My Uncle Gene is dieing.

My mother sent me an email the other day that was short and to the point. Here’s what it said:

Three to six months for uncle Gene according to Dr. Frank.  He heard yesterday.  Arrangements for pain medication are being made so now there is not much to do but wait.  He is ok mentally right now.  Love you, Mom

This wasn’t surprising as my Uncle has been having health problems for several years and has been in the hospital more than once in recent months, but seeing it in black and white like that still drives the point home no matter how much you may have been expecting it. Mom is the oldest of four kids and the only female. Gene won’t be the first of her brothers who’s funeral she’ll attend as my Uncle Bob (whom my Uncle Gene says I bear a striking resemblance to) died many years ago when I was still a kid in a dune buggy accident up in Grayling, Michigan.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the news of my Uncle’s impending death. Of my mother’s three brothers he’s the one I was the least close to and the one I know the least about. This is partially due to the fact that I was scared to death of the man for most of my childhood and, thinking back on it, I have no idea why he frightened me. He’s a big man and his friends jokingly nicknamed him “Tiny” which was a level of irony I couldn’t grasp as a child. He was also very loud and boisterous compared to my other Uncles, but he never said or did a thing that would give me a logical reason to be uneasy around him. As I grew into an adult I became accustomed to my Uncle, but I’ve never really felt particularly close to him either. That’s entirely my own fault, though, as I never really thought to try. Not that we had a lot to say to each other as near as I can tell.

The fact that he’s in his final days has brought back that old familiar feeling of being an outsider for me. There’s that part of me that thinks I should be more upset about my Uncle’s condition than I am and while I understand that the lack of emotional impact is due directly to my lack of attachment, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve somehow made a mistake in not trying to develop that attachment. I know this is going to be very rough on my mother and I feel somewhat guilty that it won’t be that rough on me. If it were my Uncle Dan, the youngest of her brothers, I’d be much more upset because I got to know him the best.

I’m not sure I’m getting across what I want to say, but it feels like there’s a way these sort of things usually play out with everyone else in the world as though it were written down someplace and I managed to be out sick the day they taught us about it in class. I’m told that part of the feeling of being an outsider is normal for people who have ADD, as I do, but that doesn’t stop it from being… awkward. I wonder if my own siblings think less of me for not reacting “appropriately” or if other outsiders see me as being insensitive as a result. Not that it matters as I’ll continue being who I am regardless of what others think, but I still have this need to try to understand who I am and why I relate to the world differently from those around me. Even if I do manage to make heads or tails of my place in the world I have no idea how I’d make use of that information so I suppose this is all just rambling for rambling’s sake. Still I can’t help but feel I’m in the wrong in some way.

The best I can do is to hope that my Uncle’s passing is as comfortable as it can be considering his circumstances and try to be there for my mother if she needs me in some way.

23 thoughts on “My Uncle Gene is dieing.

  1. I’m not sure I’m getting across what I want to say, but it feels like there’s a way these sort of things usually play out with everyone else in the world as though it were written down someplace and I managed to be out sick the day they taught us about it in class.

    The down side of being the animal that can undersatnd it’s own mortality.  I always cry at funerals, even for people I barely know.  I find it the down side of Athieism.

    Words from relative strangers are unlikely to be of any help at this time, but I’m sure we are all taking a pause to thing of you and you mum.


  2. The best I can do is to hope that my Uncle’s passing is as comfortable as it can be considering his circumstances and try to be there for my mother if she needs me in some way.

    We are social animals and the best in us is brought out when we help others in their suffering. Your observations about others seeming to follow a written scriptis merely family or cultural customs, the rituals that draw us closer together as a community and help us to get over our obstacles. When you have some traits that most of the group doesn’t have, you will feel left out, that is normal. By the way, just being there for someone who is greiving is a compassionate response. Dialogue is even better, but not as comfortable for some. The death of someone close also makes us face our own mortality and forces us to contemplate what happens at death – is there anything after – etc. Most of us fear the unknown, especially when we are forced to enter therein – the basis of most horror flicks and books: also normal. Hang in there and just do the best you can with what you’ve been dealt – bluffing doesn’t work well at the end.

  3. Still I can’t help but feel I’m in the wrong in some way.

    One voice says: Most of us know we coulda done some things better. Accept it.
    Another voice says: Do something about it then. Just do it.

