I am really, really bad at remembering important dates. Birthdays, maybe. Anniversaries, barely. I’m always startled every time I realize that x number of years ago, a loved one passed away. Today, five years ago, we said goodbye to my Uncle Dickie.
The best way for me to sum it up is to share something I wrote five years ago, three days after he died, the day before his funeral, tossing and turning on the blankets in my grandmother’s basement.
To be honest, it is only in the last ten years that my uncle has truly become my uncle. He was always a family member, yes, but in the past decade he turned his life around so much that he became a real influence in mine. We’d get so excited to see Uncle Dickie at Christmas or Thanksgiving, with the tissue paper crowns falling down over his eyes because he always got the big one and Dad got the little one, but they’d never trade. He came to Florida, with Michelle, and spent the whole week making us laugh so hard we couldn’t breathe. He’d always sit in the living room with us kids, telling jokes and trading stories, furthering his no-eating-vegetables causes, being the uncle we loved and cherished. I have so many memories running through my mind– trips to Disney, ball games, fishing trips, shopping, car rides, laughter– but I cannot single them all out, because if I catalogued every great thing my uncle did, I would never stop typing.
Last Thanksgiving we were driving to my grandmother’s house. I go to school not far from where he and Michelle lived, and on the car ride there he was talking about tests he was having done. It was then that they told me he was sick, this time with cancer. Not three months later he was in the hospital, skinny and sick from the chemo but fighting as hard as he could. He pulled through, and though he didn’t look like himself, as soon as he opened his mouth it was as if nothing had changed. The last time I saw him was halfway through February, before I went to Mexico. He was stuck at home on bedrest, and had been watching the Olympics for a week straight. Between that, his new guitar and his penchant for teasing my grandmother, he seemed content with the way things were.
This Tuesday, we gathered in the ICU at McMaster Hospital. He could no longer breathe on his own, and they feared if he stayed intubated much longer he’d have a heart attack. I had flown down the night before, running on emotion and coffee, and 35 hours of being awake. Us nieces stood around his hospital bed, and while there were tears at first, we were soon bantering back and forth, the way he would’ve been encouraging had he been able to talk. After a few hours at the hospital it was time to say goodbye for good– they pulled the tubes and it was only a matter of time before his body would shut down, finally giving him the rest and freedom he deserved for most of his life.
Watching someone die is not something I wish upon anyone. As we stood around him, his breathing slowed. Looking around me I saw people, young and old, struggling to say goodbye to someone who never even made it to 45, someone who we never expected would finally succumb to what had been killing him since day one. While we all knew that he’d go eventually, it just seemed that any time I pictured the future, Dickie was there. It’s hard to fathom that he will never see his nieces get married. Luckily, he lived to have a great-niece, a wife, a house and two dogs, a loving family and his pink Harley. His time with us was up, and we’re pretty sure it’s because someone has to teach Granny how to play Texas Hold’em in heaven. Although it’s so hard to send him off from here, tomorrow he’ll go knowing that he’s left a legacy behind. I will never see a Harley without seeing Dickie. I will never see the Magic Kingdom without seeing him sauntering down Main Street, blatantly ignoring the parade blockades. Christmas will not go by without beating up Santa, and I can only hope that he’s proud of us for playing Metallica at his wake.
And a poem.
By Christina Rossetti
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
I feel heavy-hearted, but at the same time, a tiny bit of joy– yesterday, I drove a motorcycle for the first time, and even though at one point I threw the helmet down and burst into tears, I eventually got back on the bike and rode it by myself, with Matt running beside me in case I fell over, and huge grins on both of our faces. I think Dickie would be proud, and it’s somehow fitting that yesterday was my first ride.
(Matt took this picture– astute viewers will note that the kickstand is down and I’m in fact completely stationary in this photo [and grumpy].)