Monday, February 23, 2015

The Invisible Ones

One of my uncles passed away last month; he was the latest in a string of uncles who have died in the past two years. Until now, however, it had been my mother who had lost siblings.

Mom had 9 of them, and many had been ill over several years. I think she's down to 5 now ... maybe it's 4 ...? The terrible thing is I'm not actually sure, because they all mostly live in Puerto Rico and I've not met the bulk of them. Or if I have, it was when I was a little kid. Aside from the 3 sisters of hers that I do remember meeting (gracious, and they all look SO related!) I don't actually remember meeting any of her brothers.

When I was younger that was just the way it was. Communication between far away places was difficult. Long distance calls were pricey. Plane tickets to go visit were a luxury. I have a good idea of what it's like to have left "the old country" ... and that some never looked back is amazing for the sense of loss. It's only now that I'm older that it makes me sad to not have known these aunts and uncles. I know technology is supposed to help ease that for future generations, and I hope for their sake it will, but I still find it sad. Camera-time is not the same as in-person time.

The uncle that passed away last month was my Dad's brother. He was second-oldest. They both had gotten sick enough that neither was able to travel to visit the other for close to two years, and they only lived a state away from each other. This is the first sibling on my father's side to pass away, and it was pretty shocking, because they had all been tightly-knit. This is an uncle I actually knew.

When we were all small, 4 of the 5 siblings stayed in the NY area, and we visited each other regularly. Once us cousins all got to be 16 - 18 years old, though, there seemed to be less time for bigger family gatherings. And once cousins started to get married, forgeddaboutit. I still haven't met most of my cousins' children (9 and counting, I believe it is ...). It's pretty shameful. Some of us moved out of state, and visiting each other, well, really just became a thing of the past for most.

What struck me about this uncle's passing were two things; the first one was my father had visited his brother a few years back, when his brother was still healthy, and they'd had a lovely conversation. My uncle had made dinner, and they had a wide assortment of desserts. The wives had fun catching up, and they'd all had a great time.

Later my Dad expressed surprise at how he wished he had spent more time with his brother in a comforting, big-brother way. Their mother had died when the 5 of them were all under the age of 13, and my Dad was left to take care of the other 4 in the shadow of an alcoholic and mostly-absent dad. While they were growing up, since this brother was second oldest, my father took for granted that this brother would also be mature and look out for the 3 much younger siblings, like my dad was doing. He told my dad he would have liked more big-brother time. That honesty was a good moment to share.

The second thing that struck me was a conversation I had with the husband of my father's sister (my aunt is mostly mute because of a stroke.) This uncle had been best friends with my blood-uncle, and we reflected on how ill the 3 siblings had been for the past few years. In light of the illnesses the 3 had been going through, no one, however, expected this brother to be the first to go. He was the strong and brave one; the beautiful, dark-haired, caramel-colored, tattooed brother with the ability to fix any car and put in a new kitchen if you just asked. He was the quiet one that didn't say much but people figured would always be there. He had been the invisible one.

Who are your invisible ones?

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