Out of respect for my family, let’s call him Nick.
Nick is my mom’s younger (and only) brother. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that his death was a surprise to any of us, including my mom. When my parents were last out in California, he’d gone missing. Again. This wasn’t the first time he’d disappeared or dropped off the radar for a while. Unfortunately, my uncle led something of a troubled life. That’s not how I’d like to remember him, but it’s how I do remember him.
Growing up, Uncle Nick was something of a byword in my family’s home. That may not be how my parents intended for us to hear it, but the ongoing saga of his life was basically presented to my sisters and me as a cautionary tale.
There but for the grace of God go any of us…
And that’s not to say that my parents weren’t constantly worried about him. Uncle Nick was an alcoholic, a drug user, and a host of other things, so he was in our prayers a lot. The main story that I remember was when he ended up going through the window of the Porsche that hit him after he got out of a taxi on the wrong side of the street while drunk and/or high one night. That trip landed him in the hospital, and also in a heap of trouble.
There was a time when he was going to church and seemed to be turning his life around, but apparently that didn’t last very long. The last my parents heard when they were in California last year was that he was living with some woman, and probably using drugs and alcohol again. It got to the point where they were calling county jails and even morgues to see if he’d turned up.
So when my mom got a call from a number she didn’t recognize about a week and a half ago, she called back and was asked by the woman who answered the phone who the name of the deceased was after identifying herself as calling from the coroner’s office.
This is the story from my mom, as we know it:
Apparently he had been drinking on January 1st, fell and broke his hand. Someone found him on January 2nd, face down (not sure if it was in the street or on the sidewalk), and sleeping. It had been below freezing, and he was just in street clothes—no blanket or sleeping bag. He was able to squeeze the paramedic’s hand when they asked him if he could hear them, but he couldn’t speak. When they moved him he became unresponsive, and died about an hour after he got to the hospital—10:12 am, January 2nd.
It was weird talking to my mom about this, mainly because it felt like talking to someone else about their family member dying. I mentioned this to my therapist in my last session: that as I get further along in identity building and more secure in a sense of authentic self, the less connected I feel to my biological family. And I feel bad about not feeling bad about this. While we share memories, and even a warped sense of humor, since reconnecting with them in the spring of 2013, I’ve struggled to find a sense of belonging with them.
Sadly, it probably comes down to my lack of religious belief. Some may think that a minor thing, but evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity is at the core of my parents’ and sisters’ identities. It’s not for me, and it probably never was.
This discussion led to something else in my last therapy session.
For a while, I’ve been trying to put a finger on why my being single bothers me so much. And as my therapist and I hashed out my feelings about my uncle dying, I hit on this:
I don’t really have any long-term relationships of any kind.
I’m still in touch with a handful of people from college and even from the church I grew up in, but these are largely online friendships. I don’t actually see most of these people anymore.
What bothers me is that for the last 10-15 years, I’ve been watching the people around my put down roots and grow in their relationships and marriages. I know very few people now who are single. But it’s not really just that that bothers me.
It’s the fact that I’m less than a month away from turning 32, and I don’t have any kind of long-term or enduring relationships in my life—including friendships. Some of that can be attributed to changing priorities and life circumstances. Some friends moved away. Others got married and had kids. Neither parties made much effort to keep up the friendship, though it’s probably more accurate to say that many friends gave up trying to make a friendship work with me.
It doesn’t feel great to admit that, but I’ve a sense that it’s true.
So the business of me griping about feeling old, and how now that I’m over 30 no guys are going to want me is less about age. It’s about realizing how old I am and how little I have in the way of relationships compared to others around me.
My housemate Matt is in almost constant contact with his parents and sister who have become like a second family to me. So many friends of mine spend holidays with their families. Their families love their significant others, and vice versa. Et al.
The image that came to mind the other day was of being on a raft, sailing down a river, and passing friends who’ve made homes along the shore.
My fear is that I’ll keep on drifting, sailing on and on without making real connections; that I’ll end up like my uncle, alone, having burned his bridges behind him.
Let’s sponge away the writing on that possible future.