True Love

We all have that relative who isn’t blood related, a friend of the family who you call “Uncle” or “Aunt.”

I lost one of mine this past week. I met him when I was very young. Too young to really remember. I recall being around him, I recall his house and family. But I may have been 5 years old? It’s that age where you remember smells and tastes but not necessarily the faces.

I met him in South Africa. Uncle Richard was one of my mother’s oldest friends. He was like a brother to her. His family looked at my mother as an unofficial adopted member of the family. Then my mother moved to the US and kept in touch. I heard the stories as all children do. Rolling their eyes and uninterested… but the stories managed to seep in. He was someone my mother loved. He was someone who loved my mother. 

We were loved by him by default. He didn’t need to see us every year. He didn’t need to phone once in a while. My mother kept him up to date.

On September 27, 2012, I sent Uncle Richard an email. It was the first personal correspondence I had attempted since I was 5. He had been diagnosed with cancer and it seemed to be the time to reach out. 

I sent a simple email with greetings, condolences on the diagnosis, and a hope to hear back. And he did. He signed it “I LOVE YOU SHANNI. ALWAYS”. He signed every email with it. We sent updates to each other on email anywhere from daily to monthly. He never failed to tell me he loved me. How can a man who hasn’t seen or heard from the child of his ‘sister’ love someone? I don’t know how to explain it. But I felt it. It’s one of the few times that I actually FELT love through an emotionless form of communication. I can’t say impersonal because it was personal. I sent him pictures of the family and he said how much I look like my mother. I asked to video chat but he did not want me to see him in the state that he was in. He kept me up to date on his chemotherapy and physical therapy. There was a worrisome period where he didn’t respond. He had lost feeling in his hand and was unable to type. I’m thankful he was able to again later. 

About 2 weeks ago, I decided to try and Facetime him. For a blip of a second, his face appeared before disconnecting. It was so old and worn. I mentioned it to my mother. A week later, my mother said she had just Facetimed (a verb?) with him and I should try it as well. He was really sick. Now is the time, she said. So I waited a few minutes and decided to try. He answered and I got to see his face for an entire two minutes. It was a bad time… he was coughing really badly, so he handed off the phone to his niece… “Speak to your cousin” he said. I hadn’t seen her in 20 years but she was so beautiful. We chatted for a few minutes and promised to keep in touch. All I heard was his coughing in the background. She told me to call back in a day. I was headed to the States though, so I figured I would Facetime him with my mother. What a treat that would be for him. 

I got home on Sunday. On Monday my mother told me he was in bad condition. He was slipping in and out of consciousness. Tuesday he was in a coma. And Wednesday, Jan 29th, he was gone. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t get to see his face again. 

It was expected. It always is with cancer. But it doesn’t matter. When it happens, when they’re gone, it still hits hard. It’s like a small piece of your heart twists off. It’s not gone, but only slightly mangled. 

Why would I cry over a man I barely knew? I cried and will cry because he showed me true love. He showed me a love so powerful that it could be felt through an email. I could only imagine the power if I had the chance to hug him. I know he is at peace now. I know he watches over his family and my family. But I sent him one last email anyway, fully aware that he will never see it and I will never get a reply. 

Rest in Peace, Uncle Richard. 

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