A week ago today, I watched a man I’d known my entire life take his last breath.
My two sisters and I drove over 1,000 miles to see our Uncle Donald, who was in ICU at a hospital in Biloxi, Mississippi. I hadn’t been home in six years.
For the past week, I’ve been through an array of emotions. Disbelief. Sadness. Anger. Fear. Loneliness. Disappointment. I lost my grandmother (his mother) two years ago, but this feels different. Unlike Weya, who had been ill with dementia for years, Uncle Donald was up walking around, driving–he had taken the long trip from Maryland to Mississippi in his beloved “Jeepo”–and doing things the average person does. He had even recently begun texting. I knew he was battling a few illnesses, but I didn’t know he had been sick for as long as he had.
While I’m still having trouble accepting the fact that my dear uncle is gone, I have so much to be thankful for. He survived Hurricane Katrina. He always had a smile on his face. He always wanted to make us laugh, even if his jokes were corny. He would come bearing gifts–T-shirts, car adapters, oversize headboards–anything to make us happy. I can say, without a doubt, that he squeezed every ounce out of this life that he could. As much as it hurt to see him in that bed, I had the privilege of being there until, literally, the very end. We went down there to see him, and we didn’t leave him behind: It was as if he had waited for us. The truly profound experience of watching his final moments means more to me than I can express.
I’m coping with this loss. I sleep, cry, and stare into space a lot. I’ve been looking at old photos and calling his answering machine. I can laugh sometimes, but I can’t smile yet. With each day, however, I’m doing a little better. That’s all I can expect from myself at this point. I’m preparing myself to write something beautiful about him for his memorial. Though losing Uncle Donald hurts, the peace I know I will feel when I fully accept what has happened and embrace my wonderful memories of him is worth the wait.