My great-uncle, Charles, died on Sunday. When my mom told me what happened, I immediately began to cry. Not because I was particularly close to him, in fact, it was probably because the opposite was true.
Charles was my grandmother's youngest sibling. He was only 50, which makes him only one year older than my father and two years older than my mom. He had a heart attack while working on his car. The father of one of his son's friend found him and called the ambulance, but they couldn't save him. We later found out that he had a small heart attack earlier in the week. He went to a doctor, but he wouldn't, or couldn't, go to the hospital. He didn't have health insurance or a lot of money, so he decided to just wait and see what happened.
I went home to my parent's house to stay with my mom and brother while my father was out of town at a trade show. I was playing cards with my mom and Will on Sunday night. My mom got a phone call, and I could immediately tell that something was wrong. When she got off the phone and told us what had happened, I started to cry. Part of the reason that it affected me so much was because of his children. Charles had one son, Tommy, who was fifteen years old. That's the same age as my brother. So I would think of Tommy losing his dad, and then I would think about my brother losing his father. He also had a son who wasn't his biologically, but that never mattered to Charles. He treated Curtis like he was his own. Curtis is only nineteen years old.
I thought a lot about Charles that night and the next day. I would start crying every time. Some of it because I thought about him being alone when he had the heart attack. And some because I kept thinking about Tommy and Curtis. I was okay during the visitation on Tuesday night, but the grave-side service on Wednesday was a different story.
The service started with my grandmother reading something that my aunt, Kelly, had written. It was beautiful and moving and of course, it made me cry. My uncle also spoke about Charles. Both Kelly and Bryan always seem to know exactly what to say. But I really began to get upset when two of Charles' friends got up to speak.
I dont' remember exactly what either one of them said, but I will always remember how I felt while they were speaking. Hearing all of the stories that they told and everything that they knew about Charles made me sick. These two men knew him better than I ever did and ever would. That was one of the worst feelings that I have ever felt. These two men who had known him for a shorter amount of time than me and weren't related to him, they knew him better than I did. I felt like an awful person because I never made an effort to get to know him. I will always regret that I never got to know this wonderful man they called Charlie.
It wasn't often that I would get a chance to see Charles. He would usually be there on holidays. And sometimes he would be there when I would actually make time to be at my grandmother's on Monday nights when she would cook dinner for the whole family. Even though I would only see him a few times a year, I still never made an effort to talk to him and get to know him at all. I always thought he was a little strange, because he would always hand out his business card to me and engage me in weird conversations, like one about some chemical that would eventually kill us all. This is one of the few memories that I have of Charles.
I'm angry and jealous that these men know him better than I ever will. I feel like I don't know him at all. I had no idea that he had such a generous heart and giving soul. The stories they told made me cry, not only because I didn't know him like that, but because I would never get to know him like that. They spoke about all of the things that he would do for those around him. They talked about his extreme love for his sons. Of course, I knew that he loved them, but I never fully understood their relationship. I knew that he was extremely strong in his faith and love for God, and for that I am thankful. My grandmother and her brother and sisters decided not to have a preacher lead the service because they didn't want to have someone up there talking about Charles when they didn't even know him. I think that makes a lot of sense and I think that it made the service really special. I just wish that I had known Charles enough to have been able to say something about him.
I guess the lesson that Charles' death has really brought home is that you don't know how many chances you will have to get to know someone, so you need to take advantage of all the time you have with someone. My sister said that she was thankful that she had taken some time during Christmas to talk to Charles. I wish that I could say the same. But I do know that I won't make the same mistake with other members of my family. I won't waste any more chances to get to know and love those around me. I won't brush off people anymore because I am too busy. I won't ignore the ringing phone because I'm doing something else. I won't skip family dinners on Mondays because I want to get home to watch tv or go out with friends. I can't wait until the day that I see Charles again in heaven so that I can thank him for helping me to see what I need to do and to get to know the wonderful man known as Charlie.
**I know that alot of this doesnt' make sense and I'm not so great with the whole putting feelings into words thing, but this is something that I needed to do. Thanks for listening. You can put my bill in the mail.**