Being a genealogist, growing up in a funeral home, transporting ashes and urns, and being a memorial planner at West Point – you think I’d be well equipped to handle every aspect of death. You need me to support you after a death or through planning a funeral? Hold you up while TAPS plays and your knees go weak? I’m your girl – I can do that for you. I don’t know what it is that makes me strong for others but I simply fall apart when it involves my own life. I’m a wreck. At my grandmother Clara Lou’s funeral, I was fine until I shared my funny story about her with those in the church pews. After I sat down, I uncontrollably wept and wailed like a banshee to the point of being an embarrassment. It was the finality of it all, I think.
I’m not a holiday type of person anyway, but December 23rd has been historically difficult for me. My grandfather Archie died on that day in 2006 and since then, it’s always been a low-key remembrance day for me. This year, my favorite uncle Gene passed away on December 23rd and it just really hit me extremely hard. It was a double whammy of sadness and I struggled all through Christmas with my emotions. Of all my uncles, I was closest to him. He was just the nicest, sweetest man who would do anything and everything he could for you.
My uncle had been ill – he didn’t TELL anyone he was ill until after he had the surgery to remove a mass in his lung. My grandmother Earline, his mom, had done practically the same thing. We didn’t know she was really ill till the hospice nurse turned up and we all thought it was strange. We knew something was “off” with her but we had no idea to what extreme until it was all but too late. Remembering that experience with her, I was surprised he did the same thing to us.
He went through chemo following his surgery and I wrote him a letter to tell him how I wished he would have shared his struggles not only with us but his son first and foremost. (His son was also in the dark through this all.) I told him how if grandma had told us of her illness, it would have given us more time with her, we could have told her heartfelt and important things, we could have shouldered some of her struggles and we could have had more time to ask her questions and spend time with her. I honestly felt “robbed” of time with her and the guilt when she passed sat hard on me for a long time. I was left with all those feelings of “had I known” that arises after an unexpected death. I know the sentiment is that people who are ill want to spare us – to not burden us – but by not sharing their illness/pain/struggles, it leaves you empty when they do leave us. I think it’s more hurtful in a way because you know they suffered alone and how miserable and lonely that must have been for them to experience.
We spoke after that letter I sent and even though it was a good conversation, had I known he was going through this, I could have found time to come back to Ohio to visit him one last time. So even though it was a wonderful conversation and he was feeling optimistic and happy, he fell sick a few weeks later with pneumonia since his immune system was shot from chemo and he just never really bounced back. Uncle Gene passed away with family by his side. He spent the morning with his two brothers when he was still semi-lucid but by 10 pm, he’d slipped away from us. I was just shattered. Changing his information in my family tree, swapping it to “deceased” and adding the date was so difficult for me to do. Again… it was the finality of it that got me and I wept while I did it.