Sunday, March 06, 2005

Incomprehensible sadness

If your e-mail inbox is anything like mine, it overflows with too many messages to read, let alone answer.

As you scan your day's To Do list, you probably figure the ones from your friends and family can wait until you've got some free time.

With that in mind, I smiled when I received a message from my uncle, my mother's brother, a couple of weeks back. As he had done so often since I started to write for a living, he was taking me to task for a recent column I wrote. An avid writer and historian who extensively chronicled his experiences flying for Canada in the Second World War and for the nascent Israel Air Force in the 1948 War of Independence, he took every opportunity to push my journalistic buttons, always with a wry smile in his prose.

I was privileged during journalism school to help edit a book manuscript he had written. That was my first experience editing a real-world piece of work, and it taught me much about how to deliver a constructive editorial critique. My uncle, as opinionated and focused an individual as I have ever encountered, reviewed all of my edits and responded to each one in great detail. The end result was a thrill for me: a published piece of work within which I could practically touch the parts I had massaged with my pen.

It set the stage for my life as a writer. He followed my work and used e-mail to maintain a years-long dialog with me: no easy feat given a forty-year age difference, and the fact that he lived so far away and saw us so rarely. Still, a message from Uncle Eddy meant I was still in his writer's cross-hairs; it was a good sign.

As much as I enjoyed tossing messages back and forth with him about some obscure aspect of my writing, I just didn't have any time that morning to compose a thoughtful response. I made a mental note to get back to him when things slowed down. I thought he, of all people, understood just how busy I was, and would understand why I was – again – a little slow in getting back to him.

Now, this message will remain forever unanswered. Our phone rang at an insanely early hour this morning; my father calling to let us know my uncle had died suddenly the previous day.

I never did manage to find the few minutes that it would have taken to respond to that message. His words now sit in my inbox, mocking me for being so myopically self-centered.

Oddly, Superman's ability to reverse the earth's rotation and turn back time so that he could rescue Lois Lane came to mind. I wish I could somehow go back to the morning when I first read the note. I wish I had dashed off a half-baked answer, just to close the loop, to let him know I got his message and, as always, he got me thinking. I wish I knew then what I know now.

Instead, that morning I rushed out of the house so that I could get to the office early in time for a meeting that is now forgotten.

We called my mother later in the day to see how she was doing. She was the youngest of three, and I shuddered as it sank in that both her big brothers were now gone. Her voice sounded suddenly small, as though it had shed the last bit of omniscience I remembered it having all those years ago.

I didn't tell her about the unanswered message. Instead, she told me about the last time she spoke to him about a month ago. She regretted that she hadn't spoken to him afterward.

Donning the role of dutiful son, I tried to reassure her that she had no way of knowing. I tried to explain how we simply have no way of knowing what life will throw at us next. I told her despite being separated by a couple of oceans and a bunch of time zones, he still knew how his baby sister felt about him.

Maybe I was trying to comfort myself as well. That day, my uncle was once again trying to get my goat from thousands of kilometers away. I didn't bite, and now there's no one left on the other end to read my answer.

I'll hold onto that message from him, if only to remind myself that the large and growing workload of a writing career that's just now starting to snowball is no excuse to ignore messages from the people who matter.

Somehow, my traditional sense of priority-setting – namely, I'll get to it when I have time – needs to be replaced by something that attaches a little more urgency to the things I used to dismiss in the name of career-focused expediency.

In other words, the work will always be there. The people may not.

Looking ahead, I am left with the challenge of finding comfort in a loss that seemingly offers none. All I can come up with is that he had a voice that, through a life of seemingly endless achievement, he was always willing and able to project far and wide. His voice always resonated. My goal is to ensure that, like the voice of his late father – my grandfather, from whom I inherited my love of the written word and the storyteller's tradition – his voice continues to resonate in my own writing.

I only wish there were some way for me to more concretely let him know.


Sleeping Mommy said...

I firmly believe that he knows. And while it is hard now when the grief is fresh and raw, I hope that you will realize that he did know. You obviously had a wonderful connection with him, and what a tribute you have written here.

I am so sorry for your loss and that of your family.

Lynda said...

