Today was another reminder of how we can’t understand someone completely, even if it’s someone we’re close to. During supper, we were having the same old conversation, joking on and off, speaking, but not really saying anything. My dad was talking about what he did at work, I was chatting about something so worthless, I can’t remember what it was, and my little brothers were laughing and hollering about something crazy, like they always do. My mom sighed and asked if we could just think about Alan for a moment. You see, today was my uncle’s birthday. Even though he is no longer here to celebrate with us, it’s a night of remembrance. We start talking about Alan for a second, but then our thoughts drift off and we wander away from the subject.
My mom, well, she’s his sister. It’s hard for her to forget because…because she’s his sister! If one of my brothers were gone, I’d never pretend that his birthday was like any other day. My mother is hurt, hurt that we can’t concentrate on something important for a moment.
A tiny bit later, I realize how thoughtless I was. “Maybe you can tell Mom a memory you have of him,” my Dad says.
“But I don’t have any memories,” I cried. It was true. I never really knew Alan. I was only nine when he died. He was having a rough time in his life, and didn’t ever hang out with us kids. I can only remember one thing he ever did with me. I was over at my grandparents’ house and Uncle Alan was in his room there. We—my little brother Brennan and I, that is—went to say hi to him. He was playing video games and he pulled us over and let us watch. Better yet, he let us pick the color of the car he was driving and even gave me a chance to drive it. Video games were a whole new concept to me. I was only six years old then, or so, and we didn’t even have a computer at home. Brennan (who must have been two or three) watched our uncle, thrilled that he was showing us these amazing games.
Thinking back on it now, I’m saddened to know it’s the only time I ever felt like I had a connection with him …besides Mom’s stories, of course. She fills us in on how he used to be, on the Alan she knew, the Alan she loved and cared about. The little brother who followed her through the woods, ran over her with his four-wheeler, watched incredible hulk on TV with her. He was everything to her. So, I suppose, we always got a glimpse of who Alan really was through her memories that she passed down to us.
When Alan died, just nine days shy of his 31st birthday, my brothers and I felt the pain in a whole different way than our mom did. We were so little, ages 2, 6, and 9. None of us really felt the pain. We didn’t know him, and when you don’t know someone, it’s hard to miss them. We felt the pain through our mother’s missing smile, her tears. We felt the pain of death as we stood at his funeral, but still, we didn’t miss him. At least not anything like she did. We just couldn’t understand.
And, tonight, I realize I still can’t understand. I could try, but in my heart, I can’t. There isn’t that love there for my uncle that my mother has. I guess it just goes to show me that, despite all the things my mother and I have gone through together, we still have our own hurts.
I wonder how the world would change if, for a second, you could take the place of another and feel their pain. I wish I could do that and tell my mother, “I know, I understand.”
I suppose the point of this article is just to say, no matter what, you can’t realize how another person struggles with a loss. There are hurts in my life that no one will ever be able to share, just like there are hurts in my mother’s life, my father’s life, my brothers’ lives.
Please, if you know someone who has lost someone or something, don’t say, “I know.” You don’t know. You can’t know.
September 24th used to bring my mother only joyful memories, but now the day is like an ache in the year. A mark on the calendar that reminds her of loss. All I can do is be by her side and let her tell me her memories, and I hope, that if I try, perhaps I can see through her eyes and know my uncle the best that I can. It is up to my brothers and me to pass the stories on and never forget who Alan really was. –McKennaugh
McKennaugh Kelley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is sixteen years old. She lives in Troy, Pennsylvania with a handful of crazy, creative, but mostly wonderful little brothers.