“It’ll just be Nana, Uncle Pete, and the cockroaches at the end of the world.”
That’s what we all used to say. It was a testament to how much both my grandmother and my great uncle had been through. All that they had survived. The places they had not only lived in, but somehow thrived in, for so many years. It was our way of expressing just how impossible it seemed that either of them could die.
But the way that something seems is not always the way that it is. And I guess we all had to learn that the hard way.
I learned that Uncle Pete had passed away when I called my grandmother on Oct. 22, 2021.
“Uncle Pete passed away Wednesday night,” she spoke.
But that was two days ago.
And I hadn’t even known it.
There was no sudden feeling that something was wrong. There was no strange need to pick up the phone and call. There was nothing at all.
And at that moment, above all else, that felt the most wrong.
I had gone on living while a man I had known for my entire life was dying.
And for two days afterward I continued to be the girl who had a living great uncle.
Except I didn’t.
And how exactly does that make any sense?
My boyfriend and I headed down to where Pete had lived the day after we learned about his death.
And looking at my great uncle’s side of the home he shared with my grandparents made me feel colder than I ever have before.
Because from him reading my Children’s Planet Earth Encyclopedia with me, to showing up at my birthday party to give me a present I had only mentioned liking once, Pete was a huge part of my childhood and I never even realized it until he was gone.
And in my entire life, I have never felt a greater grief than in that moment where I was struck with the realization that I was learning more about a man when he was gone than I ever had when he was alive.
And every time I walked around on his side that became more and more clear.
Upon entering Pete’s side of the house, I was immediately greeted by the sight of what he referred to as the “Dart Room,” which he had made a sign for long ago. It hung just inside of his door, reading “Peatman Dart Room, There Is No Escape.”
It was both heartwarming and heartbreaking to know that Uncle Pete and I shared a similar sense of humor.
Nothing was the same about that house now that Pete was gone.
And Pete being gone was impossible to deny.
Because he left so many things behind.
His cane hung limp and alone on the porch, the wood worn away from years and years of use.
His books laid in stacks on the floor, where they would remain forever.
His paintings hung quietly on the walls, now showing the art of a man who once was, rather than
a man who still is.
His writings on the walls that showed his every thought, feeling, and happy moment were now
screaming louder than they ever had before.
Because they were all that was left of his mind that we could still see.
Finding a picture I had made for him hung up with those words, finding my name and date of
birth on that wall, and learning it was the first thing he had ever written on it.
It shattered me.
Because somehow, we had both meant more to each other than we had realized.
But one of us would never know.
And by far the worst thing for me to see in all of that cold, dusty house, was the calendar thathung beside his door.
Because that damn calendar had every single day that had passed marked off on it.
Every day except for the day that Pete had passed away.
And I was suddenly struck with the fact that with Pete never coming home again
His house would be stuck in Oct. 20, 2021, forever.
And so would he.
Rest In Peace Uncle Pete,
I love you tremendously despite how infrequently I had the chance to say it.
And I promise that Alice in Wonderland will always be my favorite movie.
-Your grand niece