One of the photos that sits on the piano in our house is from my college graduation in 2004. All of my mom’s brothers were able to make the trip to Philadelphia. I used to joke that my family only got together for weddings and funerals. I don’t joke anymore. The last time all of us were together was my college graduation. And even then, my two older cousins weren’t able to make the trip. My family has always been scattered across the country, but we did our best which is better than most. Phone calls, cards, and when we could, visits.
One of my last memories of Uncle Jimmy is feeding him in the hospice. His hands were trembling as he tried to peel back the top of the packaging on a hospital container of rice pudding. So I helped. His hands were weak then, so I moved my chair over to the side of his bed. He tried eating himself, but he couldn’t get the spoon to his mouth without his hand trembling so hard that what he had managed to get on the spoon started spilling off. So I helped. It was slow, he didn’t really have an appetite, but he ate. Rice pudding was, after all, one of his favorite things. He seemed to examine each mouthful, seeming to move it around in his mouth to get more of the flavor. I knew that his taste buds had been off for the past few years and wondered if he could even really taste it.
At one point he told me that I shouldn’t have to. Shouldn’t have to see this or feed him, I wasn’t sure. But he felt guilty. I only felt love.
After my father died, Jimmy became like a surrogate to me. Not a replacement, but a presence that helped ease some of the hurt. He wasn’t there everyday, but he lived close enough that if I had needed him, he would have been there. He took the role of godfather seriously. After he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2005, he and my mother braved the long road of healing together: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, more radiation. My mom would take something to crochet or a book with her, and sit through all the doctors visits. Jimmy even lived with her for a while and stayed with her after treatments. My mother was an angel. A saint. A sister that anyone would be proud to have.
There are so many things I could share about Jimmy – his mishaps, his humor, his quirks, his faith, his hard work. But so much of that is private. And this isn’t the place. Or the time.
My husband dressed in Marine Corps Alphas for Jimmy’s funeral to honor him. Jimmy was so proud he had been in the service. It was a beautiful tribute. Jimmy was buried in Calverton Cemetery on Long Island, a military cemetery, on a hot day in August with clear blue cloudless skies. My other uncles had decided that the flag should be presented to me. It sits in my living room, in a display case, which I rub when I walk past.
Jimmy died three years ago today. The wound still fresh. I can’t bring myself to take his birthday reminder off my calendar. I wonder what he would think of my house. I still expect to see him at the holidays and stop myself when I go to ask aloud what time he is supposed to arrive.