My Uncle David died last Monday. I am relieved that I will not have to see him again or feel guilty for not visiting more often while having no intention of doing so. Can you say you loved someone you really didn’t want to be around?
My uncle suffered from schizophrenia, and suffered is an apt word. As difficult as it was to listen to his ranting about what his cat said or what the government was plotting, I’m sure it didn’t compare to the torture of being inside his head. There probably wasn’t a moment after his break around the age of twenty when he felt at peace, when he could relax and enjoy this world and his life in it.
People say, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and I want to say, “Don’t be.” Though I have felt a strange grief at his passing, I suspect it has mostly to do with the death of any hope that he might change, that he might be healthy. Or happy.
Even before his break, many of his childhood stories were grim. While sorting through his belongings, we found old pictures of my grandfather. My mom told of how, when David was around thirteen, my grandfather chased him the length of their apartment, which was half a block long, beating him with a belt while my grandmother watched.
Let me include a few positive memories because no life is ever one-sided. David was incredibly intelligent, deeply spiritual, and always concerned with social justice. He taught me to play marbles and Chinese checkers. The people at the retirement community where he lived the last decade or so of his life truly appreciated his friendship.
I burned a yahrzeit candle for him, a Jewish mourning tradition. When looking up the prayer to say over the candle, I came across one that said, “May his memory be for a blessing.”
I tell these stories here as a member of a people that has survived 5,773 years by remembering. Because David wasn’t and isn’t the only one. I think it’s important to remember that when you scratch the surface of almost any family, you rarely have to go more than a generation to find scars a mile wide.
I can’t say what I was supposed to learn from knowing my uncle, except for that one lesson that we can never learn often or deeply enough—that everyone we encounter is in need of more compassion than we can know and so we should offer what we can. What we can may vary. Being physically present for my uncle wasn’t something I could do often, nor was talking on the phone. But maybe I can help his memory be for a blessing.
So here is a remembrance, a prayer, a wish, a hope for all those, living and dead, whose demons dig their claws in so much more forcefully than most of us will ever know: may you rest in peace, whether in this world or the next.