Exactly two weeks ago, my beloved and favorite uncle sat down and hand wrote me a lovely two-page letter. He included, as he often did, an article of interest from the local paper. Then he mailed it, drove to a deserted parking lot, put a gun to his chest and pulled the trigger. And while I wonder if he aimed perfectly at his heart, I also wonder why he would never want to see his granddaughter’s face, taste the sweetness of a fresh-picked strawberry or even hear my voice on the phone again.

Aging is as hard as growing up once was. There is no vade mecum to tell you how. You stumble, fall and brush yourself off ad infinitum. You just have to keep going and learn how to take the curves. That mindset was especially hard for my uncle who had always been an avid and highly competitive athlete. Too many botched hip and shoulder surgeries later, he was a shuffling shell of himself and he knew it. Plastic surgeons are skilled at raising our faces, but it is our minds that need the real ‘lift.’  In the end, that is something that only we can do.

The only real way to prepare a ‘face for the faces that you meet’ is to strengthen your inner thoughts. Bench press your brain when your limbs fail you. Pull up your focus on the beauty of today. T. S. Eliot said, “April is the cruelest month,” but I choose to find it the loveliest—even now–as spring begins to unfold after a too, long winter. Dogwood flowers burst into bloom from the backyard and daffodils shake their heads in the breeze out front. It is hard to find spring when the mind is mired in darkness. We are our thoughts. Ultimately, they become our actions. May you make them ones you want to embrace, not erase.


5 thoughts on “EMBRACE OR ERASE

  1. Dear Helen,

    I am so sorry for the shocking departure of your uncle.

    Walter, a seemingly fit 82 year old familiar face in the neighborhood, recently shot himself in the desert by his house.

    He lived alone but was surrounded by neighbors who considered him a close friend and many of us enjoyed his company on the regular morning walks with our dogs.

    It happened just before Christmas and the neighborhood was in shock. To counter the gloom, neighbors rallied with holiday parties and evening caroling stopping for warming drinks along the way. But it haunted us….how did we not have a clue…….couldn’t we have intervened… etc.

    I think you are spot on…..a kind of Zen mental discipline is necessary when losing what was enjoyable and fulfilling most of our life.

    But it’s not easy. Take care, Love, Candace


  2. Helen I am so sorry to read this. I suppose he wanted to be the master of his fate, but how hard and cruel for his loved ones to have to accept this…..
    Liz Schafer-Orme 74


  3. Helen,

    How sad, and am so sorry to hear about your uncle. My family experienced a similar loss about 15 years ago when my brother in law took his life at 50. The shock and feeling that we could have done more lingered for many years. I eventually realized that the desperation he felt was his own pain, so deep that he couldn’t expose or share it with anyone. His decision was an act of folding in on himself to the point where he couldn’t imagine or consider the impact on family and others who loved him.

    My parents taught me much about aging, and that getting older and losing our physical capacity to enjoy activities doesn’t mean we have to disengage from life. We just readjust to the new realities and stay busy in different ways. After my father passed away, my mom became active with the North County Interfaith Services, volunteering as a coordinator who interviewed people to help direct them to needed services (shelter, counseling, job support, etc.). After working there for a couple of months, she told me, “You know, we are never so alone that there isn’t a soul who doesn’t care. Doing something that helps others has helped me heal from the loneliness I felt after your father passed away.” No matter our circumstances, there’s always someway to reach out and take our thoughts off ourselves.

    Lovely comments about April being a month of rebirth and renewal. With that, I’ll leave one of my favorite T.S. Eliot quotes:

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

    Love and happy spring, Bekki Wood


  4. Am so sorry for your loss Helen…may all his memories soothe your heart during difficult times! Hugs from afar….Dana Talkington


  5. Dear Helen,
    Thank you for expressing in such caring terms about your uncle Buzz who loved you as a special person in his life. i am so glad you were here for his memorial. I hope to see you soon in happier circumstances. Love, Great Aunt Dixie


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