The day my uncle died was graduation at my work. It was a big day for everyone. It was mid-March, and weeks of practice and preparation were coming to their end. I left my phone in my desk that morning. The ceremony was touching. Students cried and celebrated, another step taken in their young lives. Somewhere between the beginning of that day and the final farewells to my students, my uncle died electrocuted. He was a worker for Mexico’s state-run power company.
I found out by messages my mom sent me. I called to check up. I talked for a little while. And then the day ran its course. The school’s staff held a celebratory lunch after the kids left, and I went back home later that day. The one thing I remember immediately doing back home is checking the last messages between my uncle and me. I was unsure if I had responded, and I was paralyzed at the notion of having silence as my final interaction. His last message to me had been a happy birthday wish. I responded with “thanks. love you too.” I let out a deep exhale.
People have their own coping mechanisms. There are people that initiate an incessant flow of social media posts in remembrance of the departed. There are others that try to come to an understanding of things through self-expression. Whatever the course, it’s difficult and paradoxically easy for the spectator to attach a value of love that was held between the grieving and the gone. I write this because I developed a strange fixation on the the reactions people had on Facebook, one of the only mediums that constantly reminded me of what had happened. I’ve fallen into the selfish, vicious trap of comparing my response to others’ while simultaneously judging myself and them. I’ve oscillated between the useless argument of whose is the more genuine reaction. And this thorny thought process has been prolonged and exacerbated by legal issues surrounding my uncle’s testament. I haven’t directly had to face any of the problems—another effect of having the ocean between you and home—but the complexities of family, greed, and grief have all stained my view of one’s capacity to look beyond materialistic desire despite the loss of life.
I haven’t cried yet because it feels forced. But I think grief’s methodology is affected by distance in combination with your person. Nothing changed around me to relay the information that my uncle had died. Everything was normal. And when tragedy strikes home while you’re in a faraway place, it’s easy and even comforting to wrap your environment around you. I only told a couple of friends on the island, and that was helpful. But I can’t help but fear a return home where my lack of palpable emotion might follow. Maybe when I go back it’ll hit me. Or maybe I’ll feel the same strange, incomprehensible, intangible dissonance between what was there when I left and what is there now.
I think I’m new to grief. This is the closest it has hit me, but it happened in a fiercely abstract manner. I don’t think I’ll be able to put the two pieces together for a while.
I can’t overstate how much happiness my uncle gave me. He was always a goofball, and he taught me the importance of not taking yourself too seriously. I try to put that lesson to use every day at school. I think the kids appreciate my silliness, and I can’t help but reciprocate any form of joking or teasing they throw at me. I’m glad it’s not my job to lay down the hammer when they get out of line.
My uncle gave me my first Nintendo 64. He introduced me to WWE. He would wrestle with me and let me win sometimes. His favorite move was John Cena’s FU. He played with me and Scooby, my first dog, countless times. He taught me how to use my middle finger and how to say bad words. He was tall, so I would sit on his shoulders while he walked around the yard. I could touch the branches and crevices that were otherwise unreachable. He used to give me one hundred dollars every Christmas. When I was in second grade and told him I liked a girl, he would incessantly tease me about her every time I saw him, even a decade later. He was once thrown in jail by U.S. Customs and Borders Protection because he didn’t want to waste the time required to take out a permit to cross the border and instead have more time during his visit to see me. He had a short temper, but I never remember being on the receiving end of it.
The last time I saw my uncle was pure happenstance. I was in Mexico for my last day, and I had decided to go out and buy some trinkets to bring back to Japan. The sun was setting, and I decided to go to the harbor and have a stroll. Midway there, I heard a honk. He was waving at me from his car across the street. I stopped and he made a u-turn to pick me up. He told me he had gone to see me at home but that my mom had told him I was out for a walk. So he decided to try his luck and drive around to look for me, he said.
“Vi a un flacucho caminando y pensé este es el Héctor,’” he said.
We talked a little in the car. He drove me home and then we talked a little back there. Like most final things, I don’t remember any full conversations. I can’t be sure of our last words, nor can I even recall what stories I told him, if any, of my time abroad so far. I thought the future held those moments for us.
The only thing I’m sure of is that at some point I said “I love you” and that I gave him a hug.
2 thoughts on “Loss at a Distance”
I Love you so Much mijo!
No sabes cuanto me sacudiste con esto! Pero el nos dejó muchos buenos recuerdos! Era mi Hermanito al que yo tenia que cuidar porque era muy travieso!!!! Pero tenía UN GRAN CORAZÓN ❣. El te ADORABA. por eso lo escogí como tu padrino. Porque sabia que el era el indicado en hacerse cargo de ti! Si yo faltaba!
TE AMO! Cuídate siempre! Te extrañamos!!!♥️
This is beautiful Héctor. It made me think of my abuelita Chepa and inspired me to write something to honor her memory as well. Grief is crazy. Thank you for sharing this.