Stories for H: On the Uncle you never knew, Unsaid words, Loss and Regrets

You’ll lose people and sadly you have no control over loss, what you have control over however, is on how try not to leave beeadcrumbs in your relationships.

At 6:00 am on the 1st of May 2022, I got a phone call from your grandpa telling me that your uncle Morris had been involved in an accident and was in a critical condition.
The details were scanty but he promised he would fill me in on whatever news kept coming through as he set off to go to the hospital. Then came some of the longest hours two and a half hours of my life.

I would make a phone call to your Uncle Micheal who was also short of details and under the shadow of that suspense, I would crumble as the pain kicked in. I don’t know but I knew he was gone and It hurt like no pain I’d ever known.

In the last ten years of my life that stretched from my teens up until my mid-twenties, I’d lost a couple of people from cousins, grandparents, a friend, and more recently in 2021 my godson and yet this still felt worse and I’m not comparing pains but this death that was unfolding before me was something I didn’t want happening.
So I called your grandpa three times and each time he didn’t pick, the suspense was killing me, I needed to know that your uncle was okay.

I tried Micheal again and couldn’t get myself together to manage a sentence before sobbing off. It became too much for me so I for a while switched off my phone, figured that the fact that your grandpa wasn’t picking up was good news.

So I just lay in bed like I’d been doing since 4:30 am, having lost sleep because of a serious bout of fever and flu. Amidst sobs, prayed that your uncle was okay, that it was some sort of mistake and there was nothing to be worried about.

I’d recently gotten closer to God again and deep down- albeit foolishly I figured that I could leverage our renewed relationship to ask him for a favor.
I closed my eyes in piety and what started as a prayer each time would continuously turn into a timeless loop of memories of your uncle and the fam and I eventually gave up and turned my phone on, I needed to know what was going on.

My prayers it would turn out were too late as dad rang more than two hours ago to inform me that your uncle was passed on the previous night. It was a confirmation of my fears and with the knowledge, got out of bed, cleaned up, and made plans to travel home.

When I finally got home later that evening with the other mourners, friends, family, and acquaintances, it was one of the most difficult gatherings I’d ever been part of. I saw your Aunties and Uncles and we tried to comfort each other, we told stories about your uncle, we cried in our shared love for him and on a personal level I cried out regret, for lost time.

For most of the night, I drifted between conversations with the men and then the women, but felt most comfortable with the women. With them it was just easy to cry and vent, the men were much more collected, they offered strength and were practical, the women were open and through their sobs and tears they vented and in a way, I needed that, I needed to feel the pain and be “weak”

I’d traveled from Adjumani with colleagues who had engagements in Gulu and naturally they’d distracted me with conversations about work, we’d cracked jokes and while the reason I was leaving Adjumani on a Sunday noon hadn’t been lost on me, I’d temporarily taken my mind off it.

Burial was set for Saturday and the better part I spent the first three weekdays on a work and recovery regimen, one of my websites was constantly getting hacked and I occupied myself coming up with measures to deter the attack while also trying to recover from a sickness that had all the symptoms of malaria but not the actual parasite.

During the days it was easy, at night not so much, with my sisters I felt the warmth of family, in my room I felt the loneliness of loss, I was drowsy for most of the days from the cocktail of flu and malaria medication but the grief still caught up with me, it had happened, he was gone and my initial shock had been replaced by resignation and helplessness.

We buried him on the 7th of June at home in Pader, amidst pain, sadness, and tears we let go of your Uncle, his burial brought together lots of people and it was out for the world to see that he’d left his mark on us, he didn’t need to be a great man to leave that impact on us, he had been just a simple man, who did the simplest of things and it was enough for us.

At his requiem we sang “It is well with my soul” and I felt shallow chorusing those words, knowing it wasn’t well with my soul, knowing how unfair it was that on the 30th of April a loving father of three beautiful children didn’t get home.

It wasn’t well with my soul that we’d not gotten the chance to say goodbye, that I’d not gotten the chance to tell him how grateful I was to him and his family, how much I loved him, we were not the kind that were too open with our feelings but I loved him to lengths that were difficult to explain.

He was a role model to me, and if there was such a thing as the cliched “real man” as often referenced on Twitter then it was your Uncle Morris.
He didn’t need to assert his authority or demand respect; it was always handed to him on a platter on account of the person he was. Your Uncle worked hard and never complained, he outworked everyone and typed with intent on his computer most nights seated in his home office.

