It was an unspoken thing – after our paternal grandmother passed away – that we would spend that Christmas with Uncle Edgar at the home they lived and he took care of her in. She lived with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy as a result of it. After her surgery she wasn’t treated further owning to the fact that she probably wouldn’t be able to tolerate the side effects at her age. Uncle Edgar never married and so he saw his mother through all of her ailments, falls, bed sores – all the bits and pieces of getting old we talk of like we’ve lived it many times over. She laid on a bed and a long rope hung above her from the ceiling. No, it’s not what you think. It was long enough for her to reach with her hand and pull herself up so she could sit down on her own. I remember that they covered the noose that was made at the end of the rope with cloth and cloth bandages to make it easier on her frail hands. We never saw it but Uncle helped her with everything. He sat her on her bedside commode. He bathed her. He fed her. Maybe he complained but I don’t ever remember it. I wouldn’t want to think back on him as being anything but selfless, strong-willed and independent.
A few days after I celebrated my birthday, Uncle Edgar died. In a strange turn of fate, he went through almost the same things I described above except in a shorter and more sporadic way and with a different type of cancer. After 5 months of being bed-ridden at the very end, he breathed his last at a nursing home. My dad’s famous words, “I thought he was gone”, while speaking about Uncle finally rang true. It was heartbreaking. Uncle fought hard to live a life that was his own. He accepted his fate better than the modern world allows us to and he kept on living his life in the way he knew. There was so many times when we thought it was the end but he always came back fighting. This time we wanted to believe it would be that way again.
One of the heaviest weights any person who moves away from home has to carry is the one that comes with having to say goodbye. It’s especially hard when you’ve crossed continents and you know you can’t be there when you need to in a short and (emotionally) painless time. Since the last time I visited Goa, I lost my great Aunty Pacy, our 18-year-old family dog Gypsy (who was Uncle Edgar’s dog first) and my cat Bidli. When I left Goa again to come back to Washington this March, I knew I would be saying goodbye to my uncle for the last time. On the morning of the day I was to begin the first leg of my journey, I drove the nurse to his house just as I had being doing for a large part of the start of this year. I didn’t *have* to do it. God knows I had a million things on my mind but I wanted my last day at home for a while to feel like I wasn’t going anywhere. I wanted to feel like I wouldn’t be waking up on an airplane that night. I wanted to know I could see my people whenever I wanted. This was maybe why I didn’t say “goodbye” the way I’d intended. How do you do it? “I’ll come back to say bye,” I told my father. I meant I would drive back after taking his nurse home but I really meant I wanted to come back in a year or two and see him there. And say bye once more.
There are many, many vivid memories I have grabbed onto and kept in the back of my mind. Having Uncle Edgar live less than a 10-minute drive from us turned them into more than I can count. Of all his nieces and nephews, it was us that had the luxury of being dropped off for the afternoon and asking him if he could find or make us fishing rods so we could go to the river. It was us that could visit and be guaranteed a bottle of Gold Spot and Thums Up (popped open and cap saved in a bowl that was too high to reach) and a slice of La Vache Qui Rit cheese. When we grew up a little, those drinks turned into Port Wine. My sisters and I played in his garden and fought to water the plants, even though we never offered to do the same at home. I got one of my worst skinned knees I can remember while running back from the gate to the house. I can’t imagine that house being empty. Part of me grew up there. It’s where we always expect to see him – sitting in the balcony, reading the paper, people-watching, scolding the help or shooing away the cat.
We got to spend Christmas with Uncle this December. My dad, mama, Jane, Sidney, Matt and I sat in the balcony as close as you can possibly imagine should you have seen how narrow it is. Uncle had his first whiskey in a year and we had the usual plate full of Christmas sweets on the table in front of us. I thought that the previous time I was in Goa would be the last time I saw him but still I told him I better see him next time. It was cool in the shade and the light breeze felt good. Gayle called to wish everyone after pulling a slave shift at work. The cat was begging for sweets. To be sitting right next to these people doing the usual was a present like no other.