I’ve Lost a Piece of My Soul

I want something else to get me through this Semi-charmed kind of life. I want something else; I’m not listening when you say Good-bye.

Semi-Charmed Life – Third Eye Blind

My uncle died of brain cancer on the evening of January 22, 2020 – he just turned 50 in November. I’ve lost a lot of people close to me – my dad, my grandfather and other family members, three friends during my teenage years, close friends in recent years, and several life long family friends who were family to me. But losing my uncle has been different. My bond with him was unlike any other. The word uncle is not nearly a strong enough word for me. He was and will always be my favorite uncle and I was and will forever more be his favorite niece.

I thought I was going to have him in my life for decades to come. He used to talk about how he was going to be that crazy old man I’d have to chase around because he was raising hell around the neighborhood! But, life or should I say death, decided otherwise. I can’t even begin to describe how heartbroken I am. I feel like I have lost a piece of my soul.

Through all the grief, I am also so incredibly lucky to have had a person in my life as wonderful, strong, loving, joyful, and amazing as my uncle. I am beyond proud to be his niece. The love, joy, and inspiration he brought to my life is indescribable. He fought for over a year and harder than anyone I have ever seen fight this fucking disease – the Saturday before he died he had his fourth brain surgery. He never, ever gave up no matter how bad things got – no matter many brain surgeries he had, no matter how severe his seizures progressed, and no matter how this terrible disease tried to break him. He never gave up.

The love that we had for each other was truly unconditional and I will carry him in my heart every single day. I love him more than I can say. I miss him more than I will ever be able to describe. The world feels different now that he is no longer here and I feel so lost without him.

Cancer didn’t just make him sick, it murdered him. My uncle wasn’t ready to die (not that anybody ever really is) and he loved life more than anyone I have ever met. He was full of such vibrant, wonderful, amazing energy. He was hilariously funny, a big kid, and one of the kindest people you ever met. His will was unlike any other. But cancer stole all of that from him and it stole him from us – from me.

Monday and Tuesday were the longest days of my life. Monday there were viewings from 3 to 5pm and 7 to 9pm with dinner for the family in between and then a funeral service and burial Tuesday morning from 10am to 12pm with a luncheon/memorial from 12:30 that continued after I left at 5:30pm. The only part of the entire two days that I felt truly captured his spirit was the luncheon/memorial at one of his favorite restaurants, with his favorite local band playing, and all of his family and friends toasting him, retelling stories, and sharing memories. We had the place to ourselves and celebrated his life in a way that felt like he was there with us.

This has been the most difficult death I’ve dealt with by far and it’s the first time in a long time that I have genuinely wanted to drink. At the dinner between viewings, my aunt called me over with all of her friends to the bar. Shots of tequila were being ordered for everyone in honor of my uncle. She asked me what I wanted and if I would split a shot with her. Now, #1 she knows I haven’t been drinking and she is extremely proud of me and my decisions #2 that said, she doesn’t know that I have an unhealthy and unstable relationship with alcohol (my uncle knew a little but kept our conversations between us), #3 she is grieving the loss of a man she has been with since high school so I don’t expect her to have any type of awareness about anything at the moment and #4 I’m an adult who can make her own decisions.

“What would you like, sweetheart? Tequila? Or do you want to split a lemon drop with me? For your uncle!”
“I don’t know. I haven’t had a drink in almost 16 months. Maybe I could just have a sip of yours. I’ll share it with you. But you can’t say anything.”
My heart is pounding. My face is hot. I feel like crying, my eyes burn. I turn to the bartender and say “Can you just pour water in a shot glass for me, please?”

What did I just ask? My intention was to get a shot. But, it was like my brain was high jacked and the words that came out of my mouth were not the words I wanted to say.

I take the shot of water while everyone else takes their shot of alcohol. I turn around and I see Josh and my mom and they look horrified. I’m not sure if their looks are of disappointment, anger, shock, disbelief, or a mixture of all four. I walk over to them, smile, and say “Don’t worry. I’m not stupid. It was a shot of water. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you!” Josh is completely rigid and I can’t decipher the look on his face. My mom nervously laughs, takes a deep breathe in, puts her hand to her chest, and says “Oh my God. Deep down I knew it wasn’t alcohol.”

She’s right. It wasn’t alcohol. But, I really wanted it to be. But, I know as sure as I am writing this that if I drink, I will lose myself and everything that I have accomplished. I will drink until I go numb. I will disappoint everyone who cares about me and I will hate myself. And despite all of the negative consequences, it doesn’t make this feeling go away. I want to drink but, instead, I will wake up tomorrow and I will celebrate 16 months of sobriety.

I feel I have a responsibility to my uncle – to honor him – to live my life with purpose and with meaning and to live my life with joy like he did. I want to continue to make him proud. Right now, it feels like I can barely get through the day. The thought of having to live the rest of my life without him in it is too much for me to handle. When I discussed this with my acupuncturist, Rose, she suggested that I take the same approach with this as I do with sobriety. One day at a time. If a day is too much, then take it an hour, a minute, or even a second at a time. The seconds will pass whether we want them to or not. They will continue to accumulate into minutes, minutes into hours, and hours into days. I’ve been taking things second by second and I have somehow made it through a little over a week. So, I will continue to take things a second at a time. My uncle was one of the strongest people on this earth. If he could be strong with all of the shit he dealt with then I have no excuse. I must be strong for him.

I have to mention that my support system is phenomenal. My classmates and Rose have been incredibly supportive, checking in on me almost everyday, unlimited hugs, listening without judgement, and some of my classmates came together to send a beautiful flower arrangement to the funeral home. They are my family and they have been there for me without question to help me through such a dark time. My mom is my rock, she understands loss in a way not many experience and I am so grateful to have her support and love. My best friend who is on the other side of the country has checked in with my every day, lets me vent and cry and talk. She makes me laugh and brings joy to my life even in the worst times. I love her more than I can say.

Josh – I’ve already told you but I’m telling you again, I’m am so thankful for you and how much you’ve been there for me. I am so grateful that you were able to know him and have a friendship with him. He loved to come out to your gigs, loved that you played the Foo Fighters, thought your taste in music was kick ass, and just loved hanging out with you. Most of all, he loved to see how happy I am with you. I literally could not get through this without you. You make my heart feel safe and during a time where I feel like my world is falling apart, I know that as long as I have you in my life, I can make it through. I love you.

Josh suggested that I share some of the stories I have with my uncle – a few of which you would swear I was making up. I think sharing my stories is a wonderful way to keep his joyful, fun-loving spirit alive but I need to take some time to write them all down. In the meantime, I will explain why I picked Semi Charmed Life as my song quote for this post.

I am 6 years old, my uncle and I are riding down the road in his jeep listening to music. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining and there is not one cloud in the sky. Singing along to song after song with my uncle, we are smiling and laughing. The next thing I hear is “doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo” coming out of the speakers – it’s the signature start of Semi Charmed Life. The song plays through and I excitedly say “Play it again!! Play it again!!” So, being the best uncle in the world, he plays it again, and again, and again. We lost track of how many times in a row we played that song. One of my gifts, even as a little kid, is being able to memorize lyrics to a song insanely fast; within two or three times of hearing the song, especially if it’s a song I like. This was no different, not that I knew what any of the lyrics meant at that age. But, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was with my favorite uncle, he was with his favorite niece (another story to share) listening to my new favorite song enjoying a beautiful day together. Fast forward 22 years later, at his memorial service, his favorite local band played an hour-long set, song after song. I’m sitting at a table off to the side when I hear the lead singer say, “we have time for one more” and the next thing I hear is “doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo”…