On some football nights, while we were supposed to be watching Manutd play, I stirred him awake so he could go and sleep then realized my mistake when he rose, went to the fridge, and took a glass of water before shutting his office door to finish work. None of his success came easy and he knew it, he worked for everything he got and the universe was kind enough to reward his effort.

As a student at university who was also immersed deep into side gigs and freelance work, I was often tempted into whining about how hectic it was and on days when the urge to complain came, with it was also the reminder that Morris had a workload ten times bigger.

When my shrink first suggested that I write you the first letter, I had to imagine the kind of father I wanted to be and, in that moment, it was a combination of your grandpa and Morris intertwined into one and I liked the mosaic I created, I saw how loving your uncle was to his children, how he was vulnerable, present and reliable for his kids and wife, how relentless he was in his pursuit for their happiness and figured that if ever I was as half as good a father and husband to you and your mother then we’d make for the most enviable family.

As a brother he was a friend whose approach to lessons and advice was casual, you almost didn’t see it coming until he hit, he joked a lot but there we almost always moments where he got intense and shared wisdom and he always caught you off guard each time, he was subtle.

When a former caretaker of the house turned policeman visited a while back to thank him for his kindness, advic, and friendship, I saw the pride he felt, saw how happy he was that someone he’d helped had turned out well. For most of the conversation ,he gave the man credit, not willing to take his fair share of responsibility for how things had turned out.
It was a reaffirmation of the decent human being Morris was and as they recounted stories of the old days and caught up, I couldn’t help but look forward to my own “Morris Story” because by that time he had already done a lot for me.

I was lost on hope at the time, thought I’d sunk too deep to make it ashore having failed to finish my degree on time, but I figured if by some luck I did manage I’d have a lot to thank him for, I wanted to make him proud.

His family had taken me in, throughout most of my depression, they hadn’t known what was wrong with me other than the fact that I’d been robbed, lost most of my stuff and failed to graduate on time from the resulting depression.

I’d never explained the depression to them, or the debts that resulted from being robbed and the lost gigs or the even the near overdose and suicidal thoughts, but they’d loved me regardless, they’d welcomed me into their home and taken care of me throughout my moodiness, laziness, disillusionment with life and hopelessness and just filled me with love and affection, I owed him and the family my education and more accurately my life.

So when he’d passed on, I naturally felt like a hypocrite for not having been in close contact in his final days or even year, it was difficult because I never got the chance to say thank you or to make him proud, I was mad at myself for not doing enough, my efforts to visit home in Najjera had been mostly made futile by a combination of work, COVID-19 and more accurately complacency.

You see as people we are often casual if not entitled and think we’ve time, so sometimes we postpone meetings, calls, and even appointments because we figure we’ll get time which was arrogant of me.

I’d moved to Gulu at the end of 2020 and then later Adjumani the following year and with him and the family being in Kampala it might not have been easy to meet but it was also true that I didn’t do enough to and meet, that I’d wanted a perfect meeting time and place which in reality now seems farfetched because now meeting him is impossible.

So, in a way this story that has parts about the Uncle I regret that you’ll never meet in this earthly realm is also about me pouring out love from below the heavens and also my regrets when it came to how I handled, my relationship with him and then silently hoping that you take lessons from it.

It’s me asking you to not leave breadcrumbs in your relationships and be intentional, to pour your heart out and share your love, to keep your loved ones close, and not put off what you can do today and leave nothing to chance because time is an illusion and its simply out of your control.

When all my lamentations are all done, I think it’s safe to say that your uncle saw the world, and conversations with him had snippets of Marakesh and sometimes Joburg, Zim, Botswana, Kisumu, and other beautiful places he saw but the conclusion was always the same, home- with his kids, wife, and family was the best place on earth.
And while I wished he’d got maybe 98 or even a century to tread this earth, I am constantly awed by the efficiency with which he used the 41 he got to make as much impact in my life as he did.

So when what would have been his 42nd birthday arrived on a hot Wednesday in June I celebrated a man who’d only known to give and never taken, knew I’d got lucky to know him. And then eleven days later on a rather cold Sunday on father’s day I recalled a great father taken too soon from his children, a father I looked up to and with renewed enthusiasm I began to write this story I’d put off for more than a month.

For a while I’d been looking for perfect words, a fitting eulogy but the words didn’t come, I knew what I wanted to say but the words didn’t just gel, but on Sunday I just wrote and then when I was done, I felt better for the first time in a long time.

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