Stairway to Heaven
I skipped our family bike ride yesterday (which has fast become an after-dinner ritual in our household) to set out on foot for some much needed solitude. You see, earlier that morning I got a call from my cousin, Jeremy, informing me that my beloved Uncle Erwin (88) had passed away.
Although his passing was expected after having suffered a massive stroke the week before, the actual news of his death sent me into a tailspin of anxiety and grief – the same upheaval of emotions that have plagued me off and on for the past 30 or so years since losing my father to a heart attack at age 9.
Not 10 minutes into my trek along the wooded trails by our house, the tears began to spill … and before I registered where my legs were carrying me, my walk had turned into a full out run.
The Immeasurable Feeling of Loss
I’ve lost three uncles since January of this year: Uncle Clem, Uncle Carl and now my Uncle Erwin. Over the years, these three men (along with my uncles who are still living) have helped – in one way or another – fill a void in my life left gaping open from growing up without a dad. In different ways I’ve clung to each of them, feeding off the love and kindness they’ve consistently shown me – a love that felt the closest to that of a father. Though time and therapy have healed my wounds, the immeasurable feeling of loss still lingers. It’s times like this that remind me of its stronghold, how it can still so easily pounce on me and take advantage of my excessive hunger for a father … that yearning that still wraps its fingers around my throat, leaving me with a hallow feeling in the pit of my stomach that nothing on this earth can come close to taking away.
Accepting Who I am
But all these emotions that I carry on my sleeve make me who I am – and who I am yet to become. Without what I have gone through, I’d probably be living an ordinary life, working an ordinary job, with ordinary dreams – at least by my own interpretation. I would not be here talking to you like this and laying everything out on the table. I wouldn’t be living a life of blind ambition, believing that God wants me to make good on the gifts he has given me to reach my highest potential – a potential He set for me long before the beginning of time.
So as my family and I make the trip tomorrow to my uncle’s funeral in Louisiana, I will remember once again how and why I’ve come to be who I am. But on the other side of that, the side that my mortal mind cannot yet comprehend, my uncle is now in a place that transcends anything that we will ever be able to imagine here on earth. You see, my Uncle Erwin, God rest his gentle soul, had his first death about 14 years ago. That’s right. He flat-lined for 10 or so minutes while doctors and nurses frantically worked to bring him back. And he did come back, because that’s what he said God wanted. “You’re work’s not done yet,” God told him. God then gently turned him around and sent him back the way he came – in a horizontal position, gliding on air as thin as the clouds. He indeed came back to us in full mind and body, although he would tell me later how he had desperately wanted to stay.
Angels in the Bedroom
About a month ago, my mom had the opportunity to spend some quality time with Erwin, the brother to the husband she lost more than 30 years before. During their visit, Erwin told my mom of the angels who visited him each night. “They come and lie down on my bed, so I sleep in the chair so I won’t disturb them,” he told her. “Do you believe me?”
“Yes, I believe you Erwin,” she said. “I believe you.”
And I believe, too. Because at the end of our lives, we’ll have no choice but to follow and believe.