My Uncle Mike passed away this week at eighty-three years old. He was my dad’s older brother and he played an incredibly important part in my young life. Losing someone you love is never easy, even when it is expected, or it is their time in life. It leaves behind an absence that cannot be filled. A person-sized void.
My uncle was strong, resilient and smart. He was a boxer in his youth and he played rugby in his forties. He always smelled faintly of cologne and soap. He gave big bear hugs and he was always laughing. We spent many summer afternoons visiting his cabin on the shores of Lake Tahoe: located just down the road from Obexers Marina and Chambers Landing. The coolers were always teeming with ice, pop and beer, and the charcoal barbecue smoked on the wooden porch for hours, cooking endless burgers and hot dogs for the friends and family that always filled his house. I remember sitting on the swing in the yard with my sister, our bare feet skimming the dry grass, watching the adults laughing and talking all around us, and feeling very happy to be a part of it all.
One of my favourite family photos was taken when I was about ten years old. It captures a beautiful moment with my California relatives: Aunt Charlis, Cousin Kate, Aunt Susie, Grammie, Dad, Mom and Uncle Mike. With the exception of my Dad, all of the adults in the picture are now gone. I feel their absence as a deep aching in my heart. I realize that when it was taken, many of them were roughly the same age that I am now. I remember how old and wise they seemed to me back then. Now I know the truth. None of us really ever ‘grow up’: we only grow older. Although I am an ‘adult’, I will forever remain seventeen in my heart. It is now my job to pretend that I know what I am doing, and keep things steady for the younger members of the family: to guide them as best I can with what I have learned along the way.
I was incredibly fortunate to visit my uncle this past October. I knew it would be the last time I would see him, so I tried to cherish every moment that we had together. I told him how much I loved him and what he meant to me. I gave him extra hugs and I inhaled his smell. I created memories to draw on now that he is gone. I am so grateful to have had him, and all of my beloved family members, in my life. Sometimes you get a long time together and sometimes it is cut short. Although I believe he is happy and at peace now, reunited with his loved ones in the world beyond this one, I miss him. It is never, ever easy to let go.