Ever since I was little, my mother told me stories of her youth. She told me of her sorrows, her joys and her mistakes. Some were meant to be lessons and others merely entertainment for a daughter who would not go to sleep. I knew my aunts and uncles quite well growing up, except for one unknown figure in a family photo from before I was born.
Uncle Larry was the eldest of my mother’s family and had joined the Navy when my mother was a child. After the Navy and marrying, his life kept him in California while ours’ was in Idaho. I had met the man twice in my childhood and all I could remember was that he reminded me of the Godfather.
In February of 2008, Larry came to town to visit. My aunts and uncle gathered with my mother to spend a day with him. Pictures were taken and stories shared, but time wound down for him to return home. That night a phone call came at our house. Larry had had an episode of pain in the car on the way to the airport and was rushed to the hospital. The doctors found Pancreatic Cancer.
An opportunity for me to go to see him after his first surgery arose and I jumped at it. We arrived at the Veteran’s Hospital in Salt Lake City just after Larry had been wheeled out of the OR.
His children and wife were still nowhere to be found.
I stood beside his bed, holding the hand of a stranger that I had only heard stories of. I was crying for a man that all I knew of him was a name. However my heart still hurt as if it were being ripped out with a spoon as I watched him lay in painful agony after his surgery. I could not understand why I felt this way. Day broke and he awoke to a room full of loving siblings. A couple of days passed filled with love, tears and stories. By the luck of the draw, I found myself alone with Larry for a moment.
“Why are you here?” He asked suddenly serious. “Kids your age would be out doing something else besides staying in a hospital room.”
“I am here to help you, Larry.” I replied with conviction.
“Why? You do not know me.” He countered, seemingly intrigued with my answer.
“True, but I don’t have to.” I answered after a moment of thought, squeezing his hand softly. “You are family. My family. I love you.”
My declaration surprised even myself. I had been turning it over in my head the last couple of days and I had realized that I had cared for my uncle. But love him? My mind could not wrap around the concept of loving someone who a person had only known for a pair of days. Larry’s eyes began to glisten and I was astounded to find that mine were too. He gripped my hand thoughtfully.
“ I love you too.” He whispered emotionally.
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