my parents had spent the last three weeks taking care of the details, dealing with the official paperwork, saying goodbye. they were about to leave when things took a turn for the worse and they extended their stay - he died 5 days later. my 93-year old grandma is taking it as well as can be expected - she's about to bury one of her sons.
today, my aunt (mother's side) and cousin both called me to express their condolences. my cousin told me his memory of my uncle - he used to take us to a military training ground that was close to my grandparents' house and we'd swing on the ropes and jump on the tires. i was thankful to him for supplying me a happy memory because most of my recent memories are less than happy - they are of an increasingly bitter man, living in a dysfunctional relationship with his elderly mother. his parents treated him like a teenager and in response he acted like one. they controlled him, he skulked off and drank. he drank himself to death and lived the saddest life.
i guess that's the worst thing - not dying, we all will do that, sooner or later, but having lived in a way that means so little, that leaves nothing behind. i'd ask my parents if any of his drinking buddies visited him at the hospice but i'm afraid, because i fear what the answer might be. he spent the last few years alternately drunk and belligerent or sober and bullied. he read a lot. he watched television. he had opinions but i don't know if he had hopes and dreams. if he did, they might have died a lot earlier than he did.
but he was once a young man, highly intelligent, but what the victorian novelists liked to call "of weak character" and so instead of running away from controlling parents, the way my father did, he stayed and was broken and alone with no love, no companionship except that of drunks who, i am certain, were nowhere near his intellectual equals.
i would like to take my cousin's cue and remember my uncle as the guy who took us on walks and let us climb ropes, and not the man he became in later years.
i would like to remember him by living as well and as fully as i can.