Whenever I hear the word, Death, I want to cringe. I am one of those people who is absolutely petrified of death and the tragedy that follows these events. I find it very hard to express myself when it comes to these types of situations and I often feel very lost for words. I don’t know if any of you have the same feeling or if any of you also feel lost. I decided to be brave and try to post something about this issue so that I could let my emotions out and maybe encourage or inspire any one to write about what you are experiencing.
When someone mentions ‘death’ as a whole, I get this feeling of pain all through my body. I never used to, but my perspective of death and loss has changed so dramatically over the past two years. I would like to tell you about my brave Uncle Clive. He is still so special to me and I miss him as each day passes. When I was about 10, my family received the worst possible news. After a terrible car accident, my Uncle was injured and thank God he did survive the crash but only for the doctors to find that he had a huge brain tumor inside his head. At the time, I didn’t quite understand what it meant, I didn’t even think death was a possibility at that stage. I was blind to mortality and I was naive. I still remember my uncle so vividly, the way he laughed, his jokes and the passion that he had for the outdoors, especially the beach and the wildlife. As things started to change, I was a bit confused at that age. I would often see people crying and I would often ask myself if I should be crying too? As time went by, his situation got worse and as I matured I started to understand. His first operation went so well and he survived and I remember how happy my family was, we felt as if we could conquer the world now. I thought nothing could bring me down, he was alive and well. We used to laugh with him and he used to joke about how it was “…just a scratch” and my uncle continued to live life to the fullest, just as he had always done and for a while he felt infinite.
Months passed and we thought his illness was a thing of the past and I hadn’t thought about it for so long. About 3 months later the ‘monster’ grew back and it was like nothing I had felt before. It was like a re-occurring nightmare that just wouldn’t leave your mind. My whole family couldn’t believe it, it seemed so unreal. Anticipation grew high and for many months, family life was tense and painful inside but my brave uncle told us not to worry and to go about as we usually do, smiling with his funny grin that I remember. I admired him so much, I still do. Thanks to all our prayers and hope, we were granted yet another miracle when my uncle survived another head operation and that feeling of release and joy overwhelmed us, yet again. We felt ten times more powerful than before. I always remember thinking, “Now this is it, it won’t happen again” and at the time, that statement seemed so promising and so realistic. Scars from the operation left Uncle Clive with huge metal stitches across his forehead, and he always used to say, “you see, the doctors should just make a zip across my head, every time they need to operate” and we would all have a good laugh about that. My uncle was a real joker, always making us happy when things weren’t looking up. Clive started to grow back some of his hair and he really was starting to look healthier and more like himself again.
We all felt so proud and excited that he was getting well again. I wish I could end the story here and say that everything was alright after that, that he survived and we are so grateful to have him here with us today. However as much as I really, sincerely wish I could, I can’t. As much as it kills me inside, I must go on. By this time, my close family (meaning my mother, father and brother) had moved to Australia and we had got yet another devastating and gut wrenching phone call that broke our hearts. He was ill again. We were so far away from all our family and it was so hard during that time as we were alone. I missed everyone so much and I felt scared. Everyday I would think that I should be in South Africa, I should be with all my family at this very difficult time. I didn’t get to speak to my uncle often. I really regret not talking to him much, I wish I had called and asked him how he was going. Numerous of occasions I would walk in on my mum crying or having a serious conversation and from what I could hear; it didn’t sound promising or hopeful. I prayed every night and most of my prayers would end in tears. After weeks of anxiety and worrying about him we got a very surprising phone call, which brought us the miraculous news once again that he survived his THIRD operation and by this time, we really thought our blessed uncle had been kissed by an angel. After that we kept in contact over Skype and phone calls etc. Uncle Clive sounded and looked great! We were also so excited as my family were getting ready to actually visit South Africa again and see everyone. I felt like I was happy again. I was going home. I would love to say it’s the same here in Australia but unfortunately it’s not.
Seeing our family and visiting S.A was so amazing, it felt so surreal and spending quality time with the family was wonderful. I am really exceeding the word limit but I will tell you about a day, a day in South Africa that I will most definitely remember for the rest of my life.
