My Uncle Steve passed away in his sleep after years fighting cancer.
I didn't know him well. When I was less than two-years old, my father, Uncle Steve's brother, divorced my mother and left us, taking his side of the family with him, grandparents and all. My mother's side of the family has been absent and silent my whole life, and were never a factor. As I grew up I didn't particularly miss my father's side, as many families of a single parent learn to make do and don't know any better. But as I grew into a teenager and later entered my early twenties, I started to feel bitter about my father's side of the family that hadn't--in my mind--done anything to reach out to us like they should have.
Then my own brother got divorced and left his family. None of us were prepared, and none of us could have imagined the rift that immediately opened between his ex-wife and us, and by extension, his four young boys. Things spiraled into madness and my brother's children ended up halfway across the country with their mother, leaving the rest of us with spinning heads. The damage is done, and I don't know what to do.
I understand now how hard it is to reach out to a family torn apart by divorce. Misinformation, discomfort, animosity, and reluctance, both sides experience all these things to some level, and the walls they erect are powerful, even when it comes to children who don't deserve the effects of divorce. I no longer carry any bitterness toward my uncles and aunts for the lonely life my mother and brothers lived growing up, I'm simply saddened by the circumstances. I would apologize for the anger they probably never knew I felt.
Last year I had the chance to attend a family reunion for the first time in over ten years, and re-acquainted myself with a family of good people I wish I knew better. I spent some time with my dad, shook lots of hands, and relearned names, including Uncle Steve's. Though my grandmother--the person I had known best of all of them--had died years before, I thought of her as I hugged my grandpa.
Now, with another death in the family, thoughts of her are also echoing in my mind.
Uncle Steve's death marks another lost opportunity for me, just as my grandmother's had years before. Death is so very final, and marks the ending of a life that will never return, no matter how we rationalize as the years go that we will make the wrongs of divorce right eventually and someday make the ties of family strong once more. For Uncle Steve and I, that time passed, and I will never know the man his wife and children describe as so strong and wonderful.
I wish I had known him. I don't know when he was born, I don't know what he did in life, or much about his legacy. I wish I could cry for a beloved uncle, but tears won't come for a stranger, sad as that sounds, though a pain in my chest and ache in my head swells when I think about his death. I know others are crying, those that were closest to him, and my heart goes out to them.
Life is too short for a decades-old divorce to keep family apart, plain and simple. My own father won't live forever, and despite his wronging of my immediate family those decades ago, I can't stand the thought of his passing in the same manner as Uncle Steve's. I'm grateful for all the attempts that have been made over the years by my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and hope to do more on my part to accept them. It would be tragic if my eventual children were ever separated from their own cousins, so why should I be separated from mine?
The time is always now, whether it be family strengthened, dreams pursued, or goals set.