My favorite uncle, David, went into a coma last weekend and has since come out of it enough to recognize friends and relatives. His liver is completely shot (cirrhosis), he has congestive heart failure, and this week they discovered so much cancer in his body that the doctors have no idea where it started. Uncle David was a hard drinker, large eater, passionate storyteller, prankster, and born-again Christian of a particularly obscure sect, though his religious faith seemed to serve more as a cudgel with which he beat---or damned--himself rather than as a framework for creating a more 'meaningful' life, here on earth. He is downright Augustinian in his disgust of earthly existence, in general, and of his own gargantuan, earth-bound appetities, in particular. He doesn't have long to live now, though, so I hope he's letting go of some of this self-hate, as he gets closer to moving on.
When I was a kid, he pulled pennies out of my ear and would send either me or one of my siblings off to run up to one of our other southern relatives to pull down their collar and ask, "can I see your red neck?" On the telephone with my mom--who converted to Judaism when she married my dad--he'd ask, "Now, Linda, your kids are Jews, ain't they?" A mischevious question--coming from him--that I always felt ambivalent about. Uncle David loves me, though, and I, him. So, this weekend, I am flying down to New Orleans to visit him in hospice. Oddly, I feel a great deal of joy at the prospect of getting the chance to say "goodbye," (this has a lot to do with the far more difficult experience of my father's death, which I've written about, before.) but I'm going to miss him when he's gone.
UPDATE: It turns out that the hospital lab made an error, so that Uncle David does NOT have cancer. Unfortunately, it's probably a moot point.