost Him up with Her love alone. I introduced Her to Her great niece, and we attempted to catch up as much as possible.
She told us of His diagnosis, and his rapid degeneration. I held my hand to my mouth, fighting the urge to sob, to blurt out apologies for not having been there sooner, as everyone else in the family had done. I wanted to both apologize and excuse my dad for his not coming by, although to his credit, his fear of Her- his sister didn’t stop him from calling, from offering his juicer as a way to boost His immune system. We heard of His failing body, His sores and His pain. We spoke of His strength, his love and his greatness. Piper charmed them, cooing and waving at Him, appearing to get His attention at one point. We caught up some more while Dad talked to Him, held His hand and told Him about my brother’s new son, my dad’s first grandson, a namesake of sorts (middle name). My dad isn’t one to make friends, but I know he considered Him a friend.
An hour into our visit, He was struggling to breathe, so He was given some meds to calm Him down. She was interacting with Piper when Dad said, “She… SHE!!” She turned around and grasped His hand, the one not held by Dad. “HE?! HE!!!” I yelled out, “Dad!! Go get someone!”, thinking She should be by His side at all times. Waiting for the doctors or nurses to come, She and Dad alternated rubbing on His hands and yelling into His ear, “Come on! Come on!!!”
“Code blue in room 4262! Crash Cart Needed in Room 4262!” Was being repeated over the loudspeaker as we were all shooed from the room.
Then, He was gone.
I leaned over and hyperventilated while Dad took the baby into the corner of the oncology ward and cried. I kept thinking, “I was just holding His hand, it’s not fair. He has a 21 year old daughter, it’s NOT FAIR!!!” Then, I stopped being selfish and held onto She as she cried. I let her best friend console her as I stood by feeling unworthy, knowing it was unfair for Her to have to share this moment with Dad and I, animals who should have come sooner, She should have been with Her sister, who has supported Her every day. Instead, She had to be there with us.
I wish I had visited more, I wish I had made amends sooner. I wish Cancer doesn’t exist, and I wish He was still here.
He is gone. He is gone, and the world is a sadder, darker place. His daughter won’t have her dad to walk her down the aisle someday. He’ll never get to meet his grandkids. Our world has changed forever.
I don’t understand how mass murderers can live to a ripe old age and a good man can die at 54, riddled with Cancer.
I saw a good man leave this world yesterday. I saw his loving wife wonder what she’s going to do next, for even knowing what was to come for him, it is impossible to prepare for it.
For the rest of my life I will remember this. I will remember clutching his hands and trying to silently bargain with God. I will remember the pain as I held my daughter tight and apologized to Her for not coming sooner.
Again, “I am so sorry” has failed me.
Goodbye, dear Uncle. You were an angel amongst men, and you will never be forgotten. I am thankful that we were blessed enough to be able to say goodbye, and that Piper was able to meet you.