My uncle is not a perfect person.
He is a selfish person, at times an inattentive husband and father, and a terrifying driver. He shows up to family things late, often under the influence of something, usually with a jerky attitude. Apologies, when they have come over the years, have become more and more meaningless, because no change follows. This is the way life is with an addict. Disappointments over and over, as this obnoxious, disconnected person appears at your birthday party, Christmas Eve, his kid’s graduation…instead of the person that was invited. However, bad behavior does not make a person’s family love him less. He is (usually) still invited, because that is how family is.
When I was thirteen, I moved from Colorado with my mom, and immediately idolized my aunts and uncle. They were a safety net that I had not previously known-family that was there for the two of us after our own family had disassembled. I knew that none of them were perfect-least of all my Uncle Chris, who fought with his sisters, made tension at family functions, and usually forgot to pay me for babysitting my cousins. He was important to me, because I was particularly looking for men-new fathers-who saw me and understood me. He and my grandfather were each, in their own way, that person for me. They were not perfect people, but I was a part of them, they loved me, and I knew it.
Christopher Young is the kind of person that other people gravitate to. When he laughs, people join in. When he enters a room, people turn to look. He is the kind of person that you remember, even after one meeting, the kind who leaves a mark on people-especially the ones he cares about. (There is a story about my Aunt Stacey, a shopping cart, and oncoming traffic that I am not sure is true-that’s the kind of mark I mean.) He has a twisted sense of humor, and makes the ideal turkey gravy. He bought me work boots for my birthday when I was seventeen. In November, he helped us paint our barn. He came to my first Thanksgiving in our house, and told me that he was proud of me. In some of my best family memories, he is the loudest in the crowd, raising a glass and making us laugh.
He is a person with a huge heart, who takes up more space in the world than can be contained in his physical presence-a person more vivid and alive. I have always been glad to see him, even when he is that other person-the disconnected person we don't know and might not actually be there at all.
He knows how disappointing he has been for people who love him-he is profoundly disappointed in himself, too. He wishes he could reconnect with his daughter, my cousin, who is angry with him, and let her know how proud of her he is, and how like him she is. He hopes that he can be a better husband to his wife, who deserves better, and a better example for his son, who knows better already.
As I write this, Chris is 52 years old, and laying in a hospital bed with minimal brain activity. Except for the small formality of actually dying, he is essentially already gone. Anger and hurt over his selfish, imperfect choices does not make his family love him less, and does not make the imminent loss of his life less painful. He will die, maybe tomorrow. This person will leave a hole, and the trailing threads of his life-father, husband, brother, friend-will remain dreadfully untied.
If people could feel the whole impact that they have on others, perhaps they would know that they matter, they would take better care, and they would make different choices. He is a selfish, imperfect person, so maybe he wouldn’t have. Things aren't always what they should be.
I do not think he would have wanted it to be this way. I think he would have wanted more time.