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Death is a Part of Life

My Uncle and Me. Circa 1984.

Death is a part of life. It’s truly one of the only guarantees we have during our lifetimes. Understanding this doesn’t make dealing with it any easier to digest and accept as something real, especially when it’s untimely or unexpected. When it happens to someone you know, whether it’s a friend, a family member, or even your partner, it makes you reflect on their lives before you were around and the relationship you two had while they were alive.

My Uncle passed away not too long ago. My Uncle passed away. Every time I say those words, every time I write those words down, a deep sadness and overwhelming heaviness comes over me. My eyes start to tear up and I start replaying all times we had together, whether they were good or bad. We had our fair share of arguments, especially ones revolving around politics, but that never made me love him any less. I just knew that there were certain things we didn’t agree on and shouldn’t discuss. We also had some great times. I remember he taught he how to play Casino (the card game) and we would hang out in my room and play game after game for hours. I remember he would always have sucking candies on him, especially these root beer barrels. I remember he was always the last one to finish dinner when he came to visit my parents and always commented on how it was so bad to eat fast.

What really stings is that I can’t say, “Hey Uncle Louie, you were right all those years when you told me it was better to eat slow.” Not just because he passed away, but also because he distanced himself from his brother (my Dad) and the rest of us as the years went on. I understand life happens and people grow apart, but he was family. We all make certain choices, we all make certain decisions that we have to live with. My Uncle chose to isolate and not make an effort to be a part of the family, but I also made the choice not to reach out as much as I should have. One choice does not justify the other. I couldn’t control or make him change how he acted, but I could control how I approached the relationship. To be honest, I did try at first, but then it seemed as if there wasn’t anything left for me to do.

We had our occasional rendezvous for dinner when I lived in the city or when he made the trek upstate to get his car fixed, but looking back on it now, it seems very superficial and surface level. We never really had deep conversations about life, about love, about our passions, our dreams, and what truly made each one of us happy. Understanding how my Dad operates, it seems like they were both cut from the same cloth, being raised in a household that didn’t really focus on expressing their feelings. I am not judging either of them because their parents, my grandparents, did the best they could with what they had.

All of these thoughts and feelings started to arise within me now that he is gone. Especially after we started the process of emptying his apartment. He lived there for over 30 years and during that time acquired a lot of stuff. Having said that, he was very organized and kept immaculate records. We found drawers full of pictures, notebooks, and items that reflected who he was, what he was passionate about, and his thoughts about the world. I never knew my Uncle was passionate about working out. He had tons of pictures of him showing off his muscles and in the gym with his workout buddies. There were notebooks and sheets of paper that were filled with his writing. Apparently, he wrote poetry and short writing pieces that reflected his deepest thoughts, feelings, and opinions on a range of topics. He once drafted an outline for an episode of Seinfeld and I even found a letter than he wrote to Celestial Arts, which was a New Age book publisher. In this letter, from 1971, he submitted some of his literary works for them to review. When I asked my Dad about this, he had no idea about this side of his brother and then said, “I guess Louie had a life that I didn’t know about”.

That is exactly what I was thinking. I felt like I didn’t know my Uncle or didn’t know about his life growing up. It appears as if he wasn’t always a recluse or outsider as I previously thought. He did have passions. He did have hobbies. He did have a life that brought him joy at one point. I never knew this side of my Uncle. He never brought any of this up and I never really asked him about any of it. It’s not a good feeling to realize that your Uncle, a close family member, was almost a stranger to you.

There is no point in placing any blame on anyone. It’s nobody’s fault in particular. Thinking that way would only transfer myself in the past, trying to recreate what is already done by saying, “I should have…” or “I wish I did this…”. Those statements and that mindset is not healthy when trying to grieve and move forward. But, I am not going to lie, it does hurt. Not only in terms of his sudden passing, but the fact that we never were that close. I feel like I only knew a small part of my Uncle and not the full picture. Maybe if he opened up, maybe if I asked questions, we could’ve had a deeper, more meaningful relationship. Maybe. Maybe not. That mentality won’t get me anywhere, but to a place where I give myself permission to be extremely hard on myself for past actions and decisions.

