To my beloved uncle

If this were it, what would you do? If you were told you had a short time left, how would you spend your time? What would you do differently, if anything? I have asked clients these questions hundreds of times and have mildly thought about them myself….. although, I can’t say that I’ve ever REALLY taken the questions completely serious. I think on some level I want to believe I’m immortal.

Having been with my family for the past week, I am witnessing my beloved uncle who has been a father figure to me my entire life, struggle through his nauseating and grueling chemo treatments, fighting for his life to get one more day with his family and friends. I don’t see him these days but once a year because we live on opposite coasts, however, my family, particularly my uncle is very special to me given that I spent my summers here (in Pittsburgh, PA). Growing up with my uncle – laughing at his jokes, watching him adore his children and belt out his favorite country songs as we drove to his favorite fishing spots taught me to be more adventurous and of course, to love fishing! 🙂 I will never forget those days ….. ever.
Holding these memories close and now facing the new reality of my uncles health is quite a shock to my system. I don’t know that I’ve ever witnessed something this profound – seeing someone I love have the life sucked out of them. What was once easily taken for granted – a robust, charismatic, subtly hilarious man…. now, much thinner, quieter and deliberate in how he spends his energy …. since he has much less to expend.
What is hardest, I think, is knowing what to say and do. What I’d most like to do is to wave a magic wand and make it go away – for him, the physical pain and for myself and the rest of the family, the emotional pain and the changing reality of someone so dear to us exiting our lives.
At a family gathering last night where my uncle was present, I couldn’t help but stare at him…. watching how his affect has so dramatically changed. He was almost expressionless while we watched an exciting football game (his favorite team). What normally would have elicited whooping and hollering from him, instead got a half smile through his pointed cheekbones and sunken jaw.
No one in my family really knows what to say or do. I kept thinking during the family event last night …..should we be telling him how much we love him or how sorry we are or how much he has meant to us? Or, do we carry on in our crazy, all-over-the-map, family ways? I am stumped. In this area, I feel a bit paralyzed …… and very ineffective. I am powerless and very humbled by mortality. I’m also afraid to address the elephant in the room (which does not happen too often for me). However, this is a different breed of elephant … at least to me.
What I was and am most struck by through the pain I experienced in watching my uncle was watching his nieces – all four of them under the age of nine – crawl all over him as if nothing was different (and in their minds, nothing is different). They were calling his name (“Pap Pap”) and professing their love for him. It was tender, wonderful and fearless. A true gift to watch. I was admiring their uninhibited love and expression towards my uncle – wanting desperately to do the same yet, felt afraid to do so and instead, in a very adult fashion, hugged my uncle countless times asking him how he was.
To my uncle and others who are reading this, whether you are given a timeline on how much longer you have the privilege to be here or not, the truth is we all only have an absolute time on earth. Please don’t waste your time. Take in and give as much love as you possibly can because in the end it really is all we have – love. Money, travels, nice clothes, pretty homes, yachts, the fancy corner office, etc…. doesn’t mean all that much in the end. Love on the other hand, means everything and is what stays with people.
To my beloved uncle: I love you. I honor you. I thank you. God bless you!
With love and gratitude,


  1. a difficult subject. I took care of my grandmother some while she was deteriorating and dying of Alzheimer's. and I took care of my grandfather a lot while he was dying of heart-break, depression, and apathy. Lived with both at the time. Part of what came out of that is that I am not terrified at the possibility of ending my life similarly, or of that happening to other loved ones, as I used to be. It's hard, but it's life.