My uncle died recently. He's been sick for most of my life. In my youth, he was schizophrenic and while his mind was sharp at times, it was also cruel in its paranoias. Over time, his body failed, betrayed by all the drugs that were supposed to heal him.
When I last visited him about a month ago, he'd lost more weight and I actually walked past his room because the figure inside was almost unrecognizable to me. I took the girls in and we exchanged awkward hugs, as if I could catch his illness my hanging on too close. Bean saw nothing unusual. She sang "Jingle Bells" and showed off her ballet skills. HT sat perfectly content on my lap, laughing and smiling on cue. My uncle smiled and laughed and asked about New Jersey. He asked about our house, about my family. He told me prayed for Bean daily. We talked about Christmas and about the billion of presents that seemed to overtake our house.
Then there was a howling. A hysterical woman next door started screaming and Bean looked confused, not scared, but confused. Her little mind was probably thinking, "Why is this lady allowed to scream inside and I can't?" I quickly said our goodbyes, claiming traffic as an excuse and then I hightailed it out of there. The truth was seeing him depressed me so much. Seeing his shrunken form made me miss my mom. On the way out, Bean said "He's a nice man."
And now, he's gone. His life was a difficult one, punctuated by severe bouts with mental illness and poor health. As a child, I remember him as a handsome man. He had sandy blond hair the swept over his forehead and big blue eyes. His smile was slightly lopsided, but when he smiled his whole face changed and in those few moments, you'd forget that anything was wrong with him. My uncle was sweet, kind and intelligent and in spite of his disabilities, very thoughtful. He'd call me randomly to ask about my kids or how we were doing after Superstorm Sandy. He accurately remembered every date that we visited, but he was never judgemental if the times between those visits were long.
Losing my uncle isn't like losing my mom again, but it's like losing a piece of her. I saw her face in his every time I visited him, and it was bittersweet. It was a gentle reminder that she lived and they were once related, and now that is gone. His place in my life will be missed. His being in it taught me empathy and grace, traits I hope to pass on to my kids.
I'm not sure how to explain Uncle Joe's passing to Bean. She's currently in "there is a witch's hand behind my bed" or "there is a wolf in my closet" phase so I think the idea of death will terrify her and none of us will ever sleep again. She didn't see him regularly enough that she'd specifically ask about him like she asks about Pop or Gram, but she does randomly ask about "that nice man that we visited." And I guess I can wait until she does ask about him. In the meantime though, Bean will get to meet family she's never met before and I'm hoping to see more flickers of my mom in their faces.