  4. Considering you just heard the news, you need time to really discover exactly how you feel. I started working in a Mortuary at the age of 12 and retired from the Funeral Industry when I was 42. I have embalmed well over 10,000 people and have met with their families. I also worked in the capacity as a Medical Examiner for several years. I am no outsider when it comes to understanding death and grief. It varies from person to person, and our attitudes are directly related to the amount of intelligence we possess. Death is certain and natural. Very few really embrace a “wanting” nature of it. It’s natural to have feelings of uncertainty. It’s a learn as you go experience.

    In a strange way our feelings about death are handed down through generations as if it were a religion of it’s own. Some cry and find themselves so mentally ripped, while others seem to be in a stable emotional state of mind.

    But this is certain.
    You have right up to the last day of your uncles life to arrange for peace. It’s never to late to say the things you wanted to say, and express the feelings you have.

    From a Professional point of view, you are being given a chance to help everyone concerned. Count it as luck…and use this time wisely to prepare yourself and help in preparing others for what is coming as a natural event in your family. It does not need to be an overly complexed occasion. It needs to be just what it is, The death of a sick man. Life is sometimes ” Pure Joy “, it also has it’s moments of walking through a ” Veil of Tears ” and to be quite upfront about it, it’s veil time, and like other things we should make an attempt to make the best of it. A chance to show our families and loved ones that we do love them, and we do care.

    The thing that I think helps the most is knowing that our attitudes change and heal with time. I would be willing to bet, that by the times he does die. It will be welcomed as an escape of the cruel suffering of life, when life presents itself as a terminal illness.

    People will be looking to you. And I have all the faith that you will do your best. And rise to the occasion as the one that has the stability of mind, and the big heart that can be safely turned to, and trusted when an occasion like this happens.

  5. I know how you feel, Les. My maternal grandfather died recently. I inherited my father’s emotional retardation.

    He was the closest to me of my extended family (the only one ever to keep encouraging me to keep on drumming). When I got the call, all I did was say, “No.” My eyes haven’t experienced a wet moment. I feel like a monster.

    I would give you advice, but you said it best in the last paragraph.

  6. There’s that part of me that thinks I should be more upset about my Uncle’s condition than I am

    Les- I don’t know your uncle but if you talk to him you’ll hopefully find that he’d rather it be this way, so as to create minimum upset to family. It can be sad and frightening to see the clock count down but at least you will all be a little more prepared and will have a chance to say goodbye and how you feel. If you find it difficult to say directly how you feel there are other ways to make it known. Remember that it would be very unreasonable of others to expect you to show grief or put on some kind of ungenuine mask, grieving is something personal to you that you do as much as you feel you need.

    It may be painful and frightening to think that ourselves and family may face oblivion, I don’t really have much answer but it’s something that must be accepted, as I’m sure you have, but I wonder if it really is something to be feared any more than going to sleep normally, it won’t matter to you if you won’t wake up if you can’t feel anything negative about not doing so. I feel that the urge to exist that is observed in most animals is only natural instinct with nothing deaper than evolution behind it, it’s consequence creates a natural fear of death and makes some wish for afterlife, but it provides no real reason to favour existence over oblivion.

    BTW, particularly well placed comment, Paul

  7. Something to think about…

    He and your family has time to think about the disposition of his remains when the time comes.

    I left the Funeral Industry for several reasons, but the one major reason was it became a part of Corporate America. I was not a Funeral Director, I was an old school Undertaker. Prior to 1990 the Industry was still devoted to local communities as a public service to humanity, We were there to help people get through a sometimes difficult situation. It can be mentally taxing on the minds of some who lose their children, accidents, so many variables to name.

    Anyway the Industry changed, It became about MONEY. The homes were selling to large corporations, those corporations goals were in contrast to many old school folks like myself. I can honestly say ” I never sold anyone anything ” I gave people their choices and let them decide. If anything I steered people away from over spending, because their feelings were in a vulnerable place to be exploited. So the corporations began demanding that we show people a series of films and brochure’s in the hope of getting the average sales dollar to go up. They also demanded that people pay all the bill upfront. The industry became about money.

    Some people cannot wrap their minds around the idea of Cremation and they have to bury the remains with all the pomp of a visitation and a huge send off. It’s been done for hundreds of years and seems natural.

