I just heard that my uncle died yesterday.
The youngest member of my dad’s family died yesterday, exactly one year before my wedding day.
I remember him running.
I remember watching him run down the hill past our house, and an hour or two later, he’d run back up it. If I was outdoors, maybe sitting on the grass with a book, or by my dog, I’d raise my arm as he went past, and he’d return the wave. We’d smile at each other, and then he’d disappear from sight—and for most of my life, that was the extent of our relationship. He’d built a house around the corner from us—if you walked up the hill behind our house and through the treeline, you’d be in his backyard. But we rarely did.
And even now that he’s gone, I’m not really sure why that was. I was there when he was clearing the brush to build his house, I was there when his wife and his firstborn came home from the hospital. But his family’s since grown, and I barely know my cousins. On holidays and birthdays, cards would be exchanged, but there was always that disconnect: months would pass, we’d intersect, and his family would have grown a bit more, and then we’d move away again. We were relatives in stop motion.
I heard his condition had gotten worse—much, much worse—in the past couple weeks, and I’d been meaning to send him a card. I’d only just bought it today, a few hours ago. Right now, fresh off the call with the news, I’m most angry for having put it off so long, for not forcing myself to figure out how to write to a dying relative I barely knew.
I could have told him I enjoyed the last time I saw him.
It was last summer, a weekend afternoon shortly after we’d found out about his condition. My brothers and sisters and I arrived at my mother’s house, and he brought his wife and children. We spent hours catching up, and he seemed to be in good health: He complained about how the treatments had been interfering with his running, but he was elated that he’d gotten in a few miles that morning. We reconnected with our cousins, chatting as we should have been doing all those years, and enjoyed the food as much as the company.
Toward the end of the day, his wife was crying in the kitchen. My mom was was crying, too.
There’s an entry in my address book with his name on it, with a number and an email address that, if I’d called or written before yesterday, before this week, would’ve found him on the other end. I always assumed there’d be one more week.
I’ll remember him running.