For the past several years I’ve worked hard to ensure that my children know my family. My sisters and parents all live 700 plus miles away, which has made it a challenge at times. So, we make the trip up north at least once and typically two or three times a year to play and visit. At one point my ex-wife and I even moved everyone up to Buffalo for six months to make sure a connection would be made. All told, the benefits have been enormous. The relationships my children have with their aunts and uncles are something they will carry with them the rest of their lives and their memories with them are too numerous to mention.
Today I find myself helping guide them through the first negative that comes with having a strong relationship with a relative; having to saying goodbye. The passing of my brother-in-law Paul has been nothing short of a strong blow to the gut and we are all feeling the impact. This is the first loss we’ve had within our immediate little circle and my sisters, parents and I are all in a state of shock. And as usual, my kids are watching. They’re watching me talk on the phone with my family. They’re watching me break down in front of the dairy section at Kroger. They’re watching me stare off into space as I try to make sense of it all. And they’re watching me do laundry and clean the kitchen as I deal with the day to day operations of our lives which simply don’t stop.
The children lost an uncle and I a big brother. He was the husband of my eldest sister and he influenced me in more ways than I care to mention. He was a teacher, a photographer, a carpenter and a business owner. He probably taught me as much about life as my own father did as he was a part of my world from the age of
three. He encouraged my sense of humor, taught me to play pool, helped me build my first bookshelf and helped me chop down my first Christmas tree. My kids of course are full of questions. And they have all requested to make the trip north with me to say goodbye and be there with the rest of my family.
And so, we will make this trip together. As much as I want to protect them from pain, there are life lessons that can’t be avoided no matter how much we try. This week they will no doubt cry and feel a pain that until now has
been foreign to them. They will see others, including their father, struggle to make sense of their uncle’s passing. But at some point in their life they will have to say goodbye to someone and if there is any comfort to be found in all of this, it is that they will do so within a supportive circle. A circle they’ve spent the past several years becoming a more integral part of with every visit. They will need hugs and need to hug. But along with their pain, they will know the value of being a part of a family they are now completely vested in.
As a man who has made an art out of keeping people at arm’s length (including my family at times); teaching my children to open themselves up to hurt by opening themselves up to love has proven to be a daunting task. But just knowing how much they have learned from knowing Paul and the rest of my family, knowing how much laughter and joy they have experienced from being around them throughout these past several years; I myself have reflected on how much can be gained from making ourselves vulnerable. Paul taught us all a great deal. And as one friend put it, even in passing, he’s managed to find a way to teach one final valuable lesson. How to say goodbye.