In 2000, my oldest uncle died of brain cancer after a very long battle at the age of 52. He was my mom's oldest sibling and a very fun guy to be around. Unfortunately the cancer took it's toll not only on his body, but also on the familial relationships around him.
Before his illness, all of the aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents on my mom's side made sure that we all got together for the holidays. My uncle, Steve, and his wife and their children would first visit her family in Ohio and then join us for our celebration later in the day. We had the normal family rows over silly stuff that amounted to a lot of nothing, but generally speaking we all got along pretty well and were relatively close. It was a closeness I enjoyed very much and I always looked forward to our get-togethers.
Unfortunately, when he got sick all of that changed. Because of his illness, things were tough for them financially, but I know my parents went out of their way to make sure and bring over bags of groceries every few weeks and to find out what else they needed. Steve was mom's brother. She cared for him. She wanted to see him taken care of and to get better. She wanted what was best for him. Due to no fault of our own (that I know of), we were unceremoniously ushered out of Steve's life. I know that his wife wanted to blame someone for his illness and it seemed we all were as good a target as any. The last time I got to see him before he died was around Thanksgiving. When I saw him at his funeral in May, I barely recognized him. He was a mere shadow of the man he once was. He probably weighed around 100 pounds, which was devastating to see since he'd always been a rock of a man who weighed more than twice that.
Then next time we saw my cousins and aunt was at my grandfather's funeral 2 years later. Not many words were spoken between us and you could cut the tension with a knife. Despite our continued efforts at reaching out to them, in Steve's wife's eyes, we were still to blame for his death. A few years after that, Steve's wife's sister died in a car accident and my mom, her other brother and his wife all went to the funeral home to pay their respects and give their condolences. Let's just say they were not welcomed with open arms. They went there to be a comfort and were instead treated as lepers.
At the time of his death, Steve's two children (my cousins) were teenagers. P was just 14 and A was set to graduate from high school in just two weeks. I can't imagine how devastating it is to lose a parent at such formative ages. My heart simply ached for them. In the 9 years since his death, they have grown up, gone to college, started jobs and P even got married. He's 23 now and through the beauty of Facebook, I was able to find out that he and his wife were expecting their first child last Friday.
I can tell from their posts, P and his wife were both geniunely excited and looking forward to the birth. She went into labor last Friday right on schedule and we (myself vicariously) all watched with anticipation as P kept his Facebook community of friends and loved ones informed of the progress. Unfortunately their precious daughter was born with more medical complications than her little body could handle and she died on Saturday afternoon. I cried for them and all that they had lost when I read his post.
But I also cried because I couldn't do more to be there for them and comfort them. My mom's family and I have been exorcised from their lives. To them we don't exist any longer and I mourn the loss of family members who have been needlessly taken from my life despite the fact that we still walk the same earth.
When I told my mom of their loss, she and her other brother and sister-in-law chose (perhaps wisely) not to show their respects at the funeral home this time. Steve's wife and family have chosen to exclude us from their joys and pains. We respect that.
So I did what I could for them. I wrote them a note of condolence on the funeral home's page devoted to such things and I sent flowers. Anonymously. They may not want me in their lives, but I still want to show I care. They may not know who the flowers are from, but they will know that someone cares.
So today as they bury their baby girl, I will grieve for them. I will grieve for the love we once had for one another. I will definitely cry and I will definitely hope that time really does heal all wounds.