For the Emotionally Constipated
After the priest concluded the prayer service, my uncle–godfather and second of seven on my father’s side, and doctor– addressed the crowd in the chapel, “I believe Brian has a few words for you right now.”
I stood up, reached for the folded piece of paper in my pocket. Stay calm, read slowly, don’t get emotional I chanted in my head. I practiced Henry Scott Holland’s “Death is Nothing At All” at least a dozen times in the car hours earlier. Just the day before, my mother informed me of this task. She reasoned I would be the most stable to address the attendees.
“On behalf of our family, I’d like to take a moment to thank you for coming today to celebrate the life of my uncle. I didn’t know exactly what to say, so I cheated and found this poem that sounds like something my uncle would say to us right now. You might even hear his voice as I read this…”
Stay calm, read slowly, don’t get emotional.
As I read the first stanza, the quiver in my voice became evident. I attempted to look up at the small crowd as I read but my eyes were welling with fresh tears. The first to burst free splashed on my shirt, getting on the paper. My voice trembled even more so. I tried to make eye contact with a familiar face: my kids, my brother, wife, parents. The only thing I could see with full clarity were the words in front of me.
Through the tears, I believe I was able to make out my other uncle–the third of seven–stand and make his way to the lobby.
“Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.”
And I heard a wail of pure grief from the lobby which was unmistakenably my uncle.
After I finished reading the poem, I concluded, “For you to be here tonight meant he made an impact in your life. It goes without saying you made a great impact on his.” That was it, I couldn’t do anymore. “We’ll miss you Tito Freddie,” I managed to choke out. My uncle’s wife reached over and gave me some tissues. I thought I could hold it together without getting too emotional. I was wrong.
Thankfully, my godfather was able to pick up where I left off. He detailed my uncle’s last months and the events that played out just two days before.
My parents were visiting from New York and were ready to go home after two weeks. During their stay, my uncle was admitted into the hospital for complications with his kidney dialysis. They kept him there five days, until his blood pressure stabilized. I was able to visit him twice. The second time I visited him, I gave him a rubber bracelet similar to the yellow “Live Strong” bracelets, except this one was blue and was adorned with a rosary. Tito Freddie was in good spirits and my last interaction with him was a fist bump and a promise to see him soon. That was on a Sunday.
Monday, he was released. Tuesday was the last day my folks were going to be in town. My folks, my dad’s three brothers, my younger cousin and Tito Freddie’s caretakers went to have breakfast. According to my mother, right after everyone gave their order, my uncle mumbled something then slumped over. Aside from kidney troubles, he was also diabetic, so my doctor uncle figured a little sugar should help. Not this time. My dad assisted with CPR until paramedics arrived, but it was too late.
I learned of his death while sitting in a parking lot, taking a break in between accounts. “Dad, I’m so sorry” were the only things I could say.
When my parents came home that evening, I hugged my mom tightly and kissed her on the cheek. I reached out for my dad but before my hands could come together in an embrace, he already pulled away.
People grieve in their own way. I internalize, assimilate and thankfully have an outlet through writing.
Others, the ones I like to categorize as emotionally constipated, internalize and assimilate, but hold everything inside.
* * *
After my reading at the viewing my son came up to me and hugged me. “I’ve never seen you cry like that before,” he said. I told him, “It’s alright to do that sometimes.”
To say grief is handled the same by everyone is like saying a new food you’ve never tried tastes like chicken. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. I just wish I could see over the wall my father’s side of the family puts up.
“What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.”
For Fred Castro, 1946-2011