Dear Uncle L,

If I write this now, will I finally -- really and truly -- begin to accept that you are gone? Or is it that if I write this down, the memory of you will begin to fade as they seem to do once I've recorded my memories and emotions in the written word? Why do I procrastinate? Is it really such a difficult task? It is remembering. And letting go. Two familiar themes in my writings.

It is as if I am numb. Or some part of me is numb. Life goes on, yes. Work goes on, most definitely. Keeping busy is good. Very good. But for how long? I really did want to fly home and see you, you know. And time and again, I regret that I've moved so far from home, from my place of birth, the place that you returned to after having stayed away for a number of years yourself. You had your life. You were a traveller, a seeker, someone who wasn't afraid to go after what he wanted. And who studied and worked extremely hard to achieve his goals.

You said that I was like you. And maybe we were. Our birthdays were two days apart, after all. And I always liked -- even now that I'm a mature adult! -- your story that you always wished that I had been born on your birthday but I was two days late. And the fact that you encouraged me and was always very supportive of me. And you were proud of me when I published my first book. But I wasn't too much like you for I've always been afraid. And I saw you as bold and fearless until you shared with me that you were really shy but worked to overcome it. You didn't want me to hide in my cocoon.

Yes, it would have been nicer if we could have seen each other in person like we used to do when I was a child. You lived with us until you moved out when I was in my early teens, I think. But now, I am no longer a child. Life happens and we go with the flow, moving where the wind blows us or where we choose to go. Finding our way, losing our way, stumbling, back on track, trying to keep on the straight and narrow path.

You are gone. I know that. You died one day before I arrived. And there were things to tell you, things I wished I had told you earlier. I still don't know if that would have been wise but I will never know because I never told you anyway and you are gone forever from my life. From all our lives. And we loved you and we miss you. You were a comforting place to fall. Not that you were there when I fell many times in my life. But I liken your presence to that image, for some reason. Why? I'll tell you why.

You never judged me. You were always my ally. You were my uncle who was ten years older than me. You helped, encouraged, remembered my interests such as baking and ballet. You were not my father nor my brother. You were my uncle, a precious relationship, indeed, in my eyes. For that was my experience with you. It was as if you were always there, not in person but at least an e-mail away. When you first left the country all those years ago, we kept in touch through regular mail before there was such a thing as the Internet and electronic mail. You wrote to me. Long, newsy letters. You remembered me. Always. And we remembered each other's birthdays.

I wonder what your childhood was really like. From what I hear from my mother, it was not a very happy one. So let me write this story for you. Nothing fancy, maybe not even entirely true. But I wanted to capture a bit of your life in this simple tale. I wrote it when I found out that you had already passed away the day before. I wanted to see you. But I ended up visiting your grave with my mother, your older sister, someone who loved and cared about you too. I never got to see you during the last days of your life. The family reunion at our last Christmas gathering was the last time that I saw you. At least I got to see you then. You had mentioned earlier that you would be out of town as you usually were during the major holidays. But then you called. And you came to the dinner. And I remember you talking to me and teasing me, even playfully tapping me over the head lightly with an empty, plastic soda bottle. And I went "Ow." At least I have that memory. Strange, but true. Amazing, isn't it, what we hold on to. Or choose to hold on to.

And now for the story. I hope it is okay that I wrote it.



A Boy Called Simon

Once upon a time, there was a boy called Simon. He wasn't very strong; he was actually quite sickly as a baby but his older sister took care of him as if he were her own child. There was a huge age difference -- seventeen years -- so sometimes it seemed as if his older sister was more motherly than his own mother was. He was adopted as a baby as his foster parents wanted a boy. Later on, his own nephews and niece, with whom he grew up in the same household, didn't even know that Simon was adopted. He always just looked a little different but it was something they accepted. They only discovered it later in life but it didn't make any difference. Simon was a part of the family. Simon was family.

He was a skinny lad. He didn't have a strong physique but he had a huge and generous heart. He struggled at first until he was strong enough to stand on his own. And when he finally did, he never forgot the love and care given to him by his older sister and her husband (whom she later married when Simon was about five years old). They gave Simon direction and opportunities he never would have had.

And, in turn, he gave his niece -- his older sister's daughter -- a support and love that she treasured until the day he died.

And that day was yesterday.





Sorry for the abrupt ending. That was the last I wrote and there didn't seem to be anything else to say after that.

You were always Uncle L. to me, even though you underwent name changes at various times of your life. My brothers and I kept calling you Uncle L. amongst ourselves and whenever you visited us. It was not out of disrespect but because that was who you were. You were a colourful character, a renaissance man, even eccentric.

Yes, you were different, and it was not always easy to accept what you said or did. But then, that was you. And I certainly felt different. Maybe that was why we connected, why the relationship managed to flourish even in our adult years. You even said that I was your favourite niece. Dear Uncle L., I think I was your only niece. :)

Your illness ... your death ... so unexpected and so sudden. Why did it happen? Yes, I ask "Why?" But I also accept it for it's already happened. It happened and I can't change anything.

Can I tell you this now? Can I tell you what I wished I had wanted to tell you by your bedside at the hospital?

My brothers' teasing aside, I always felt safe with them. I do not wish to tarnish my father's memory -- for I know what he did to me even though you never knew -- but I need to say this because it's important to me. And because it's true. If I ever get to it.

And now I can't even e-mail you. I will miss that very much. You were only human with human frailties and you were not invincible. But it seemed as if you would always be there. Somewhere. In some part of the world. But always there, just a click of the mouse away, whether the reply was a few paragraphs or one or two lines. And then, of course, hoping that I would see you at our next family reunion dinner if I should visit again. But that will also never happen again.

Will what I'm about to say be enough? No, unfortunately it's never enough. But it will have to do for now. And I want to say it because it's long overdue and I never thought I would have a need to say it. But apparently I did. And I don't even think my own mother and brothers can truly understand it. Yes, you were my favourite uncle. But there was more to it than that. At least I can somewhat comfort myself that I called you at the hospital when I first found out. And we spoke for a very short while. But at least you knew that I called. I'm sorry that I was too late.

Uncle L., I always felt safe with you ... Thank you.







When you are sorrowful
look into your heart
and you shall see that
you are weeping
for that which has been
your delight

Kahlil Gibran




Celebrate his life




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