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I’ve lost another member of my family.
My Uncle Jimmy was actually my great-uncle, although I would never have called him that, because of his youth. He was a late-in-life child of my great-grandmother’s – younger than both my mother and her brother, younger than everyone until the grandkids came along. So it was that he was always Uncle Jimmy to me and to everyone – never Jim or James – because he always the young one. He and his wife, my Aunt Kim, seemed perpetually youthful, perpetually hip and fun, in comparison to my parents and to the other adults in our family. Their son, my cousin, Shane, was diagnosed autistic way back before anyone really understood what autism was, and they brought him up in an environment of play, encouraging his social skills through laughter and fun, and it seemed to me that that was how learning should always be – fun – and at times I was jealous that Shane didn’t have to go to regular school, that he got to spend so much time with his parents, that his homework was charades and puppet shows and board games that he invented alongside his dad. They were fun. Jimmy was fun.
The last time I saw Uncle Jimmy was this past summer, at my grandfather’s funeral, a few weeks before my father died. He was ill – cancer – and the physical toll of his illness was striking: young Jimmy, youthful Jimmy, seemed many years older than I could ever have imagined him being. But he insisted that he was doing well, and that he had faith that God would keep him around for awhile – he had found comfort in God, in the Christian church, after his marriage to Kim foundered and failed, and he was comforted by God even in the pain of illness. And God did keep him around, I guess – longer than he did Dad, whose death was unexpected – until his time was up.
I’m not sure what that means, exactly – anyone’s time being up. I don’t know that I believe that we shuffle off this mortal coil according to a schedule, but then again, I don’t know that I believe that we don’t. I don’t know what I believe.
All I know is, my family is being thinned; I am losing too many, too fast, and although Jimmy’s death doesn’t slice through my soul the way my Dad’s does, it nonetheless hurts, because he was part of the landscape of my family, he was part of who we were, who we are, a ‘we’ that grows ever smaller, ever more diffuse.
I say this even as *my* family grows – I have, now, my children, and my husband’s family, and a new genealogy that stretches in different directions from that of the family that I defined by the horizons of my mother and my father and their genealogies. But that’s part of the pain, the discomfort – the family of my childhood recedes into the background, shrinking, becoming ever more distant, and I walk away, forward, toward a new familial horizon, one that my children will embrace and find comfort in and then, someday, walk away from themselves and all this movement, all this leaving behind, tugs at my soul, and it hurts.
Rest in peace, Uncle Jimmy.