What I do know now is that he wasn’t always this sad person in a viscous cycle of depression. My Uncle was happy at some points in his life. My Uncle had passions that he enthusiastically pursued. My Uncle paid attention to the world, his life, and about humanity in general and put those thoughts onto paper. He was also a lover of all things music . He had an extensive CD collection, several vinyl records, and enough tapes to fill up two crates. I should know, I took all those tapes with me. Since I had to drive his car back upstate, I thought it would be a good idea to listen to a few during the ride. I randomly popped one into his tape deck (Yes, he had an old car that had a tape deck) and pressed play.

I immediately realized that we had something in common, a love for music. I started to listen to his homemade mixtape and instantly felt such a profound and meaningful connection with my Uncle. With each song, I transplanted myself to the time and place that my Uncle would have first heard a song and how it made him feel. There was one song that stood out the most, “Romeo’s Tune” by Steve Forbert which was the lead single on his 1979 album Jackrabbit Slim. I don’t know what it was about that song, but this one out of them all, really hit me in my heart. I must have listened to it 5 to 6 times on that ride home and that was not an easy task because you had to physically press the rewind button and blindly find the beginning of the song. It was worth it every single time because I was so drawn to the lyrics, especially the excerpt below.

Oh, Gods and years will rise and fall, And there's always something more, It's lost in talk, I waste my time, And it's all been said before, While further down behind the masquerade the tears are there, I don't ask for all that much I just want someone to care, That's right now.

I wasn’t focused that much in regards to how the words spoke to me directly, but more so how those lyrics made my Uncle feel when he heard them. I started to ask myself these questions: How did this song make him feel? What made this song one of his favorites? Did he think about someone when he listened to it? Was this someone special to him?

When I tried to answer these questions, and almost put myself in my Uncles’ shoes, that’s when I started to feel a connection. A connection I had never felt with him when he was alive, which may seem strange or abnormal, but it actually brought me closer to him. We both listen to music not just for a nice beat, a funky melody, or witty lyrics, but also for the way it makes us feel. How it allows us to feel certain emotions that no one can take away from us because the experience is personal and unique. Thinking about this made me smile, and at the same time, it made me cry. I wish we could reminisce over this love of music and the feelings we felt for certain songs. I think that would have brought us closer. But, sadly, that is no longer an option.

It still seems surreal. It doesn’t feel like it happened, but it I did. It’s 100% real and there is no other way to describe it. My uncle passed away. There are those words again. It literally started off as a non-life threatening medical issue in the middle of April and a month later he was gone. Life is precious. Life is fleeting. One moment someone is here and the next they are not. This goes for each and every one of us. Thinking about this reality can be quite overwhelming. Instead of allowing it to overtake you, let it be a reminder that we have to make the best of the time we have on this earth.

We should never take for granted the time spent with the people we care about, especially loved ones. We should never let our differences or past arguments get in the way of reaching out or making an effort to spend time with them. Because if you keep putting it off until tomorrow, then I have some news for you, tomorrow may never come. And before you know it, it might be too late. Don’t let it get to that point. Cherish every single moment you have on this Earth with the people you love and the people you care about, even if you don’t always see eye to eye.

Take it from me, reflecting back on what I should’ve done or could’ve done is not the best feeling. As with so many things in life, it’s something I have to deal with, work on, and learn from. But, I will tell you this, I will remember my Uncle for all that he did, whether that was good or bad. I will continue to learn more about him even in his passing because I never fully got the chance to do so when he was here. And, I know that one day we will meet again. I know that his soul will forever live on and will eventually cross paths with me during this lifetime and beyond. I know this to be true. That lessens the sadness and becomes replaced with the comforting feelings of unconditional love and happiness.

See you later Uncle Louie. I love you.

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