My uncle Hans

Post date 2012-07-24
Category Writings

There are times when you reflect upon mortality.

My uncle passed away today, at the age of 55. His life was spectacular and simple at the same time. I didn't know him well. When he was 16 he was in a traffic accident, rendering him mostly paralyzed and mentally disabled. By the time I came into the world and was old enough to meet him he was in his mid thirties. Mid thirty, but still with the mind of a 16 year old, my parents used to say. I remember him best from family holidays. I mainly met Hans on someones birthday, the days before Christmas, or in summer.

In my mind he was always laughing. He loved joking with my dad and his other siblings. Hans and the siblings did a lot of practical jokes - especially on their parents. I remember a certain coy look in granny's face when she told them to bugger off. She really liked it when they joked around like that. Pretending not to was part of the charade, but I don't think I got that until a lot later.

But my strongest memory of Hans is when he visited me for my birthday. I don't remember how old I was, but I do remember having gotten the Deep Freeze Defender that particular birthday. It was the most fantastic ship I had ever seen, and I wanted to show it to Hans. Not going to lie - it was scary. I'm a pretty short person in general, and back then I was tiny - I carried this huge LEGO space ship with two hands, and it was heavy. But I remember Hans lifting it in one end with his best hand (a feat that really impressed me), scrutinizing it and saying something. "Speak faster", my mother said - sometimes you had to remind him to articulate better in order to understand what he said.

"Wow", he said. "You built it yourself?"

And right there, it felt like I understood him for the first time. I connected with him, because yes - I had built it myself, and yes - I was darn proud of that. He knew that.

The last few years of his life - ten, maybe? - his health deteriorated rapidly. He had a few strokes. Stopped attending family holidays - he couldn't. All he could do was lie in bed. Last year he communicated by blinking - once for yes, twice for no (or whichever way it was). I didn't see him much, but his siblings and parents did. When he finally was remitted to the hospital for the last time I was unsure if I wanted to see him, knowing full well he'd be drugged out of his mind to ease the pain. I was afraid seeing him like that would remove the other memories.

But circumstances took me there, and I'm very happy I got to see him one last time. I didn't react the way I thought. I didn't get consumed by what he currently was - on the contrary. Suddenly the connection I had felt that birthday so long ago was vivid again. I remember what it was like to carry a huge LEGO spaceship you'd built yourself, and showing it to a scary man you couldn't quite understand... only to realize that he understood you perfectly. That you weren't different at all.

In the end, we're all going to die. Before that we might get broken and hampered. Never take health, love or anything for granted.

In theory it's an easy thing to remember. In practice it's the easiest thing to forget.