Readers, I abandoned you. I have many reasons. Too many to list. So many that they would make your head swim.
As many of you who used to follow this blog knew, my uncle and godfather had a health crisis two years ago and my sister and I took on him and all his medical care. For the last two years, we battled doctors, hospitals, dialysis and death, tooth and nail.
Last week, it all came to a head. And Death won.
I cannot describe what is was like to watch him come to terms with his own mortality, when he had managed to escape it REPEATEDLY over the course of 35 years. His biggest victory was 19 years ago, when after being told that he had 6 months to live if he didn't get a liver transplant, he managed to squeeze out almost 2 years AND receive one of the first liver transplants the University of Miami ever completed.
As I watched him listen to Pavarotti in his last few hours last Sunday, he smiled with pleasure. He lived a good life; filled with adventure and excitement. He got to say goodbye, he got to tell people how much he loved them, he had my grandparents come and escort him to Heaven's gates. He turned in his 80 year old body battered and bruised. He truly put it through hell as he sucked the marrow that life gave him.
For me, it has been hard. Even though my sister and I did all that we could, we couldn't keep him healthy enough to creak out another 5 years. We have been second guessing ourselves for the last week, wondering what we could have done differently. Even though we lost our dad eleven years ago and should know that there is no negotiating with God's will, it doesn't make it any easier the second time around.
My uncle kept his life very compartmentalized. It was easy for him to do it. As a single man with no responsibilities, he pretty much answered to no one and did as he pleased. It was hard for him to give up that independence two years ago, when we took over his affairs and clucked at the amount of Coke he consumed and how many ramen noodles he had stashed under his kitchen sink. We reprimanded him on the effects of too much sodium, too much soda, on his dialysis and failing kidneys. He would smile, tell us he would stop, and continue to do whatever he pleased.
We met some of his closest friends the day before he died. They flew cross country to be with him in his final hours. They stood shoulder to shoulder with my sister and I as he breathed his last. They came back to his apartment and told us which of his paintings should get us the most money. They told us of the man they knew, one who once decided that for a whole year, they should always have a bottle of champagne whenever they got together. The man who traveled to all the corners of the Earth and never gave a rat's ass about what other people thought.
Today, I picked up his ashes. We will be having a funeral Mass and interment sometime this week. As I peered into the cardboard box that held his ashes and saw the toe tag that undoubtedly hung from his foot, I wondered what he would make of being contained in such a plain box when he had such a colorful life. I wonder how my mother and my aunt, his sister will hold themselves together later this week, when they will see what is left of someone they loved so much.
I find myself being stoic at times, afraid of unleashing the sadness that is welling up in me. My oldest son seems to sense that underneath all that strength, there is a very sad little girl who misses the uncle who would show up with extravagant, unpractical gifts and would disappear for month, years at a time. My boys and husband are cautious around me, afraid that I will break. And that worries me. And it makes me very sad.
It has been a hard year. My mother continues to deteriorate. Yesterday, my sister and I went to get her a wig, as the chemotherapy has ravaged her head. All this in preparation for a funeral. Now, her head looks better, but her body continues to turn on her, robbing her of movement, denying her comfort. I wonder how much this will break her spirit when she watches the urn that holds her favorite brother go into a wall, near her husband, near where she one day will be.
When we were leaving yesterday, my nieces spotted a small little store that had just the kind of impractical, extravagant items that my uncle would have been drawn to. I saw a pink kitty umbrella that had caught my oldest niece's eye. My younger niece found a mermaid one.
And I did as my uncle would have wanted. I bought them those umbrellas and smiled. Because I knew that somewhere in the clouds, surrounded by beautiful things and clutching a champagne bottle in each hand, singing along with Luciano, he was nodding in agreement. But I won't disappear for months, years. I will surround myself with the joy that these two girls and my three sons give me, and hope that I get to say goodbye, listening to beautiful music, surrounded by love.