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That's Life

I have a family member gravely ill at the moment. And I don't mean minor grave, I mean seriously gravely ill. He's a dear uncle and is closer to eighty than seventy years old. He's been ill for a long time and the mixture of feelings is immense. Half of the prayers that go up to heaven are that he recovers from this particularly painful cancer attack; the other half are that he goes peacefully and that the pain will end. Sadly, he will leave my aunt a widow. And my cousin will lose her step dad.

When I went earlier this week to see him, those were the thoughts that drove me to tears: husband, step-father.

Seeing someone ill, as difficult as it is, is one thing. Knowing that they may be on their last innings, is another. My cousin flew out from the States, which meant twenty four hours in transit and when she called the day before she left, she kept saying, "Just tell him to hold on, I'm coming." If there is a chance to say a proper goodbye, we all want to take it.

Other family members drove from where ever they were in the country to come and see him too. Bible study friends, life long friends. All gathered around and brought meals, supporting my aunt and I guess, saying goodbye to their friend. In better days, my uncle would have seen this as a great excuse for a party. It's quite surreal, really, getting a chance to bid someone farewell.

I was twelve when my paternal grandfather died and I remember walking past his room and being scared of what he looked like. He also had cancer and he chose to stay home until the last. It was dark outside and he had a bedside light on; a little voice inside my head told me to go and tell him that I loved him. But I didn't. I was young and I thought that there was time. Death meant nothing to me then. That was the last chance I got to see my Grandpa. He was dead soon after.

I remember being fetched from school on the day that he actually passed and taken to my Gran; she was always so dignified that even in this tragedy, I don't remember her being anything but. I, on the other hand, was a ball of tumultuous emotion and regret, even then, a total drama queen. "But Granny! I never told him I loved him," I sobbed. "Oh, but he knew, dear," she replied. Even at his funeral, I cried a proper snot stain onto my cousin's shoulder, determined to grieve just enough.

But now that I am older, and perhaps the fact that I am more at peace with what happens to those who pass on from this life, I feel sadder for those left behind. My true sympathy lies with those who mourn.

To me, I will always remember singing alongside my uncle at a family reunion. I played the piano, I think it was "Return to Sorrento," and he sang. Dean Martin singing Return to Sorrento We also led the family in Paul McCartney's "We All Stand Together." He had a lovely singing voice and was even a fairly well recognised opera star for a while. He was a real charmer, always impeccably dressed and always a gracious host. Among many other things.

I choose not to remember the skeletal figure fighting his final battle that greeted me earlier this week and whispered, barely audibly, that my daughter was beautiful. That is not the man we knew and loved.

Needless to say, the visit was sad. My cousin called and I got to say hello to her, say that it would be nice to catch up while she was here, because she hadn't been here for about eighteen months. But then I thought of the shock she would experience upon her arrival; this man was a second father to her and a wonderful husband to her mother. He had not only aged, but deteriorated daily since I had seen him last, which was a lot more recent than eighteen months.

Then my aunt, who is a real glamour girl and even ran the Comrades Marathon wearing lipstick for the entire ninety odd kilometres, looked as though she was going through a hard time, which she never does. Not even wearing lipstick. And I thought that although there must be a huge sense of desperation for a man she loves dearly, to see him in such pain; there must also be a desperation for her own release from this, in what ever shape or form.

But the worst part, and not to sound as selfish as this may come across, was when my brother called from New Zealand and I could hear that he wanted so much to be there with us. Like he wanted to be there when my daughter was born and then later when she was dedicated. Like he wanted to be there for my toddler's third birthday party. Like he wanted to be home for my mother's sixtieth. This is a time when family should be together and I know that he felt, as he literally is, on the other side of the world in that moment. For him to fly to us would mean over thirty hours in transit.

Death is never convenient or easy.

Death is also a hugely personal experience and how you grieve or react to it is also a personal thing.

Death, no matter who it is, always hits me hard.

Earlier this year when a friend of a friend lost their baby to cot death; I made sure my baby slept within ear shot of me for the next few months and checked on her almost every half hour. (Not that that would have made an ounce of difference.)

Last year, after my husband narrowly escaped his third plane crash in as many years, I officially banned him from flying in light aircraft ever again. I kept imagining getting the phone call from the aviation authorities to say that he was dead. Or from his father. I think it would probably be his father.

What gives you the feeling I over think this a little?

My brother's phone calls often upset me, in the right way, because I love him so much and because despite our geographical distance, he is still one of the closest people in my life. And I realise that he would give anything to be here for the big and small occasions a family shares, but it is not always possible. And sadly, it is not even always necessary. But the fact that one day, the phone call may be about someone closer to us than an uncle, like a child or a parent or a spouse, and he is twelve hours in time and three plane tickets away from me, is excruciating.

There are so many families who go through this. And I know that this is the world we live in now and thank goodness we have moved on from ship transportation and traditional letters, but still. The fact that one day, and in all likelihood, some day, my brother or I may have to go through what my aunt and my cousin are experiencing now on our own, is a deeply saddening reality. Since he is the one who has moved abroad for his career, bravely so, I am sure he has considered this reality before. To me, it is something I push out of my mind, because I don't want it to be that way.

But life doesn't work out like we want it to.

So what is the solution? Something I have written about more than once and something that is important to remember always: Make. The. Moments. Count.

In a way, death is a good thing, because it reminds us that life is short and we need to sort ourselves out before it's too late. Get right with others. Get our documents in order. Get right with God. It is the ultimate leveller. We leave this earth with nothing.

I don't want to say as families we should always love each other and get along because in reality that is not always realistic. But I will say this, people who care about each other should really make sure that they make the most of the moments life affords them. Because they pass all too soon. Tell people who you love that you love them. Be there for one another, in good times and in bad, when ever and how ever you can.

I wish there were a flashing light that went off like a halo above someones head when that moment was the last time you would ever see them. Maybe yellow if it meant that life would pull you two apart but you'd just lose contact and red if that person was destined to pass away before you met up again. It would be nice if a certain piece of music played to accompany someone's exit from your life; it could be all dramatic if they were exiting because of a fall out and sad if they were destined to pass away before you spoke again. But we don't have those little gadgets and I am sure that its probably a good thing that we don't.

I'll tell you one thing for sure, I won't be ashamed of my tears again. Drama queen or not. Once I was seeing my brother off at the airport and I cried so bitterly that the desk clerk who had checked him in rushed out to give me a hug after he passed through the gates. I kept thinking, it's only a year before I see him again... only a year. But, a lot can change in a year. A lot can change in a month.

I think it's best if I end this post on that note.

A lot can change in a day.



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