An uncle of mine died last week.
But I didn’t feel a thing.
I think I should be bummed, hurt, sad and grieving but I’m not. I’m not saying I’m fine; perhaps the feeling that best describes my emotional state at the moment is that of numbness. I just don’t feel a thing.
On the scale of familial feelings of loyalty and empathy, this could make me out as an asshole. I don’t know. People shed tears. I rarely do. When my tears come, most people are already done shedding. At this point, I realise that nothing’s wrong with me – I just happen to grieve differently from most people.
This isn’t really about me as much as a bit of it is. Hold on, we’re getting somewhere.
You see, my uncle and I weren’t really close. We weren’t close, period. I show up at my grandmother’s place and greet him when I see him. He’s not really social and I think that’s one thing we share because he mostly looks like he wants to be left alone. Quiet, easy-going fella, but he’s had a troubled life. He wasn’t disabled or anything but I won’t explain further.
Uncle K had a stroke late on Sunday night and was dead in a few hours. He never got married or had children. He had no love life that I or anyone knew of. No close friends either, he’d greet, smile and move on. Unlike his elder brother, Uncle M, who’s bookish, reserved but still sociable to an extent – he’s the one who named me Spencer – while using me for boxing practice when I’m within reach, just for the fin of it. Or Uncle D, the youngest of them all with whom I enjoy a few drinks while watching football matches – he’s also the best barber I’ve ever known.
And this is why I didn’t feel a thing: I have no memories.
My memories feed my joy or pain. If a random stranger dies right in front of me, I’ll be hurt at the fact that another life is gone but I won’t feel no pain on a personal level. My pain is based on my experiences – stories, conversations, arguments, laughs, a task done together, shared food or drinks, gatherings, etc. I have to remember to feel pain and when there are no memories to feed off from, I’m just numb.
He was buried the same day he died. Uncle K lived with grandma – his mother till he died so I guess it was expedient to get everything out of the way so ‘mummy’ wouldn’t dwell so much on the hurt. I wasn’t there but everyone else was: second cousins, relatives close and far, my mother and her siblings amongst others – my sisters too. In life, what really brings people you care about together are life, death and love.
And this is why I felt that hurt later on – he’s my mother’s younger brother. We’re close and even though I don’t really know how it is, it still not cool losing anyone, not to even mention a sibling. Growing up together, teenage arguments, birthdays, weddings, precious moments and all that; the pain is brutal. So seeing someone I’m close to thrown into sadness because of a sibling’s death got to me. She was upset that I didn’t show up. I had my reasons and as logical as they might be, it’s best you shut up and play yo-yo with the spittle in your mouth.
On Sunday I went to see granms with my brother and the things she said really cut through me. Sitting right across her, I’ve only felt that way just once (more on this in another post). She’s over 80 and I was gutted that the poor lady felt like she’s the one that should be gone and not her son.
“I’m not questioning God, but I wonder why – with the wonderful life I’ve lived – I’m still alive and my son is gone. I know he’s gone to rest now – he needed it – I’m just wondering why I didn’t get to go first.”
As quiet as he was, Uncle K was a piece of work for granms – she worried about the most so I know she loved him very much. As such I can’t begin to imagine how hurt she is.
No matter how old your kids get to be, they’re still your babies and no parent wishes to go through this. And like I said, this is why I’m hurt – more for them than for myself. It’s nothing extraordinary, it just is.
The thing about empathy is that it doesn’t have to be personal. The pain doesn’t have to be yours before you feel it. We’re all connected one way or another and whatever affects one of us ripples wide enough to affect a lot of us. I wasn’t close to my uncle but my mother was and my grandmother was, as well as other family members that I’m close to, so even though I didn’t feel that pain on a me-him personal basis, I felt it through them.
That’s what makes us family.