Monday, March 8, 2010

The Fading Light of Day

My mom left me a message just before lunch today. She rarely calls me at work, but today I was expecting it.

My uncle was going to be passing through town this week while driving from his longtime home in New Jersey back to his current home in Colorado. She'd said she would call to tell me which evening he’d be coming, so we could all  meet for dinner.

My uncle, a former fireman, is in his mid-70s, diabetic, overweight, has smoked a pipe as long as I can remember, and has already had several coronary bypasses. He's charismatic, reckless and impossible not to love. I was excited to see him.

He had driven to New Jersey with one of his “lady friends” to attend a firemen's reunion.

So I called my voicemail, expecting to hear the plans for his visit. Instead, my mom’s voice – somber in the best of times – said only: “Caryl won’t be coming this week. Call me when you can.”

Now, I’ve accepted that my mom is a bit of a drama queen. I also know that her voicemails ALWAYS sound like bad news. (When we first got answering machines, my sisters and I called home frantically so many times that she started leaving messages that began with, “There's nothing wrong …”)

In this case, though, it seemed warranted. Not only is my Uncle Caryl in poor health, but so is their older brother Bill, who’s in his 80s and has been hospitalized lately. The middle brother, George, has also been ill.

I was sure that if something hadn’t happened to Caryl, it had happened to Bill or George.

I tried to call my mom, but the line was busy. And busy. And busy.

I left to meet Todd for lunch, and in the Chipotle parking lot, between attempts to reach my mom, I started to cry.

I thought about my uncles, who are so colorful and fun and bigger-than-life. About that trip Todd and I have been meaning to take to visit all three of my uncles, who are strategically placed for a loop through the West.

And especially about that family history I’ve been meaning to write.

Damn, damn, damn, I thought. I shouldn’t have procrastinated this long, and now I’ve lost my chance. (My mom was the youngest and was only 2 when their mother died, so I need my uncles to fill in the gaps.)

After lunch, I tried my mom again and finally reached her. But the news I got was not what I expected.

It turns out that once they got to New Jersey, my uncle’s 53-year-old girlfriend had had a series of massive heart attacks. Her life is touch and go, and of course my uncle is staying there with her.

The lesson here? Never take life for granted. It’s not just short, it’s unpredictable.

As soon as my Uncle Bill gets home from the hospital – happily he’s on the mend – I’ll be calling to do that family history. Or maybe he’s bored where he is and feels like talking.

Todd and I are thinking early summer would be a good time for a trip out West.

We’re also vowing to start taking better care of ourselves: 53 isn’t as far away as it sounds, and it’ll be here before you know it.

And we've vowed one more thing: To never listen to my mother.

What have you been putting off?

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