For the last couple of weeks I had to steady myself everytime the phone rang revealing my mother’s cell phone number on the caller ID.  Somehow I knew that when the news came it would be my mom who’d break it to me.  That call I had been dreading came two days ago when in a strained voice she said “he’s gone.”  My mother’s brother, the youngest of five siblings at the age of 45, had died. 

I knew that my grandmother would need to see her family, to be close to us, so I drove to Brooklyn at about 10 on Wednesday night to lend my support.  Alone in the car I turned on thr radio and The Wind Beneath My Wings was playing on the radio.  When I arrived in Bed-Stuy the only parking space available on the crowded block was in front of my uncle’s building. 

Most people would never understand what that man truly meant to my family.  He was shot in the back 23 years ago during a drive-by by some asshole that was trying to kill the man standing next to him while on line at the Empire Rollerskating Rink.  He loss the use of his legs as a result.  He was slowed down but he never stopped.  My uncle was not a perfect man, he had his issues as we all do, but his love of family and friends is something that we could all learn from.  His budget was very tight, but it never stopped him from sharing his last bit of food.  Him living about 100 paces away up the block was nice because if you needed a place to crash due to some trouble you made for yourself, or simply if you had a fight with your mother, he’d offer his sofa in a second.  His kindness was his strength and his weakness, yet he was never willing to compromise it. 

As a teenager I remember helping him out of the tub on the bad days, carrying him on my back up stairs, running to the market for him, pushing him for what seemed like hundreds of blocks to see friends, or to just sit in a park.  (He never wanted a mechanical wheelchair because he had pride and felt that as long as his arms worked he didn’t need it.)  He even taught me martial arts, and boxing, both of which I was once quite good at, although now I couldn’t kick a can down the street.  At some point or another all the people that loved him took care of him and he took care of us.  Just like a family should.

In the last couple of years I stopped visiting because of feelings that I held about the way he had chosen to live his life.  I’m at peace with that decision because it was based on my values and I have nothing if I don’t have my values.  And it didn’t mean that I ever stopped loving my uncle.  True love doesn’t die, it sometimes gets pushed into the background, but it’s always there.  I’ve lost touch with many family members because of life and raising a three year old, and trying to stay married.  The family that I have that are doing the same understand, others don’t.  The love, however, remains.

I went to see my uncle in the hospital a week or so before he died.  He was hooked up to so many machines.  It was not Grey’s Anatomy, it was real life – a somber and sad reality.  I sat next to him and watched as he slept, taking in my surroundings with restless glances.  Maybe 30 minutes after I entered his room he opened his eyes and took me in.  He took a labored deep breath trying to speak, but he couldn’t because of the respirator tube down his throat.  Machines started beeping and ringing as he tried to mouth the words “I love you.”  My heart raced along in tandem with the sounds of the life-support equipment.  I told him to stop trying to talk, that we didn’t need to talk.  I told him that I loved him and I knew he loved me.  Then, trying to lighten the mood I said “man, you’ve gotten gray!”  He smiled and nodded vigorously, and I knew he heard and appreciated the lame joke.  I’ll always remember that moment.  I’m so glad to have it to share. 

I sit here writing this post with tear-blurred eyes thinking about how my ill grandmother will bury her youngest child next week.  I pray to God that I, and no one reading this, will ever know that kind of pain.  Your child is always your child no matter if they are 4 or 45.