Last Sunday, my Uncle John died. It wasn’t a surprise. In early May, his doctor predicted that a shift in his cancer meant my spry 78-year-old uncle had only a few weeks to live. His family began sending nearly daily mails with updates on his condition, a kind gesture. Yet, it began to feel like a dreadful clock ticking down. Why it affected me so intensely, I wasn’t sure.
When I read the email that he had died on my phone, I didn’t know what to feel. Mike took me out for a glass of wine, and I started to cry at the table unexpectedly. In the car, I burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably.
My Uncle John’s deaeth triggered something. I’m grieving for my dad all over again. This shouldn’t be a surprise, either. Dad died 30 years ago from lung cancer. I was 13. In the photo in his obituary, my dad is standing next to my Uncle John as best man at his wedding to my aunt. My father died the day before Thanksgiving; my mother and I spent the holiday with my Uncle Mary Jo and Uncle John eating turkey entrees at a cafeteria. A couple days after he died, Uncle John bought me a journal. He took me aside. “I know how much you like to write, and it might be good for you to write down how you’re feeling now.” I filled every page of that journal within a week, and it inspired my lifelong habit of journaling.
But my uncle inspired people for a living. He raised millions for charity as a professional fundraiser, and spent years as a motivational speaker. He didn’t just do it at work, either; his sons both became fighter pilots, and one went on to become a doctor. Slacker.
Research suggests that children who lose a parent at a young age develop into more resilient and successful adults. Other studies indicate that children who lose a parent never quite recover fully. I think they’re both right. It’s fair to say that, as a teen, I never felt like anyone else understood what I was going through. Kids would complain about their parents and I’d just think, “Well, you’re lucky you’ve still got a father.” I felt pushed into adulthood early, and struggled between whether to act out or to try to be the perfect daughter that my father would have wanted.
Sixty percent of people who lost a parent during childhood say they would give up a year of their life just to spend one day with the person they lost. I know that I would. What would I do with that day? I’d start by introducing him to Mike.
Then, I’d like to cook with him. I’d ask him to show me how to make his chicken and dumplings. I’ve never figured that dish out. I’ve always thought that if I could make it, I’d have this grief thing beat.