Dear Uncle Tim: An Open Letter To A Dying Man
I found out the other day that my uncle Tim (not his real name) is dying of cancer. Tim lives out in a very remote area of Colorado, because that is far away from Vermont, I have not gotten to see Tim nearly as much as I wish I could. Tim the one extended relative that I have always felt very close to. He’s suffered from mental health issues for much of his adult life, which is why I think I have identified with him more than any of my other uncles and aunts.
Tim is my mother’s youngest brother–he is too young to die, but I suppose that anyone who does not carry out all or most of their dreams in life, and/or does not feel ready to die is too young .
Tim does not want anyone to come and see him. He does not want goodbye letters or phone calls. He simply wants to die the way he wishes to, which is in solitude with his wife Kate (again, not her real name). And while I wish so badly for both my mother and myself that we could take the next flight out to Colorado to see Tim and help in any way we can and say our goodbye’s, it is his life, and it is his death. He has the right to carry them out the way he wishes.
Tim has bone cancer. We are not even sure of the details as to how much time he has left. All we do know is that it is untreatable at this point. He is on heavy-duty painkillers. He can barely walk a few steps without becoming exhausted and overwhelmed by pain. Tim used to climb 14,000 feet mountains in Colorado on a regular basis. For many years of his life, he was a park ranger for a large park of woods and mountains. He has lived a very active but isolated life.
He has been an amazing uncle.
When my mother told me this news, I asked her if I could at least write Tim a letter. She informed me that I could, but that I should try to keep it from being a “goodbye” type of letter. I am not sure really how to go about that, so I am putting it off till I figure it out, and hopefully I will before Tim dies. But till then, in the name of therapeutic catharsis, I am going to write my letter here–the way I want to write it.
Maybe some of you who have had similar situations happen in your life can give me some advice, or comment on what I should leave in and/or leave out. Whatever, I just want to write what I want to write for someone besides myself to read……..here goes:
Mom recently told me about your condition, as much as I wish I could come see you, I respect your wishes, and your right to live and die as you wish. I am so glad that you have Kate with you–that is a comfort to me and mom. Anyhow, there are some things I would like to say to you that I probably should have said before I found out that you are dying.
You have and always will be my favorite uncle. Some of the struggles that we have both grappled with in life have always made me feel closer to you–even though we have been separated by thousands of miles. I do wish that we had gotten to see each other more often, and I also regret that I have not kept in better touch. But knowing that you are a part of my family has always comforted me. I feel as if we have both seen the cruel and unfair part of life more than anyone else that is in the family………..obviously, now you are seeing a more cruel and unfair part of life than I have yet to see.
It is hard to hear that you are struggling and in pain. Your life has been so active that I can’t imagine what it must be like to feel so crippled by this cancer. I wonder, will your death be a relief to you? I hear that you are on some hefty painkillers–I hope that they help you as much as possible with the pain. I have always said that I would take physical pain over emotional pain any day, but this may be different.
Tim, I want you to know that I will miss you and think of you often. I understand through mom that you do not want a service, but I am sure that when you die, and when all our family (as intrusive as they can be) in Iowa knows of your death, there will be some kind of service for you there. I will be at that service.
You will be in my heart always. And when I think of you, I will think about the times we had together–of when I stayed at your place in Colorado when I lived just a few hours from you in my early 20′s.
Of the time when Grandma was in the hospital and you gave me a ride in your convertible from the hospital back to my hotel– our talk about life and personal struggles during that ride through the cornfields of Iowa. I still remember all everything we talked about and your amazing offer of support.
Of when I was young and we would meet in Iowa for family reunions.
Of how you were the person I looked most forward to seeing out of everyone.
And the many times in between.
I don’t know if heaven exists, or what your thoughts are on where you will go when your body gives out, but you will live on in me. In my mother. In so many of us who love you and will always love you.
I wish not to say “goodbye” to you, but more of a “see ya later.” I hope that death comes to you as peacefully as possible, and that if you change your mind on having us come out for whatever reason, that you will not be afraid to say so. I am can imagine that saying goodbye and the burden of comforting others about your death may be too exhausting for you to think about at this point. I believe that you may be exhausted enough– the process of dying in the painful way that you are must be enough.
Just know that you are in my thoughts and that your life has and will continue to be a comfort to me long past your physical death.
I will, as I always have, think of you with a smile on my face and warmth in my heart.
All my love,
This is just what I can get out right now…….there is a lot more that I would like to say to Tim, but this news is fresh and I have yet to process it completely. Nor do I have a clue to say what I said above without it sounding so “final” and “goodbye-ish”.” Like I said above, any suggestions would be more than welcomed. I know that I am going to have to find some way to find closure when Tim dies, especially if everyone decides to respect his wishes on not having any type of service. Even if there is a service of a kind that is informal and does not include people like Kate, I feel like closure is going to be a difficult thing to find.
I am grateful to all of you for reading this–I know that I have not been around for a while. Aside from this part of my life, I am doing quite well…….have been very busy with moving out of my parents and all the stuff that comes with it. I am grateful for all of you and the support that I receive from those of you who are friends on Facebook. I will try to not be such a stranger here in the near future.