You were truly blessed to have him in your life as an uncle and as a guide in your career. He knows. You loved him.

Jill said...

I am so, so sorry. You and your family are in my prayers. jk

Mike Wood said...

He knows. My condolences.

Ms Mac said...

I'm very sorry that you've lost your uncle.

Gel said...

I'm not clear whether you and your family observe "shiva" during mourning. Regardless of that, I'm saddened to read of this sudden and poignant loss. Condolences to you, your mom and your family.

I'm sure you know deep down inside that your uncle knows how much you loved, cherished, and admired him.You are a sensitive, caring, and giving person. Please don't be so harsh on yourself. There's only so much any one person can do. It sounds like you already have high expectations of yourself. Your uncle loved you the way you are. It wasn't selfish to have not answered his email then. I think you wish you had been in contact sooner to his passing?

I think it's even harder when death is so sudden. So many are left in limbo. I hope your wife and others reach out to comfort you, as you are the rock for your mom and others in your family. Your uncle was so very proud of you. I can see why. said...

Your words were beautifully written and a good reminder on what is truly important.

Unknown said...

My thoughts are with you and your family.

Joan said...

I'm sending you a big mental hug, Carmi. I'm so sorry for your loss. I agree with your other readers that your Uncle knew how much you loved and appreciated him, and I think in your heart of hearts, you know that, too.

Please don't beat yourself up with the "woulda, coulda, shoulda's."

Jef said...

Carmi, I'm sorry to hear about your uncle. I had a similar experience happen a few weeks ago with my college roommate.

We have the best intentions when we say that we will always put people first, but we're human and we'll put our loved ones last again. We're human after all.... I read something recently that said perception is something the ego uses to punish ourselves or make us feel better than others. In reality, there is only the love that you have for your uncle and that he has for you. Guilt, time and e-mail are illusions.

Finally, you may think if you write a reply to your uncle's e-mail, he'll never receive it now. However, I think you're wrong. I don't use sentences with the word "need" in them often, but you need to reply to his e-mail for both of you. He'll get the message.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carmi, thanks for commenting on my blog. I am very sorry about your loss. I am sure he is watching over you.

L said...

oh how sad.... I always regret lost moments and opportunities like that as well

Anonymous said...

I think he knows what you wanted to say to him. I send my condolences.


Moogie said...

Carmi...I'm so sorry for your loss. The words that can express it are left unsaid because they are so inadquate.

You have written a beautiful so eloquent that it is not hard to put ones self in your mind and feel your loss.

Your uncle sounded like he was a wonderful man by your description. Your love for him is brought to us by your words.

He knows how you feel, and I would imagagine, he knows just how you would have answerd his latest email, had you been given the time to do so.

God bless you and your family, and may he comfort you in your loss.

BarbaraMG said...

Thanks for visiting my blog.
As another comment said, he knows. He knew because of the fact that he wrote to you and knew you shared the same love as he.
Also ask yourself if he would want you to feel this way. My guess if not.
For now, thinking about you as you grieve.

Rachel - Wicked Ink said...

Perhaps this is the way it was supposed to be left. Imagine for a moment, that you had taken the time to write back, to finish that circle. A new circle would begin with the next piece you write that would have him replying.

Instead, his provocations (the good kind) are always open now, and perhaps each piece you write, where you know he would have disagreed, or commented on, will have you wondering what his thoughts would have been on this one. Perhaps, it will help form you as a writer, knowing that his comments and thoughts are still open, and that cycle is not closed.

I am not saying this as well as it sounds in my head. I am trying to say, that with the unanswered message, the line of communication is still open.

I am deeply sorry for your loss, and hope your mother can find solace.

Gerald Buckley said...

Carmi, my family's sincerest condolences to yours. Kiss and hug your kidos and tell them stories of their Great Uncle. Let your family's stories span the generations and continue the traditions that will sustain them.

You're a good man Carmi. You'll see it reflected in your kids (if you don't already). Peace.

Tisha from Texas said...

Dear Carmi,
How sorry I feel for you and your family. Your tribute to your uncle will transcend the blog world, I believe, and fill his soul with your devotion and love. Knowing that might help, I hope. God be with all of you.