The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

I don’t want to be in the battle of grief, but waiting on the edge of grief I can’t escape? Ah, I can’t hurry toward it, but I want to rush headlong as if I could get it over with. That’s not possible. Each breath I take now is a breath taken while my uncle is alive. After he is gone? Ah, to go on breathing in a world where he is not? I can’t stand the thought.

But here we stand, on the precipice of grief. We go on about our days, getting ready for work, feeding the dog, writing emails, saying our prayers, making the bed, watching the football game… In the back of my mind I sit, quivering, waiting for that call. Every time the phone rings, my heart lurches, my stomach drops, until I see it is not “the fam” calling. When my sister called the other day, I nervously waited through the pleasantries, “So…how are you?” My insides clenched against the coming blow, waiting for the plunge of the knife. Make it quick, I thought. She had called just to talk. I got off the phone and began breathing normally.

One day, perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, my dearest Uncle Rich will join that “great cloud of witnesses” and my grief will be profound. I’m already grieving. I’m already thinking through the last calls, the last cards, the last…everything. I wish I had known it was the last, perhaps I would have said how profoundly my life has been influenced by this man. I wish I had sat at his knee and asked him to tell me all his stories.

Because of him I look for hawks; because of him I can doggie-paddle, and I maintain that could someday save my life if ever I am in a boat that sinks, or I am caught in a rip tide. He taught me to look up, and to stay afloat, in more ways than one, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The lessons transfer.

Rich loved me enough to ask the hard questions and then listen when I answered. He asked the things others were afraid to ask. I love him for that. I love him for that huge smile of his, I love his tidiness, his precise way of doing things and his interest in people. I love that he once gave me a tennis racket. I have no depth perception, so the odds are long that I will hit a return volley, but I treasured that racket because he loves tennis and wanted to share it with me. That racket disappeared in one of the moves, but I miss it to this day. I love the hope in it, that I would be athletic. I was somewhat athletic. I did track, though I really only ever ran in practice. I ran hurdles in practice, something I still cannot believe as I am so short. I was fairly good at skiing and loved swimming, though I nearly drown in my first meet. I played volleyball, but wasn’t very good. Still…I tried. I have no coordination and my balance is somewhat off, so team sports are difficult. I loved hiking and remember backpacking fondly. But I was never going to be a tennis player.

I can’t help but think about the times spent together as I wait on the edge. Deep breaths now.

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