for my uncle tony

it was a month ago. a month and 11 days ago, to be exact, when my uncle tony passed. believe it or not, i had to look at his obituary in order to get the date right because when my family members — my grandma, my grandfather, my uncle gene — and a few friends have passed on my mind does this automatic shut down thing where it blocks the date and i can never recall it…the actual day, the month, or even the year they went on.

i’m fine with that.

i haven’t yet grieved over losing my uncle. i haven’t had time. not with worrying about my mama who was his primary caretaker and more like his twin than an older sister since they were just a year apart. and worrying about my grandmother who lost her only son.

there are phone calls to be made, clothes to be washed, dinners to be figured out, a dog that needs to be walked, football practice to be attended, resumes to be sent, petty arguments to be had over who put that important piece of mail in the shred pile, 50 million questions by dutch that need to be answered… when i really just want to take a moment and freeze time because it’s the only way i can get time and say, hey, my uncle is gone!!!

the days keep slipping into the next and because you have to keep functioning and keep things moving folks just might forget that it’s just been a month…and 11 days.

time, it just doesn’t stop for grieving. i barely have had a moment to even roll the thought around in my mind of my uncle being gone. even in writing this post i was interrupted by dutch several times, just when my eyes began to well and the screen got blurry while i was typing. the same moment when my throat began to tighten. dutch asked, mommy, are you crying? yes, dutch. and then, i guess not even wanting to ask why, he’d ask if he could have another granola bar.

the day of my uncle’s going home ceremony was really tough for me. when is a funeral not? i know that the real him, the soul of him, had already left, but the shell of him there just several feet away was just…

i could barely glance over.

couldn’t look too long at the clothes that my mama had chosen for him to wear. the silver cross around his neck. the baseball cap on his head. couldn’t look to see if the funeral home did a good job covering the scar the nurses left on his face after pulling the medical tape off so hard that it made my mama angry. i didn’t want to see my uncle like that.

i prefer to remember that just a couple weeks earlier my family and i had just celebrated my grandmother’s birthday. my mama had cooked ribs and corn and some other stuff. my husband had gone to buy the bushel of crabs. we all sat around, ate, got loud. did what we always do.

my uncle was there too. came up out of his room to hang out with us. the two strokes he had had seven years ago and his heart condition left him a little weak and slow, but that day, he got himself up those stairs, cracked a smile a few times, said a few things. he was with family.

my grandmother out of the blue said she wanted a picture with her children. i had left my camera at home, but my younger cousin grabbed her phone and snapped a couple pictures.

i don’t know of any other picture that exists with just my grandmother, my mama, my uncle and aunt.

after a few hours it was time for us to head on home. i bent down and gave my uncle a kiss on his cheek while he sat on the sofa and i even made a little joke about how i almost fell on him from trying to lean in so low. he just grinned.

“bye, tony…”

just days later, and the day before my mama’s birthday, he suffered a heart attack and never regained consciousness.

my family and i made several trips to the hospital during the week he was there. we talked to my uncle like he was awake and heard every word we spoke. who knows, maybe he could. we told him to just wake up, that we wanted to see him get better. we prayed for him at the hospital, at home, with the pastor, without the pastor. my mama sang to her brother, read him psalms 103: 1-5

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

i listened as my mama talked to her baby brother. speaking words to him that i debated on recording here but some things are just too personal.

it was the saddest and yet the most beautiful thing i’ve ever witnessed.

***

“hey, baby, what you been up to?” tony would always ask me. he called every female, even my grandmother, “baby.” it was just his thing. and he was always interested in what was going on in my little life. a few of his friends from his former job came to his funeral and told me they knew everything about me because my uncle talked about me so much. they knew when i left to go to college in nyc, about my years working at sister 2 sister magazine, they knew i had gotten married…

“tony loved you, niki,” one of the women said. “we just had to find you here and tell you that.”

i love him too and i miss him. miss watching him do silly stuff like at family cookouts when he’d dip his crabs in a pot of water after opening them because he liked them clean before he ate them. miss hearing him explain to folks that he doesn’t shake hands ’cause “i don’t know if your hands are clean or where they’ve been!” yes, my uncle had some funny ways.

i miss hearing him ask dutch about his new jordans and school and anything else. miss him telling me stories about how back in the day him and friends would go to new york to get their clothes custom made. my uncle was fly. supa fly. he loved to look good. he also loved music and had a massive collection. at one time he would go to the wiz downtown on f street every week to buy new records. i couldn’t wait to see what he bought next.

i can still hear tony’s laughter. i can recall his voice and his words and i can loop it around in my mind like my favorite song. i don’t need to remember the date he departed because that’s not important to me when i can still hear him asking me, ” hey baby, what you been up to?”

 

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