    I tend to think after having witnessed both sides of the coin, that the people who opted for Cremation had a better sense of mental composure.

    Like hair on a barber shop floor and finger nails. So is the human body once it expires from being a living being. It’s just tissue that will eventually be reduced to dust.

    So…I strongly recommend that you discuss this issue with your family before the time comes. Try for the option of ” Direct Cremation ” and go to a Funeral Home and make those arrangements before he dies. You will have time to question everything
    regarding cost and the exact nature of what services they offer.

    I do believe in a Memorial service. It can be a specific design to present closure.

    As far as the disposition of the Cremains. They can placed in the existing Grave of someone he loved, perhaps a family member that pre-deceased him, You can also opt for a Memorial service at that grave, or they can be scattered in a favorite place that he liked to hunt or fish or perhaps an alternative place where he like to spend time camping and such.

    I hope that helps, and if you have any questions please feel free to message me.

    My wife and I of 31 years will be driving our new 2007 Volvo VN780 Truck full of Haz-Mat to California today. We love being with each other all the time. And doing a job that is of actual benefit to the human race. “Highway Safety”…I am kind of in a rush this morning…

  8. I wasn’t too sure how I should feel when my maternal grandmother died while I was in junior high.  I really didn’t know my grandmother too well, as she didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Cantonese.  I felt bad for my mother and other relatives, but that’s about it.  I remember really feeling non-empathetic when an aunt who married into the family was crying pretty hard at the funeral.

    Now I just kind of look at it that I know who she was, but I didn’t really know the person.

    When my paternal grandmother died, I wasn’t hit as hard as my cousins, and I remember talking to my older sister about it, and she pretty much explained it as us just not being as close to her or inviting her over as much as they did.

  9. I believe death is more difficult to deal with in our society because we place inflexible expectations on how someone should express grief. When my mom’s mother died and she and my two aunts went to the funeral, they experienced feelings they hadn’t expected. They suddenly found themselves in giggling fits and the more one would snorkle, the more the others would too. It apparently spread (I was out of state at the time) so that to their embarrassments, others who never would have been caught dead laughing while at a funeral were doing just that.

    My mom said it must have been the intensities of their emotions that caused them to laugh instead of cry. I think they just wanted to hear their mother laugh one last time and that side of my family is notorious for pranks and silliness.

    So you see, Les, you couldn’t act worse than laughing during a funeral. But whatever you feel, it’s OK to own it.

  10. My 30 y.o. nephew, who I was close to growing up but not so much any more, and wife just had a baby 2 nites ago; the baby died last nite. It was sort of half expected as it was born without a diaphragm so all internal organs were a little scattered and the lungs had little chance to develop.
    I talked to him a coupla weeks ago and he was acting very strong and matter of fact about the realities; I was amazed. I feel a little sad for he and his wife and my sister – I don’t think I’m expected to feel much else because if I am I don’t. I know by law it was deemed a person so there’ll be a funeral which I suppose I ought to attend.

    One thing I noticed when mum died in 95 was that I often referred to the funeral as a wedding and then caught myself; recently when a friend’s friend was getting married in my self talk I accidentally referred to it as a funeral. I’ve heard this is not uncommon but it’s still weird.

  11. I have nothing pithy or substantive to offer here, so let me just say that you and your uncle are in my thoughts, Les.

    And your nephew is also in my thoughts, LuckyJohn. That’s a damn depressing thing to have happened.

  12. Les:
    From my humble experiences, you don’t know how you are going to react. Both the ‘indifferent, rationalized coolness’ and the ‘all out emotional turmoil’ are natural reactions to illness and death, depending upon your mindset at the time.

    As for my hellacious era (FWIW):

    When Uncle Mal died in August 1993 – I was ‘strong’ – well he lived to 86!

    When Grandma died in September 1993 – I was ‘strong’ – well she lived to 93!

    When Uncle Frank died in January 1994 – I was ‘strong’ – he had suffered with cancer for about 2 years.

    When Mom died in June 1994 – I was ‘strong’, but wavered – four family deaths in less than a year – what’s happening here????

    When Dad died May 7 1996 – I lost it, and I was slung into a depression that lasted about 6 years

    This depression had its positive side – I studied trying to make sense of the situation using my Presbyterian upbringing, and couldn’t reconcile a loving God with my thoughts of: why?, how come?, what’s reason it had to happen this way? I was composed on the outside in the presence of others, but a mess when alone.

