My uncle, the tiger

My uncle, Jaio Sookoo, is in the last stages of cancer. I want to remember him before he passes, not after. I want to think about him today – while he’s still here in this world with me. I’ll cry when he leaves us. I’ll grieve and I’ll feel the hollow place where his life belonged to my heart. But I’ll know. I’ll know that he’s not too far away. I’m not exactly how I feel about life after death and what that means. But I do believe that something of us, something of our identity lingers close to those who love us. And he will never be too far away.

He has always been my second father in my mind and in my heart. I always knew that if anything happened to my dad, I would go looking for him – and he would be there to tell me it was going to be ok. I’m sure I disappointed my aunt and uncle. (Hell, I made it my business at one time to disappoint my parents continually.) But like my parents, their capacity to forgive makes me small, grateful, ashamed and inspired.

My uncle has always been larger than life to me. He had a huge laugh and a booming voice. He had a wonderful sense of humour and an anger that I can only describe as awe-inspiring, crashing over you like a storm at sea. And over just as quickly with sunlight piercing the clouds and everything settling back to normal. He was not always an easy man but he is a good man. He makes me think of a tiger. Wondrous and fierce, not entirely tame and yet capable of playfulness and gentleness. My father has always looked up to him and respected him – and anyone my father respects will get no less from me.

I remember – was it 30 years ago? – the day we got the call saying he had been in a terrible accident and they didn’t know if he would live. I was little then but I felt the darkness spread out; I remember the devastation on my dad’s face. But he pulled through like the survivor he is. He’s always been part of my life, since I was born. My earliest memories have him and my aunt and my cousins in them. I don’t see any lines between their family and the one that is my brother, son, father, mother and me. I never have. I never will.

Uncle, I can only talk to you in my heart. You are far away from me today. I know you are passing from this world to whatever awaits in the next. I’m not good at fooling myself or placating myself with half-truths. In a way, I’m kind of like you. I face life and I’m damned determined to survive whatever it throws my way. If I can live with half your spirit, that will be saying something. But beyond that distance is the physical distance and you’re 2000 miles away. I won’t get to see you again and I won’t get to say good-bye or tell you to be well.

Not physically anyway. But I’m telling you now. And I’m telling you that I love you. And I’m telling the world too because you deserve that. We are all flawed people but we can all come to love, forgiveness and wholeness in the end. That is what you have taught me. Thank you. I needed to see.

So, I pray. I call. I love. Go gently onto that moonlit path and walk home in peace, love and grace. Om namah sivayah.

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