I sit here with a heavy heart because my uncle passed away last week.
He was my mother’s older and only sibling, and she thought he was the greatest thing in the whole world. In the eyes of many, he was. He was a great father to four amazing sons. He was an eye surgeon who healed many. He was a devoted husband who did whatever his wife asked him to do. But to me, he was the man who was connected to my mother, to my grandparents. To me, he was the cool uncle who lived in the city, who loved to ski and travel, where my mom was afraid of heights and to go on an airplane.
He and my mom had the same walk, a walk that unfortunately I think I might have inherited as well. They shared the same blue eyes and similar mannerisms. (Though my first cousins all are amazing skiers and my mom was afraid to let any of us cross the street by ourselves — but that is for another column altogether.)
My mother was determined to have my brother’s bar mitzvah in Israel, and it was my uncle and his family who came with us on that trip, and the trip before that one, to London and Paris, which was my mother’s “practice flight.” I still can hear my aunt yelling at my first cousin to slow down and remember to drive on the other side of the road when we went to Stonehenge. And my uncle knew everything about everything — history, geography, opera, he drank it in and would teach anyone who would listen. He and my dad could sit for hours speaking of topics that would put anyone else to sleep.
Last summer, when my dad was in the hospital, it was my uncle and aunt who came to visit so often. To give us comfort. To be there for his sister, my mom. The irony has not been lost on me.
My uncle’s passing got me thinking about siblings. Many people say that they are our first friends. We learn to play well with others by learning to play with our siblings. My uncle was five years older than my mom; I am not sure how much they played together because of the age difference. Just like with my sister, who is six years my senior (who didn’t let me into her room) and husband #1’s sister, who is seven years his senior (he didn’t want to go into her room). (We both have younger brothers, in case any of you are interested. Yes, we are both middle children.)
I felt so blessed when I had all of my boys close in age, because they were going to be able to have a relationship that not everyone gets to have with their siblings. And even when they were fighting with each other and chasing each other around yelling and screaming, I would just stand there and say, “One day they will be best friends, one day they will be best friends.”
That is what we wish for our children. We give birth to them, bring them into this world, and hope that their common bond will keep them close. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. I have said so many times that I really and truly hope that those families that from the outside appear to be really close, appreciate what they have. That they all can go away for a weekend together. That they can even go out to dinner together during the week for no reason at all. Nothing should be taken for granted.
People are different, and since siblings are people, those relationships can be very complicated. But no matter what came between my mom and her brother, she always loved him and he loved her. They respected each other, and she just adored him. (I am assuming it was reciprocal, but I never asked him.)
As for me, it was hard to see my uncle so uncomfortable when he was in the hospital. It was hard to see my cousins and their families so sad and to see my aunt without her life partner. But that is what happens, unfortunately.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the start of a new year, may God bless us all with good health, with the ability to forgive, and with a year filled only with blessings.
Banji Ganchrow’s son #3 just read this and said, “Mom, you are a humor columnist, this was really depressing!” Back to humor next week…