    Well intentioned people’s ‘sincere’ comments would get me bawling and frustrated at the same time – they seemed so certain, and so…oo contrite:
    ‘Oh, they are happier in heaven with the Angels’
    ‘God called them home’
    ‘God works in mysterious ways’
    ‘Their pain is over, now ‘
    ‘It’ll get better, you’ll see’

    They weren’t answers, but meaningless platitudes, aimed at making themselves feel better (and glad they weren’t in my shoes).

    Grr…Thus I gave up theism. The more I studied, the less viable the whole shebang seemed, and thus when enough inconsistancies accrued, I tossed it in the ‘nice myths’ part of my brain. I began again with only ‘What is the truth?’ and ‘how can I ascertain that it is the truth with the best of my ability?’

    Which eventually led me here to SEB (where I’m still trying to refine my concepts of truth)

    Well, I kinda got off track there and gave ya my whole frustrating adventure, but I hope the info therin helps you in reconciling your thoughts and crystallizes a course of action for you to take.

      Please use the time your uncle has left to make any changes in your relationship that you want, or feel are needed. Once he’s gone, there are only regrets or joys for what you did and didn’t do.



  13. Scenter – sounds like you were around ungenuine people at the time, which as you said is why you took the path you did. Being young and fairly fortunate I haven’t had to deal with much death yet so I couldn’t say much useful, but I think for something which is just a natural emotion that just needs time, there is nothing anyone can (genuinely and knowingly) say or do that would help when it’s entirely the pure essence of emotion, only if there is an associated talkable issue can someone help.

    Remember it was just the act of certain people, don’t let that hold you back from exploring as you wish outside of emotional context

  14. Hi Les,

    We regret most that which we don’t say (though I sure have made some examples in the other direction).

    I feel for you and your family. 

    Best regards,

  15. I’m not sure I’m getting across what I want to say, but it feels like there’s a way these sort of things usually play out with everyone else in the world as though it were written down someplace and I managed to be out sick the day they taught us about it in class.

    I know that feeling, its not just you

  16. SEB – I just wanted to let you know that you have described exactly how I feel.  My great grandmother just died and I knew her since I was little. However, I just didn’t feel the pain everyone else seemed to. My sister even got angry when she found out I wouldn’t be travelling out of state to attend the funeral.

    For me, death isn’t as big of a deal as it seems to be for most other people and this leads to a lot of akwardness between me and other family members.  That just makes my akwardness of being the only atheist in the family that much stronger (although I’m not out to any of them except my mother).  For the record, I’ve got ADD as well so that could explain the disattachment I suppose.

    Best of luck.

  17. You and your uncle have my sympathies, Les.

    I wouldn’t worry about your feelings- so much of how people react to death seems prescribed to me, and I think a lot of times it’s hard to separate one’s genuine reaction from the reaction you know you’re expected to have. That said, you may surprise yourself- I’ve been in situations where I didn’t know how upset I was by a death until I actually got to the funeral, or even until years later. I’ve also been more upset by deaths than I thought I would be, not wholly because of feelings for the deceased, but because of empathy for those who felt the impact of the death the hardest. Just don’t compare yourself to some arbitrary standard- there isn’t any way you are supposed to or have to feel in situations like these. Still, I always try to prepare myself for the possibility that my feelings or reaction will catch me off guard.

  18. Les you have nothing to feel bad about.  We all find ourselves feeling like I should have said, I should have done, or people think I don’t care.  You care enough to worry about this and there is no need to.  We all live until we die.  Good lives or bad lives but it is our life.  We alone are responsible for what we say, do, or think.  Just don’t worry about what you could have done for Uncle Gene.  You have to think about what you have to do for Les and his family.  Contrary to popular beliefs most people don’t stop to measure how others feel or react at a time like this because we are wrapped up in our own mortality.  How do I feel about my brothers pending death?  I hope he is as pain free as possible, that he doesn’t linger and that he knows despite his short comings I love him.

  19. Amazing stuff.  This thread would be a much better thing for grieving relatives to read than anything put out by a corporate funeral home. 

    Les: I went into a tailspin of depression when my dad died, that lasted for nearly a decade.  Sometimes a little detatchment is good.

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