It has been terribly quiet in this space as of late, which is a stark contrast to (and also a clear reflection of) the lack of quiet I have seen in my real life. We have been going through a season of loss and challenge around here the likes of which I have never experienced. Honestly, our strength has been tested and our relationships held under a microscope. In it all, I think my marriage is stronger, my love for my family fiercer, but also my confidence a bit shaken.
I won’t go into all of the various trials that have added up to make this a difficult spring, but it started with the loss of my uncle, my mom’s big brother. I have a complicated family situation and, as such, I have a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins. They go on for miles, honestly. They are all important to me. But this uncle was the one I knew from birth. The one who celebrated Christmas and holidays with me. The one who taught me things. He was the one who built a bookcase for my son when he was born and teased us all with his dry sense of humor. And when you have instability in your family structure, you create special bonds that others may not understand. I was devastated by the loss.
His passing felt sudden, but we had enough time to say good-bye. For that I am incredibly thankful. But in all of the reflection that takes place in situations like this, I felt guilty. I felt like a fraud. I hadn’t spent as much time with him as I should have. What right did I have to my grief? There were others who were closer, who saw him more often, who had more memories to share. All the while I was trying to cope with grief itself, I battled all of these other feelings, too. I know, now that I have had some time and perspective, that these aren’t unusual emotions when faced with the death of a loved one. It’s easy to look back and see all of the ways you failed in a relationship. It’s easy to be hard on yourself as a coping mechanism when you otherwise feel so much sadness you can’t imagine ever getting past it.
My uncle had faced loss in his own life and had gone out of his way as an adult to step in as a father figure to those who didn’t have one. There was a time when I was one of those kids. I think that when my mom remarried, he felt comfortable passing the torch along to my step-father (who then adopted me). The truth is that my uncle and I were both serious introverts. He once took on a major carpentry project for us, designing and building a full wall of built-in bookcases with cabinets along the bottom. We were both so averse to using the phone that getting in touch was a constant comedy of errors and missed connections. When I remember moments like those, it becomes much more clear to me: my uncle didn’t need more time with me. He loved me. He knew that I loved him. And that was that. It wasn’t about the grand gestures. We were good.
That idea brings me some peace, but it goes deeper than that. I recently had what I thought was a close friend walk away from our friendship in an extremely hurtful way. The experience used up a lot of my emotional energy and had me second-guessing a lot of my relationships. But now, in the shadows of such a great loss, I have realized something important. My uncle was someone who loved me more. There are a lot of people who come and go in our lives. They may care about us, and they may even love us, but sometimes that is not enough. And then, if you’re fortunate, you have the people who love you more. It could be your parents, or a spouse, or anyone else. But these are the people who are with you through thick and thin. They forgive your mistakes and look past your shortcomings. They love you through it all. You may not see them every day or hang out with them or chat on the phone. But you know they will be there for you and they know you will be there for them. And that is what matters.
My uncle left a lot of legacies: A beautiful family with grandchildren who adored him. Family jokes that live on in his name. The many things he built or fixed for all of us. And the love that he shared. But along with all of that is a lesson that I will never forget, which is to cherish and focus on those who love you more. People always say in times like this that you should hug the ones you love. And, yes, please do. But then just appreciate them. When others let you down, think about ones who love you more, and wrap yourself in that security. And even when they are gone, you can know that they thought you were special and worthy of their love. I can’t imagine leaving a better legacy than that.