Humans have a natural instinct to express compassion and empathy during a time of crisis such as the death of a loved one. Through the years we witnessed countless families experience loss and while we shared our condolences we had the privilege of going home every night with our family largely intact. We persevered through some of life’s most difficult experiences: miscarriages, homelessness, jail, near-death experiences, theft, divorce, verbal and physical assault, bankruptcy, mental health complications, and the horrifying world of addiction. These experiences are horrific in their own right, but life spared our family from experiencing death in large numbers compared to others.
All of that came to a screeching halt today with the loss of my Uncle Jack. Death reared it’s ugly head in our family and we are devastated with equal amounts of confusion, shock, and grief. How could someone who experienced some of life’s toughest conditions be gone in a blink of an eye? Were there warning signs that could have prevented his death? What was he thinking or feeling in his final moments? Questions swirl through our brains trying to justify why him and why now. Various members of my family have experienced death of a parent or child…but not in this context in the way Uncle Jack died; sudden and overnight. For some family members (myself included) this will be the first experience with the loss of a loved one. When death hits close to home it’s an entirely different experience that you can’t hide from.
The initial shock of losing a loved one is our body’s way of protecting us from heartache and pain. When I heard the news today…I didn’t want to believe it and my first reaction was to deny that it happened. Your body goes into autopilot and everything feels like its occurring in slow motion and a brain fog develops. After the initial shock and denial phase the reality that we will never be able to see, hear, or speak to them again sits in. Our emotions take center stage as your body starts to process the trauma of death; your life will be forever changed. Grief looks differently in the way it shows up from person to person. People process their grief on their own terms without any regard to time constraints. You should never let anyone tell you how to grieve and when you should move through those emotions.
For me, I love to write as it allows time and space for self-reflection; to understand my emotions to arrive at a new perspective of what is heavy on my heart. Tonight, I miss my uncle more than words can express. I miss his nervous energy he woke up with that annoyed the shit out of me first thing in the morning. I miss seeing how much he loved his pitbulls, Hank and Tank. I miss his personality and the way he found humor in all situations…even if that meant he was masking the pain he felt inside. He had a way of connecting to family and friends around him that will stay with all of us forever. I will miss him calling me Catfish Farmer (a childhood nickname he gave me as a term of endearment) and making a fish noise every time I spent time with him. I will miss how he gave all his nieces, nephews, and sisters nicknames that was his was of saying, “I love you” without giving up his “man card”. I will miss how he made us say, JACKIE DALE MORRIS SIRR, when he would request us to fetch him a beer…I will miss how much that would piss other adults off given how young we were at the time. I will miss how he would whip people around the house with a kitchen towel where we would wake up the next day with small bruises.
Uncle Jack lived a hard life and it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows for him. He suffered from bi-polar and addiction…both that took a toll on him the older he got. Despite his struggles though…he had a heart full of gold and a laughter that was contagious. I very much believe every person has more to offer than the flaws they possess. There is always light inside each of us that outweighs the darkness; and we get to choose which one we wish to recognize and cultivate. Some people walk through life carrying more darkness based on experiences they had to overcome. Uncle Jack struggled and made poor life decisions…but we forget what it feels like to be human and that we make mistakes sometimes.
The older I get the more I’m convinced that a person’s environmental surroundings can better predict and explain a person’s behavior, decision making, and current life circumstances. I firmly believe we over attribute a person’s behavior as a character flaw or that something is wrong with the individual and fail to consider the environmental conditions and how those influences could predict or explain their behavior. I am not making excuses for anyone who makes poor choices by any means; they have to live with the consequences of their actions. But what if the person received an intervention early enough in their life and had someone who cultivated a strong sense of self-worth and resilience? What if our starting point in working with humans is fixing the environment surrounding the individual as opposed to “fixing” the individual in the environment? Think of it this way: when you plant flowers in a garden and some of them die…our reaction is not, “that god damn flower should have known better. It should have communicated its needs.” Instead we attribute the failure as certain environmental conditions were not met for that flower to survive and prosper. We can easily do this with flowers, but why can’t we apply that same philosophy when understanding various human experiences?
The passing of Uncle Jack was a tragic death and I am in no way pointing blame at anyone. I just want people to remember Uncle Jack for everything he was and not attribute his life circumstances as bad personality flaws without any consideration of how the world around us influenced his behavior and lifestyle choices. Humans do not need fixing…its the world around us that needs attention. Uncle Jack’s situation was no different. We may never know the exact cause of his passing but he will be remembered for the laughter and joy he brought into our lives. May his soul be set free and spirit surround us as a reminder to always tell people you love them no matter what. I haven’t spoke to Jack in over three years and I deeply regret not remembering the last words I said to him. But I know he’s listening now with his dorky smile. I’m sorry Uncle Jack…for the life you were given and tried to survive…and for not saying this to you more often: I love you!