“Everyone should have an Unkie.”
What started out as my brother’s attempt at saying ‘uncle’ when he was a baby became an identity. The one-word moniker belonged to my mom’s brother, Noel. He embodied unconditional love, he made everyone laugh with his exquisite storytelling skills and the quirky ‘tunes’ he would sing (most were Unkie originals…and he did a fantastic rendition of “In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle”), he selflessly and generously provided for and encouraged the ones he loved. And just like that, he’s gone.
When I saw a text from my mom asking for me to call her at 5:30 a.m., I knew something was up…and probably not something good. A few possibilities came to mind, but this was not one of them. I called her right away and was shocked when she told me the news. Completely blindsided. How could this be?
His passing leaves an insatiable void. There will never be another one quite like Unkie. Every memory I have of him is a happy one. Whenever I tell a story involving him, I often end it by saying that everyone should have an Unkie. I had mine for almost 30 years, and he was just the best uncle you could ever imagine. I’m not ready for him to be gone yet. It’s much too soon.
Unkie always focused on others, rarely speaking about himself unless asked directly. It wasn’t until my grandfather was ill that I had extensive one-on-one time with Unkie, and we developed a strong bond in those days. We’d go to Eat’n Park once or twice a week after visits with Pop-Pop at the hospital and have what he would call ‘the only pleasant hour’ of his day. Those months were hard, but we helped each other through them. It doesn’t surprise me that when he found out he had cancer, he didn’t tell anyone. He never wanted to be a burden. For so long he was the caretaker and the supporter – I wish he would have let us do that for him.
I was so grateful to have him nearby when I lived in Pittsburgh. Our relationship deepened in my years there, and thankfully that continued after I left. He helped me through some tough times and was one of very few people I knew I could turn to without fear of judgment or shame when I needed help. Whether it was car trouble or helping me move, picking me up at the airport or asking him to meet up for dinner just because, he was there in an instant, no questions asked. I just can’t imagine what Pittsburgh will be like without Unkie. He was such a big part of my life there.
We spent a lot of time together during my trip to Pittsburgh this summer. I was so grateful for those days – and now I am even more grateful. I would give anything to have one more day with him to laugh and listen to his stories over apple pie and coffee at E’n P. I take comfort in knowing that we both knew how much we cared for each other. I guess that’s the only thing that’s helped me through this day. I know that he knew I loved him, and I know he loved me. There’s never any real closure when this happens so suddenly, but it helps to know that our last time spent together was joyful.
This is yet another reminder, my friends, that nothing in life is guaranteed. Hug the ones you love extra tight and tell them that you love them. You just never know when it will be for the last time.
Pleasant dreams, dear Unkie. I miss you terribly. Forever yours, Girlchick.