They say bad news comes in threes. I hope that means we're done. January has been one for the record books. I'm trying to process it, to make sense of the senseless, and to find lessons in it all. I wrote about confronting loss back in the summer, after standing with MM as his father passed. I wrote then about the meaning in final moments, and those thoughts are running rampant again.
The bad news started with a cousin MM hadn't seen since childhood, whom he recently found was also a friend of his closest friend. He'd been ill with pancreatic cancer for some time. He passed away at the same time that people were gathering for a benefit for his care. He was in his early thirties.
I didn't know this young man, so my thoughts are a bit more general and may be wholly irrelevant. But, I've long heard, including from Dr Dad, that patients who pass away after a long illness know when it is okay to go. Some will wait for family to arrive, others wait till a member who couldn't handle the moment is out of the room. I wonder if this young man felt a certain type of peace drawn from the knowledge that he was loved by many. And if he also wanted to know people were together and safe. There's a beauty in all that. In wanting peace and to feel loved in the last moments. And wanting your loved ones to feel the same. They are moments we should seek out before our last.
A brother-in-law, at times truly a brother, of MM's. He was actually the first person MM introduced me to (I got a "you did good" review in a text). His death was unexpected. He was in his mid-40s. He left behind three children and one step-daughter, ranging in age from mid-twenties to merely nine.
I don't think I'll ever lose the image of the nine year old girl running barefoot from her door, jumping into MM's arms, in tears, and saying "I miss my Daddy." That moment is part of what I'll take away from this loss. MM hadn't seen the niece in some time but there was an immediate connection. That sense of connecting, and reconnecting, permeated the days spent with the family and friends. It reminded me that death can bring people together. And that we shouldn't wait for a sad event to make those connections.
In a similar but distinct vein, this loss served as an image of how I think such times should go. There was a lot to do in the days proceeding the funeral, the wrapping up that needs to be done when a loss is unexpected. The memorial was a time for mourning and sadness, a noting of the passing. When we returned to the family home, they played the same slide-show that had been at the memorial for a while. I missed the moment when the change was made, but at some point that switched and a Just Dance game was flipped on. I got a medical excuse but most others played, including people who hadn't connected in many years. People laughed and had fun, both playing and watching. This felt so right to me. The loved ones mourned. And then they lived on. They reconnected and celebrated togetherness. I'd want that one day. To be remembered but also to have everyone live and smile and laugh. Funerals are about loss but, in my mind at least, they can also be about life.
This one was from my side. My uncle was into vitamins and fitness before the days of GNC Vita-Packs and before everyone's key rings were adorned with gym membership cards. He had a seizure one day and, although they weren't sure there was a direct link, it led to the scans that revealed brain cancer. It was a vicious form, one people didn't tend to live with for long. He fought an impressive three and a half years, including walking his daughter down the aisle in November and making sure his son was able to fly home from Arizona to say goodbye. He'd gone downhill in the past year but never stopped fighting. A final surgery in late November marked the shift towards the end. He was in his mid-60s.
I'd grown up seeing this branch of my family about four or five times a year. My Uncle was always all smiles. At the service, we heard again and again how he'd touched people. He'd always praised everyone, from his family to the staff at the cancer center. And they all came to say goodbye. His son's childhood friends commented that my Uncle often seemed more interested in their lives as young people than their own fathers. He found a way to pull out a positive trait and compliment each person in a very personal manner rather than a more superficial way. He was a teacher and a therapist by trade and carried similar traits beyond the office.
I've been thinking about all that in recent days. He lived for connection and dedicated himself to making people feel seen and appreciated. Hearing people speak reminded me of how important that is and how real and meaningful it is to touch people in small moments. I've always said I didn't need to be remembered in history books and have concrete proof of my days, that I only need to know my life touched other lives and that I gave something to even one person. This loss made that belief even clearer. I can only hope to be remembered as well as my Uncle was, as well as he is.
My cousin said to me that he was tired of people saying they were sorry for the loss or how he was too young. He said he preferred to hear how the people had been touched by his father, the difference his life had made. That's the insight I'll finish on, the need to remember and celebrate lives and connections and the many ways in which we love and are loved in return.
P.S. Perhaps it isn't right to add, but we also lost a fish last night, one of the first group we'd bought. Thanks for living with us and bringing us smiles, Fork.