nowhere man…

My Uncle Ed died this week. He was about 75.

It came out of nowhere but not really.  My mom’s older brother was always something of a mystery to me. Growing up he lived with his little family an hour or more from us. He lived on a stretch of farmland that I don’t think he farmed. He lived in a trailer and he had a mynah bird and a layabout dog named Max. It’s strange what I remember from those years. I remember getting carsick on our way there to visit him after his daughter was born. I remember the little store near his place was owned by a man named Ed Morton. He had a lot of beef jerky and soda pop in there. I remember when he and my dad and Mr Morton opened a paint manufacturing business together out there in the middle of nowhere and I remember when they closed it, amid unanswered questions and quirky circumstances.

I remember the day he had packed up everything, following an argument with my grandmother and moved his family away from all of us. We did not know where they’d gone. I never overheard my parents talk about it with our extended family or with each other. I suppose as kids we did ask about him, where he’d gone but I can’t recall asking, I can’t recall hearing an answer.

He was tall and always tanned in my memory of him. He was an imposing figure with a deep, booming voice and loose-fitting clothes. He always seemed to be pondering something heavy, even when he joked he appeared to me to be carrying the weight of the world.  He may have scared me when I was growing up but I liked him a lot. I missed him when he left Cincinnati under that shroud of secrecy.

After a number of years my mom found him and his family. I think she’d been searching a long time for her big brother. I think she missed him more than she let on during those years. She found him because like his father, his namesake, he didn’t have a middle name, just an initial, “B.”  She found him before the internet and without a private investigator. To be honest it’s a mystery to me how she came across his phone number listing in Brandon, Florida but she did and then suddenly he was found.

We visited him in Florida not long after this. They were family but unfamiliar. Uncle Ed had lost something vital, something strong. He seemed broken to me as I saw him through my teenager lens.

I had seen him maybe a handful of times over the last 20 years. The dates and the occasions escape me. My mom kept in touch. She’d visit him, talk with him on the phone. I saw him after his son, my cousin, Scott, died of complications from his congenital heart condition. I remember Uncle Ed had lost a lot of weight. I remember him shuffling around the house, uncertain.  After his wife died suddenly several years later of an aneurysm it was if more of his soul chipped away. He soldiered on though and I lost track of him again. I was steeped in my own life by then, my own family, my own struggles and joys.

I like to remember him best by the stories my mom tells. I like to think most of my mom staying with him while my dad was in Vietnam. My brother was young and my mom was pregnant with me. I like to think of him driving my mom to the hospital at Wright Patt Air Force Base when she went into labor with me. I like to remember that he worked at Wright Patt, that he was a rocket scientist, that he worked on projects for the government and that he quit, for moral reasons, I thought. I don’t know if that’s true but I like to think it’s true.

I like to remember that he started a strange, entertaining tradition of sending the turkey neck from a Thanksgiving previous, to one of his siblings and that the siblings would freeze it and send it back to him some time later. I like to remember that he told great stories, that he smelled like scotch and cigarettes and that as a kid it didn’t occur to me that this combination was unhealthy.

When my mom called me to say he’d died of a massive heart attack, we think (we hope) peacefully,  in his sleep, I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel sad or empty or at a loss. Uncle Ed had always been something of a nowhere man, a story we told, a memory we had, a ghost of sorts. In truth, he was lost to me long ago.  Writing this, at this moment, I do have a sense of the grief. Writing this today is a way of filling up that space I’d been holding for him all these years and in so doing I see how important his story has been to mine. In writing this I can see the space between the stories we tell, the pain we hold, the time we wish we had and things we wish we’d said, the people we didn’t know we’d miss.

Goodbye, Uncle Ed. I pray peace and comfort to you after a strange, disquieted life. I pray peace for all of our family in the wake of our loss. We will miss you. We always have missed you.

Edward B. Thompson 

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serious as a heart attack…

My husband had a heart attack a few weeks ago. No, really. He did.

He’s 50 and deconditioned, his dad had one at 60 so it was on my radar somewhere but at least 10 years ahead on my radar, not the “day before Easter 2009” radar.

To say that it took me by surprise is an understatement. It was a battle that took me completely unarmed…

He’s fine now, you know, relatively speaking. He’s on a new diet, he has some great motivation to lose weight and get healthy and I trust that he knows he dodged a bullet. The damage to his heart was minimal thank God and he came home and re-entered real life after only a few days in the hospital. So we have that going for us.

Things come to me around this everyday now…some days I’m overwhelmed with the crazy of it, some days I’m just sad, some days I’m angry.

The thing that I wanted to put down to paper (so to speak) today though is this thought that I had.

A few years ago I had a rough time with a friend around the issue of her struggle with infertility. I thought that I knew what she “must be feeling” and although she told me repeatedly in probably 75 different well thought out ways that I couldn’t possibly understand because that was not my story I just didn’t hear her.

Thankfully, since then, I think (I HOPE) I have cultivated the grace and humility it takes to say that indeed there is no way I could possibly know what she was feeling at any given time. All I have is the ability to walk alongside and offer love in the in-between moments.

I say this because I’m starting to hear that phrase a lot now, “you MUST have been so scared…” “You MUST have felt this way or that way or blah blah….” and you know my response EVERY single time is that I’m angry.

I don’t know if that is what my friend felt when I used that phrase to her…I don’t know…I just know that when people assume that they know how I felt (or feel) going through this I feel very diminished in it all.

I guess what I’d LIKE to hear is more along the lines of “how are you feeling?” and “what was that like for you?” because to be honest, I didn’t feel sad or scared in the moment. I didn’t have that and for a number of people to tell me I MUST have felt that way I get confused….maybe I SHOULD have felt that…what’s wrong that I didn’t FEEL that?

Gah. crazy making in my brain.

So, sorry for the run on rant-o-rama…purging is good.

I suppose what I am most pleased about today is that realization that even the hard stuff I went through with my friend has merit to me now in this moment. It was a lucky little ‘a-ha’ to me and for that I am truly thankful.