I just got back from an unusual and last minute trip to New Jersey. One of my favorite uncles has been battling cancer for a while, and now it appears like cancer is winning. Since they just sent Hospice in, my aunt and uncle decided to pass along the word now, in hopes that everyone could visit while he's still alive.
It's always hard to see someone you love in pain. For my uncle, it comes down to balancing pain with the hallucinations that come when he's on too much pain medication. In this situation, I can't help but wonder what to hope/pray for. I mean, while I'd love a miracle, I'm a little too much of a realist to think he'll recover. So do I wish for more time with him? Or less time that he's in pain?
On top of this, we only spent about an hour with him each day we came to visit, because he was very tired and weak. The rest was spent with family, some of whom I don't get to see very often, and while there were moments of tears, there was overall still a reunion-like feel to our interactions. I know it meant a lot to him to have everyone there (I mean, he even told my grandmother he liked her singing growing up). So I've been pondering the importance of family. Although they can annoy you greatly at times, there's nothing like family to be there for you when you need it most. Nobody like family to love you regardless of how cranky you are, to drop their lives for you in a moment's notice. In my independent life in Atlanta, it's easy to lose sight of this.
In writing this, I don't expect sympathy, because no one ever knows what to say in such situations, so I will excuse everyone from the obligatory awkwardness. I will instead end on a more positive note, with some of my favorite Uncle Alan-isms:
1) He knows NYC in and out. He's famous for giving my friends an insiders' tour, pointing out things like where Ghostbusters was filmed, the courthouse steps from law and order, and every science fiction bookstore in the city.
2) At over 6 feet, he sticks out like a sore thumb with the rest of my family. During one of my high school soccer games, I knew my family made it out, because I heard his booming voice as I chased the ball. Sure enough, there's my uncle and the rest of the family, cheering me on with every touch, even though he understood little of the game itself.
3) He used to own a science fiction bookstore, and still loves the genre. Although I always argue, his rationale is that there's so much social commentary laced into the stories, that they become more realistic than other fiction. Then again, he once argued that Babylon 5 was more realistic than the Bourne Identity, because in the former the escape pod had blinking lights and the latter had a silencer on a revolver.
4) He knows politics. If you want someone on a ballot in NYC, you get my uncle. What this involves I know not, but he's damn good at it, and loves every opportunity to criticize the thieves and idiots he often found himself working with. This week we got him talking about his theory on why Obama won: within politics, there are a lot of crooks that try to ride the coattails of the politicians without doing much work. This primary season, most of them flocked to Hillary, which left the hardworking idealists to run Obama's campaign, which lead him to a landslide victory. Why have all these Obama people now come into the spotlight for "thievery?" They're all recent additions to the Obama wagon, and now is the first time he's having to learn how to sort the good from the bad.
I could go on, but I'll leave this off here. The summary version: love your family, and make the most of your life. Then even if you find it unexpectedly shortened, you'll know you made a difference and touched others.