I saw my uncle in a dream just before I woke last Saturday. It was one of those dreams where I wake up with a taut lump in my throat—on the verge of tears, but not able to cry. He appeared out of the blue and out of context, and I was really happy to see him—could feel it in my heart. I gave him a hug. He looked content.
I saw him two months ago for the first time in years. A small contingent of my ma's side of the family converged with uncanny timing at a borrowed cabin up north. None of us knew exactly where we were going or when we should arrive. We followed different meandering paths—in state, out of state, north, south, east and west—yet more than half of us ended up at the same point within minutes of each other. That's about how the weekend went, too. Things just fell into place. It was impromptu, easy, and light, full of conversation and belly-aching laughter.
My uncle arrived a little later. His health was not good and he hadn't been sleeping well so he'd delayed a bit, hoping to get a little more rest before making the drive. He was low-key, chatted some and played cards with his granddaughters. When it was time for us to go, I hugged him and said hello and goodbye. We hadn't spoken much, but I was glad he was there. Gatherings like this are few and far between.
About six weeks later, I was attending his funeral. At first, I wasn't sure if I should even be there. I felt incidental. I remembered him fondly, but as a subtle presence. When he and my aunt divorced the familial tie was stretched thin and...life went on. Maybe I felt a little guilty for that, and that I didn't really deserve to be there.
But I went, and I got to say hello and goodbye one more time. Old photos and stories introduced me to a man I'd never known, and revived memories of kindnesses that I had known. I learned what he meant to my cousins. How often does "My dad is a great dad because..." come up as a topic of discussion before something like this happens? He was a considerate and caring father. He wasn't ostentatious. He gained respect and obedience quietly. No one wanted to disappoint him.
After the service, we converged again, this time from one direction, following one path to the long-held family home. My cousins' children climbed the apple tree, polished and claimed stashes of apples as their own. Adults plucked and shined memories from the home and yard, some to share and some not. Remember playing Capture the Flag? Remember when your brother peed off the top of the haystack? Those woods...remember how we stayed gone for hours out there, just exploring and playing? Remember lip syncing to Roger Whittaker ("..and the first time that we said hello, began our last goodbye.")?
My family moved many times when I was growing up. On more than one occasion, my aunt and uncle opened their home to us as a port in the storm or an extended pit stop between ventures. As I wandered the house, I realized that I was also saying goodbye to their home, my last accessible hold of memories. It was the last place from my childhood that was still available to me. I could walk from room to room and point...I didn't have to close my eyes and imagine. My aunt sat over there in the living room to knit and crochet. I sat in that tub, playing until my fingers wrinkled with kitchen utensils—measuring cups, Tupperware containers, a funnel, an egg beater—as bath toys. We put on performances there, at the top of that stairwell, for our parents who lined the steps. We hid in these cavernous closets and cubbies during games of hide-and-seek. The house seemed so small now. I could hardly believe all of the memories it cradled.
Such a day of loss, but I hadn't felt so at peace in a long time. When I dreamed of my uncle, he asked, "Are you going to use...?" That was it, but I knew what he was asking. I knew that I needed to write this, remember this. Again and again, I come back to this concept of seeing the invisible and welcoming the unexpected. It is a true challenge for me and goes against nearly every learned inclination. But when it happens, when all else falls away and I have a bit of clarity? It's stunningly sweet and mollifying.