Teetering on this tightrope

Teetering on this tightrope

I’m writing this from a room in a hospice house where a beloved uncle of mine is resting, awaiting his chariot ride to Heaven. Meanwhile, my sweet daughter is 150 miles away, at home, excited to go to the Christmas parade with Daddy tomorrow and get to ride in his patrol car at the end of the parade. (He usually is the one to escort Santa back to his sleigh, too, so I can’t wait to hear all about that.) This is my tightrope to balance on today. When I was very young I remember seeing a circus act on TV (probably Ed Sullivan) with a lady on a tightrope. I immediately decided right then and there that I wanted to be a tightrope walker when I grew up because she was dressed in something sparkly and pretty, and the camera was focused on her so intently, and she looked so graceful. Little did I know that most of adulthood is comprised of balancing on some tightrope or another every day.

I know that death is a part of life and all of that, but this is kind of new to me to actually be around where someone is in the process of expiring. I’ve only done it once before, and that was with my mother a year and a half ago.

Since learning of his rapid decline, I’ve been flooded with memories of my uncle, my very first one being the night he got home from Vietnam. The whole family went to the airport to welcome him home and I remember lots and lots and lots of people there, and I guess everyone who came off the plane was coming home from the war. I looked at everyone wondering what this uncle looked like and if I’d recognize him. Turns out, nobody recognized him! He walked right up to us and said, “y’all looking for me?”. He had a mustache and mutton-chop sideburns and longer hair than he left home with as a kid of 18. I can still remember the looks of astonishment on the adults as their brains went from ‘um, no’ to ‘oh my gosh that’s HIM!’

Before I ever knew him, I actually remember my mother writing letters to him and their other brother who was in the Army at the same time. She would give me a sheet of paper so I could write, too. (I was two or three years old at the time.) I remember seeing her cry as she wrote to them.

I also remember seeing him walking his postal route in our hometown after he returned home, and yelling out the window of Mama’s bug Buick Estate Wagon as we went by, and getting a big grin from him when he heard us and would wave back. He was always a bachelor so once a week he would come to our house to eat supper with us and we always looked forward to that. He had a great sense of humor and we would laugh til our sides hurt.

Another memory is of a joke played on him. My daddy likes to play tricks on folks, and one year Mama had bought my uncle (her baby brother) a pair of pants for Christmas. Well, we didn’t have regular gift boxes to put them in to wrap them, so Daddy thought it would be funny to put them in a cereal box and even included a bag of dried beans or rice, something that would shake and make a rattling noise similar to cereal. So, fast-forward to Christmas Eve. We can’t wait to watch him open this gift- one of my brothers was saying ‘shake the box! Guess what it is!’ Then the look on his face when he saw Tony the Tiger looking back at him- we just howled with laughter! He sure was happy to pull that pair of pants out of that box instead of a bag of cereal.

As an adult, I have sweet memories of him holding my baby daughter and getting pictures of them together, and then after he was living in an assisted care facility, she would ask to go visit him there. She even made things to help brighten his day and decorate his room. She was sad to not be allowed to come with me this time, but somewhere deep down she understands this is ‘grown-ups only’ territory.

Most people avoid these situations, but I feel like I have a part in the duty of this. I’ve been blessed with the large family I was born into, and they all had a part in making me who I am. This torch is being passed on to me from my elders and I’m not going to answer with a ‘polite pass’. I’m also aware of the fact that my actions are laying the foundation for my daughter to follow. I just feel sad that she is so young and experiencing the death of another family member.

So, here I am. Teetering on this tightrope called Menopausal motherhood; stretched between being mommy to a young child and watching my elders pass away.

UPDATE: My uncle passed away on December 12, 2017. He is no longer in pain, he is no longer weakened by Parkinson’s. He is missed very much.


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