Blue skies. Hot, Durban weather. My aunty said we should all go out to have a nice lunch at this cafe next to the beach. Life was good, everyone was healthy and happy. We had just driven for an hour and a half to visit my cousins, who were staying at the beach (I can’t remember the exact name). We all had a delicious lunch and we had the beach breeze cooling us down. My cousin Devon challenged himself with the hottest curry on the menu and so did his older brother, my other cousin, Shaun. Of course, you can only guess the result of that… Anyway, as we do, we all decided to take some nice family photos while we were all together enjoying that gorgeous day. I remember holding the camera and taking funny photos. Clive and his sons loved to pull the funniest faces and always tended to do so in ALL of our nice family photos! We love them for it though! I remember specifically saying “Uncle Clive, look here” and he pulled the cheesiest grin and I snapped that moment, us laughing and having a ball. I still have those photos and I cry and laugh every time I see them now.
Unfortunately, holidays come to an end and it was time to say good-bye. Uncle Clive was feeling sick again. It started to come back. I didn’t get to say good-bye to him because he was too unwell to come to the airport. I wonder what was going through my head at that time. I couldn’t have known. I feel like I should have. I feel sick in my stomach, thinking about our last hug and wave goodbye. Little did I know it would be our last one ever.
So by now you have probably guessed the ending. A tragic one it was. I can hardly finish off this story. I feel shaky and sore.
I came home from a hockey game feeling great, I’m pretty sure we won, then mum and dad called Matt and I to come and sit down on the couch. I could see that look in their eyes, I had seen it three times before remember. My heart literally sank and I swear I could feel it in my stomach. My heart raced at about a million rates per hour and all of a sudden the sound was mumbled as mum put her hand on mine and said the words I had been dreading for months, “There’s no easy way to say this, but Uncle Clive has passed away.” Everything went silent and all I could hear was my heart. It’s so clear in my memory I can almost feel it now. I had never felt grief before. I had never really experienced loss. To me, it felt like the end of the world. I couldn’t see a bright light at the end of our pitch black tunnel. My family was shocked but in a way, they expected this to happen. Mum used to say that I just be grateful to have known such a brave person and that we were all so lucky and blessed. I wished it hadn’t happen. Sometimes I used to shut my eyes so tight they would hurt and I would try to convince myself that this wasn’t happening, that it wasn’t real. To my horror, it was terrifyingly real.
I can’t say that I only mourned for several months, because in fact, I am still mourning. It’s not as bad anymore as everything heals with time but such a loss will never fully heal. I began to wonder what I would say to him if I could have said one last goodbye. What could I have done or said differently?
Dear Uncle Clive,
I miss you more than you could ever know. I really admire you. I am so sorry that such a cruel, unfair thing had to happen to you. You were one of the most amazing, brave people I knew. I aspire to be like you. I really do. I sometimes cry, thinking that you won’t see your kids marry or see us graduate from school, but that is selfish of me. I am happy that you are not suffering anymore but you really gave those other 3 brain tumors a run for their money! I want to thank you for being such a great uncle, son, father and husband to all of us and let you know that we love you and always will. We will never forget you. You aren’t completely gone, you see, whenever I see the ocean, I think of you. I didn’t get to attend your funeral but I know that your ashes are somewhere in the ocean, where you would wish to be. I look at the sea and remember how you taught me to dive under the waves when I was scared of the ocean. I remember you teaching your boys to surf and having fun with us all on the beach. I wish I could have said this to you. Everyday, I think about this. Please remember me, and watch over all of us. I will look out for you. Thank you for being you and we love you.
I am sorry to really go into detail, but you must know that this is the first time I have written about this and I feel a huge sense of release. I was inspired to write this story today when I remembered that I am attending my old principal’s funeral tomorrow, we are paying our respects to her as she sadly passed away just over a week ago after suffering a long, hard battle with breast cancer and I feel that it somehow relates to my story. It also struck me that I have never actually been to a funeral before and to be honest, I am scared. However, I will hold my head up high, for my Uncle and for Jan remembering that just as life can be brought into this world, sadly we all have our departure dates. Unfortunately, some of us are not given a fair go and our lives get cut short but we will always remember the precious memories that will never evaporate or die in our minds and in our hearts. We must appreciate the lives of our loved ones every day and not take anything for granted.
May my Uncle and Ms. Newham and any of your loved ones – who have passed, rest in peace. I hope you all grow strength in your minds, bodies and spirits and I wish that you find hope, love and support during these hard times.