It is not often that I write with a heavy feeling in my soul, but today is one of those times. Yesterday evening Charles and I sat in front of our television and watched, as many of us did, the horror unfolding in California.
There is always such a convoluted mixture of emotions at such times. We felt fury at the terrorist perpetrators who took the lives of fourteen innocents and injured seventeen others. We felt sadness for the victim's families and loved ones whose lives would be forever changed. We felt horror that such an attack could happen in our country. We said a fervent prayer for the protection of the law enforcement officers who were pursuing possible accomplices and other leads.
Then my father, David, called and told us that my "Uncle" Richie had passed away. He was not my biological uncle, but he was what we call "family by choice" and means as much to me as any blood relation. David was in shock, as he had just spoken to Uncle Richie two weeks ago and he was feeling fine. While they were speaking, Richie was enjoying a sunset over the ocean in Florida and invited David to visit him soon.
Many times there are no answers to a problem we are facing. Many times we are already going through so much, and then another difficulty comes to us. I've found that during these times, whether I am the one going through the challenge or I am comforting someone else, the best thing to do is just sit beside the person and listen, and let them know you're there.
Charles and I immediately turned off the television. We moved to the living room and sat on a sofa in front of our Christmas tree, and he listened to me talk about my memories of Uncle Richie.
Uncle Richie (and his wife at the time) were the first visitors to hospital after I was born. My mother, Nadia, told him she was craving pizza after her twenty-five hour labor with me, so Uncle Richie brought her an extra-large one (how he snuck that past the nurses, none of us could ever figure out). I've always joked with Uncle Richie that he's the reason pizza is my favorite food.
When I was a little girl, Uncle Richie would lift me up until I touched the ceiling, and he told me I could reach the highest places if I tried. He always remembered birthdays and graduations for my brother Jonny and me.
Uncle Richie and David share a birthday, so that gave them an extra special bond. Whenever Uncle Richie ate, he would mix all the food together on his plate and eat everything at once. Ice cream was his favorite thing to eat, and the bigger the sundae the better.
During Charles's and my wedding weekend, Uncle Richie was there for everything along with his long-time domestic partner, the beautiful and kind Rosemarie. They were there from the rehearsal dinner (he is family, after all) to the newlywed breakfast the day after.
Uncle Richie's warm smile and the way he spread love to everyone around him is what I will remember most. Of all the legacies to have, Uncle Richie's is among the most beautiful.
When Jonny and I were little, we always tried to find the nicest words or phrases we could think of to describe unpleasant things. The words we came up with instead of "death" was "ultimate graduation." We knew that when someone graduated from school they received a diploma and then people lined up to shake their hand. So we imagined that when someone graduates from this earth, they receive their eternal reward and then all their loved ones are lined up waiting to welcome them.
Uncle Richie was very distraught when Jonny died. I'm certain that Jonny was one of the many on Uncle Richie's ultimate graduation welcoming committee.
The paradox is so strange to think of, that as we mourn the passing of a loved one on earth, at the same time there's a big welcoming party in heaven for them.
I'll close with an inspirational quote that is among my favorites for those who mourn. I pray all the loved ones of the San Bernardino victims are able to find the same consolation.
"Don't be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends." -Richard Bach