My uncle died last week.
This loss unleashed a wave of emotions in me that I am still struggling to figure out.
Last Monday I went to be with my uncle, aunt and cousins as we awaited his passing. Hospice had said he had only a couple of days left and so the family was called in. I went and stayed with my family, hoping to offer some help but also wanting to see my Uncle Kerry one more time, even though I knew he was unresponsive. I just needed to kiss his face one more time and tell him “I love you”. I wanted to be with my cousins and my aunt and offer a shoulder if I could. As sad and hard as it was, it was a sacred time. When someone is hanging between two worlds there is a sense of the holy, even amidst the anguish. I felt like we were in some ways escorting him on his final journey as we cared for him in those last hours. It was a privilege to be there, one I wouldn’t trade. I am thankful I was allowed that opportunity.
And then he died.
For some reason, his death unleashed a renewed grief about previous losses in my life, or perhaps the totality of them all combined. When I lost Phil, I lost other relationships as well. My mother’s Alzheimer’s worsened dramatically. Two of my children relocated to California, and although we are still close, I miss them being near. I felt as if my family was upended and changed in a short period of time.
Visiting that small town in Walker County, Alabama where I had so many sweet memories growing up and when my kids were younger and our family felt “whole” brought the grief of all these losses to the surface in some kind of “grief boil” that burst this weekend. I cried so hard for so many things - sometimes I couldn’t even tell which loss I was grieving. It was almost as if I was feeling all of them at once. I missed Phil, I missed my grandparents, I missed my mother being whole, I missed having my children close by and now…I missed my uncle too.
I felt as if I relived each one of these losses and it made my knees buckle. I struggled to hold myself together at his service, particularly when speaking. I have always thought of my family as an old handmade quilt, softened with use, sewn and crafted with love. This week it felt that my quilt had giant holes in it and was becoming threadbare. I felt very vulnerable and unprotected by those generations that for so long were above me like an umbrella. I longed for what once was.
And yet it is gone. I thought I had learned the work of acceptance: that letting go of what once was is the pathway to peace. I cannot have what I once had. I can only choose to live in a place of acceptance. I once thought this act of acceptance was a one time deal; that once I had opened my hands and heart I was done with it. Apparently not. Instead, the letting go seems to me to have to happen over and over again, a work that is ongoing, constant, never ending. I think as we move through life we will always carry our loss with us and, at various times, we come face to face with them in some new way and we grieve again. After we grieve, we will have to, once again, choose to let go, choose acceptance, choose to live in the here and now.
The goodness of the past is just that - in the past, a beloved memory. As I stood in that family cemetery on that hill in the countryside, I was surrounded by nine generations of family members that have gone on before me, a stark reminder that my loved ones are no longer here with us. I cannot rebuild the past. I cannot recreate it. I have to open my hands and let go...
It is now up to me to build a beautiful and good NOW and future life as much as it is up to me. I shared at my uncle’s funeral service that I wanted to not only grieve his passing but use it as a springboard to remember to truly live my life fully, to be thankful for what I have been gifted with.
Today I remember the legacy of love that has brought me so far in this life and vow to live into it in the future. For that is the legacy I also want to leave one day. A legacy of love.