Full Circle: Love and Death in Florida

sistersMy Uncle passed away on Sunday, at 5:11 pm.

It was an unusually windy day in Florida. As I walked across the parking lot to the hospital entrance a wind swept past me that I never experienced before. It seemed to lift me up for a moment, holding me in some fervent embrace. I knew it would be the day.

After a two week vigil in the ICU, the neurologists told us they had done all they could, and that my Uncle would not recover. He would never emerge from his coma, never speak or walk. His brain had been in seizure for the greater part of a week, and it was more than his body could bare. I know he would not want to be on feeding tubes and life support, perpetually floating between sleep and death. They took him off the ventilator that was breathing for him. I cried and kissed his warm forehead and told him I loved him. He held on for about 5 hours, breathing deeply as if he was in a deep sleep. His sleep grew deeper as the day went on, and eventually, his heart stopped. My father, husband and I were by his side the whole time, loving him and supporting him through his transition.

My Uncle was an eccentric man. Dementia had begun to set in and he would often have bouts or aggression or anger. But overall, he had one of the kindest, most loving hearts that I have ever known. I have fond memories of him, and I deeply regret that we had become estranged during the years. I wish I could go back in time and I hope he knows that we were there for him when he needed us most.

It is an incomprehensible thing to witness the death of a loved one. It is beyond words. I do believe that he is in a better place. A place free from suffering and pain. 

I was so happy to learn, on this trip, that he had many friends, and he had touched the lives of a lot of people. I am happy that he had touched mine. And I hope we have both found forgiveness through this experience.

I wish you peace and happiness Eugene. Your life was precious.


A poem I love. I think it’s fitting today:

The Sum of Man

by Norah Pollard

In autumn,

facing the end of his life,

he moved in with me.

We piled his belongings—

his army-issue boots, knife magazines,

Steely Dan tapes, his grinder, drill press,

sanders, belts and hacksaws—

in a heap all over the living room floor.

For two weeks he walked around the mess.

One night he stood looking down at it all

and said: “The sum total of my existence.”

Emptiness in his voice.

Soon after, as if the sum total 

needed to be expanded, he began to place 

things around in the closets and spaces I’d 

cleared for him, and when he’d finished

setting up his workshop in the cellar, he said,

“I should make as many knives as I can,”

and he began to work.

The months plowed on through a cold winter.

In the evenings, we’d share supper, some tale 

of family, some laughs, perhaps a walk in the snow.

Then he’d nip back down into the cellar’s keep

To saw and grind and polish,

creating his beautiful knives 

until he grew too weak to work.

But still he’d slip down to stand at his workbench

and touch his woods 

and run his hand over his lathe.

One night he came up from the cellar 

and stood in the kitchen’s warmth 

and, shifting his weight

from one foot to the other, said,

“I love my workshop.”

Then he went up to bed.

He’s gone now.

It’s spring. It’s been raining for weeks.

I go down to his shop and stand in the dust 

of ground steel and shavings of wood.

I think on how he’d speak of his dying, so 

easily, offhandedly, as if it were

a coming anniversary or 

an appointment with the moon.

I touch his leather apron, folded for all time,

and his glasses set upon his work gloves.

I take up an unfinished knife and test its heft, 

and feel as well the heft of my grief for 

this man, this brother I loved,

the whole of him so much greater 

than the sum of his existence. 

“The Sum of Man” by Norah Pollard, from Death & Rapture in the Animal Kingdom. © Antrim House, 2009.

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