Last week, on the day before his sixty-fourth birthday, my uncle who I never called uncle, left his earthly body.
I never called him uncle, because he was not in my life until about eight years ago. He was not in my life until then, because my paternal grandma got pregnant out of wedlock in rural Texas in 1949 and therefore hid the pregnancy and gave him up for adoption immediately after he was born. She then got married to another man—my grandfather—and had my aunt, my dad and my uncle in rapid succession in 1951, ’52 and ’53.
After his adoptive parents passed away, Don (my secret uncle) investigated and found his birth mother, along with the rest of us. He and his wife and adult son were integrated into our family, as much as one can integrate into a family fifty-something years late. We were welcomed into their San Antonio home for the holidays for several years. Don was always jovial, kind and genuinely interested in our lives and well-being. I can safely say he was my favorite Aggie.
Don was diagnosed with cancer around Thanksgiving of 2012 and had been in and out of the hospital during and after receiving aggressive chemo and radiation treatment. His wife of 40 years, Kathi, and son Barrett were with him when he took his last breath. I found out he died via Facebook later that morning.
I didn’t quite know how to feel. I was somewhat surprised, as last I’d heard he was doing better. I felt sadness, of course, to know that a dear and goodhearted person was no longer with us.
I felt (and feel) compassion for his devastated family and friends. Not being religious, I don’t seek or find relief in the idea that he’s with God the Creator in heaven. I do feel relieved that Don is no longer suffering. And grateful that we had the chance to know him and that he and my grandma got a chance to bond, albeit late in life.
I also feel guiltily lucky.
So far in this lifetime, I haven’t lost anyone really close to me yet, other than my two grandpas, who were both ill and in nursing homes when they passed away. When my friend Julie’s dad, our high school physics teacher, died of pancreatic cancer when we were in college, it hit me pretty hard. Likewise when Orestes died in 2012. But the truth is, the hardest death I’ve had to deal with so far was that of my BFF, Lucy, in 2011. Although she often seemed human, she was actually canine.
Theoretically, I know that my luck in the grief department will run out. I know that we all die in the end. Death is certain; the time and cause is unknown. I accept that ultimate fact. Through long-term meditation and contemplation, I have come a long way toward overcoming my fear of my own death, a fear that debilitated me as a nine-year-old kid after a tornado hit my elementary school.
What I still fear most is the death of my beloveds. I can’t (and don’t want to) fathom the moment when my husband, parents, siblings or close friends or relatives pass away. As I hold and play with my one-year-old daughter, Jade, so full of new life and vivacity (the girl can’t walk yet, but she’s already dancing!), it’s hard to imagine that she will grow old and die one day.
But she will, and so will I, and so will you. Time keeps on keepin’ on, sixty seconds per minute, no matter what. The best thing we can do is to be present for each and every moment, rather than escaping into illusion or delusion or addiction or avoidance.
If there is a heaven, no doubt Don Fischer is there.
Rest in Peace, Uncle Don.