I’m shovelling fried clams into my face and trying to feel normal. Nothing is normal. My whole world is this weird fog right now.
When I was little I lived with my grandparents for a few years. My uncles were like my brothers, all teenagers and super cool and weird funny boys. They loved me and teased me and doted on me and likely hated me too, like brothers do. My uncle Joe joined Navy, and his unknown adventures at sea became mythological to me.
And now my uncle Joey has died. He was 53. He had a brain tumor, and we were waiting for a plan, and then he just died. They called me at 8am Tuesday to say he was being rushed to the hospital, alive, but unresponsive. There were updates about tests being run. I continued working, and hoping, and rationalizing.
At my wedding, six years ago, I was so delighted that all my aunties and uncles made the effort to get there, to celebrate with us. I remember a conversation with my Uncle Joe and we talked about our solidarity against having kids. Two years later, on M’s first visit to NB, he brought it up to me. He said “I thought you said we were in this no-kid thing together?” with a twinkle in his eyes. He played with her like she was a treasure, he doted on her, and she connected with him. They met several more times, and I could see it all over his face how much he adored her. Seeing him love her that way, I knew he had forgiven me for stepping out of our “pact”.
This Tuesday, at 2:55 pm I got a text that his MRI showed massive brain swelling, and he was showing zero brain activity. I knew he didn’t want resuscitation, so suddenly my plan to wait and see for results turned into a race, a sprint. I was so frantic and blind, and completely on auto-pilot. I barely remember how I left my work station, how I got home. I remember grilling my travel agent trying to find a route that would get me there before midnight. I considered just driving. There were texts that they were taking him off the ventilator. I asked them, begged them, to ask him to wait for me. It was stupid, and selfish, but I needed to ask.
He died at 4:10pm my time. My plane wasn’t leaving until nine.
The moment we found out he had a tumor in his brain my one and only concern was that he never be alone. He was a bachelor, and lived alone, and was off work due to a shoulder injury, and I was so panicked that he would be alone, and scared. My family made sure that didn’t happen. In the end he was surrounded by my mom, my sisters, his sister and her husband, his brother, and my grandfather. In the three plus weeks since his accident they all rallied around him and took care of shit like no one else on this planet ever could have.
In the end he was supported, and loved, and held and cherished. In the end I was the one that was alone and scared and frantic. And I feel guilty that I wasn’t here, and I feel stupid that I held out hope that he would improve, and that we would see him for Xmas. I would give anything, anything, to rewind 6 days and just get my ass here. To have been here for that last family dinner that he insisted on having, where he laughed and joked and said it was the best meal of his life. I want to hug him and smell his neck. I want him to hold M on his lap again so they can look into each others eyes and just know what the deal is.
I have not experienced a loss in my adult life. I lost a lot, a lot, as a child, but as an adult life has been sweet. I’m not sure if anything about grief is normal, but I feel like I’m building up my normalcy, and my acceptance, and then I’ll be hit with a big wave of anger, or frustration, or regret, or sadness, and it just washes the whole thing back out to sea. It pulls me down with so much force I can’t breathe.