A Grand Absurdity of Existence

Within the last five minutes of my uncle’s life, I spoke with him on the phone.

I suppose it’s more accurate to say I spoke at him.  I was with my mother at the time, and my father, who was at his brother’s side, called us when it seemed as though he might finally die.  It was to give us one final chance to say our last words to him, whether he heard them or not.  I had been prepared for his death for a long time, but on the phone, I was dumbstruck.  I could only squeak out, “Bye, Uncle Bob,” and I said this over and over.  I could say nothing else.  I’m not sure I could’ve counted to ten if asked.

My mother, who, bless her heart, is a apparently more eloquent, managed to say, “Say ‘hi’ to Dad for me when you get there.  You say ‘hi’ to my father for me.”

And that was that.  As far as I know, other than those at his side when he died (his siblings, his wife, his children, and probably a doctor or nurse), my mother and I were the last two people to speak to Bob.  On the phone, of all things.

Consider the journey a man makes:  When he is born, he is surrounded by a cast of characters – a mother, a father, a doctor… moments later: brothers, sisters, and grandparents.  Those are the most important people in his life.  As he grows up, the circle of important people expands to include friends and teachers.  But with time, teachers come and go, as do friends, and in spite of whatever lasting influence they might have, they leave the narrative of his life.

The cast of characters shifts.  With age comes tragedy, but with tragedy is joy.  Grandparents leave, but children arrive.  Teachers leave, professors arrive.  Coworkers come and go, lovers come and go.  Nieces and nephews replace aunts and uncles.  Colleagues replace colleagues.   Except for a few friends and my family, everyone who is important to me today I didn’t even know a mere three years ago.  God willing, those friends and family will be with me for a long time to come.  But everyone else?  Who knows.

My uncle was born and lived a life, and that life included parents and grandparents, teachers, friends, siblings, and colleagues.  I didn’t join his life until he was more than halfway done with it, and when I did, I was one nephew out of many.  I saw him most summers and occasionally other times of year, but on the whole, in the great novel of his life, I am a footnote.

And yet, the sands of faces were sifted through the filters of time, and somehow my mother and I were left privileged at his book’s end.  Truth be told, my mother was a very important part of his life, but myself?  It’s as if I popped out of the eternal cosmos at the last second to wish him a good passing.  How did I get there?  How did I, of all people, deserve to be there on the phone with my uncle at his final moment?  Out of the hundreds of people that were more important to him throughout his life than I, how did the right find me and not someone else?  Chance?  Coincidence?

I am thankful for this, but the fortune of being among the few called upon to end his final page is a privilege I accept with confusion and humility.

I know who is important to me in my life, and I can pinpoint the main characters of my life’s story looking back.  But, looking forward, I have absolutely no idea who will be talking to me on the phone as I breathe my final breaths.  As far as I know, they haven’t even been born yet.

It kind of makes this… whatever this is… absurd.  On of the many Grand Absurdities of Existence, I suppose.

About Doctor Quack

Just another bonehead with an internet connection.
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20 Responses to A Grand Absurdity of Existence

  1. these are interesting thoughts, and necessary to ponder in my mind. At one of my relatives funerals, I was astonished that her anxiety at the end of her life was ‘But was I a good Christian’. It astonished me that it wasn’t the same anxiety I have, ami a good mother, daughter, friend. It is humbling to have a sense of someones life, at the end of it.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Before my grandmother died, we asked her what her largest regret was. She said, “I regret not drinking more water.”

      Perhaps trivialities are what matter most. That’s not to say being a good Christian is trivial, necessarily, but in the context of being family and friend, good Christian or not, peoples’ lives around you are no more or less touched.

  2. lydiarocks says:

    This “absurdity” is what makes our lives more interesting. We look forward to what’s gonna happen in the future. Everyday, we are experiencing new things, meeting new people, living a life. Be sure to hang on to the people who matters the most to you 🙂

  3. larissa says:

    What lovely post.

  4. Jane says:

    Poignant, both your uncle’s passing and your post.

  5. a very touching story indeed :).

  6. corlosky says:

    Your posts always makes me think. Not usually about anything new, but about things I’ve already thought a great deal about, generally at three in the morning when I can’t sleep and I begin contemplating life. This is one of those topics. Just finishing my first year of college, I’ve already seen some changes in the cast around me. Friends have left. Family members have passed on. I’ve also gained a large chunk of people in my life. I often wonder who will be the next to go or to join.

    You have a wonderful writing style, and you always choose deep, thought-provoking topics. As much as your posts often take me down a notch or two, I love them too much to avoid them. Thank you for posting 🙂

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Thank you, and it’s a pleasure. I often try to be more cheerful, as topics such as these can be a real downer, and all too often whatever cheer might come of a depressing topic is overshadowed. Hopefully I’ll write something funny next time.

      • corlosky says:

        Believe me, I’ve gotten a few laughs out of several of your posts. And though this post really struck a chord with me, it didn’t leave me feeling depressed at all. More just pensive. It’s… refreshing that you don’t avoid these topics. They get me to push pause and reflect, and I often come away with a better view of myself or of life in general. Even if you don’t post something funny, you won’t be losing a follower in me.

  7. Rick Bailey says:

    Wonderfully written, Dr. Q. You probe a troubling question here: What do we make of the events of our lives (or deaths, for this post)? How do we come to terms with what happens to us through life?

    You witnessed the end of your uncle’s life, but are perplexed to understand why. Was there a reason? I think there was. Will you ever know what it was? Maybe so, maybe not. We are deceived by our own perspective – necessarily self-centric – into thinking that we should be able to plot each event we experience onto a graph that will reveal a hidden purpose, a statistical trend, or a moment of clarity if we consider the data long enough. In these situations, I think the truth is that the event wasn’t about us. We were minor players, and our understanding isn’t essential. What does matter is what we do in the moment. Our character and subsequent actions are paramount. What code guides our behavior in the face of eternity?

    I love your writing Dr. Q. Thanks for being so honest about your life, and for recording your thoughts so effectively.

  8. foolswords says:

    One word: WOW!!
    Okay, that was a couple of exclamation marks extra. You pen this down perfectly, nuff said. Seriously, I’m lost for words right here right now by the grand scale of your honesty and how you look at life through one’s death. Maybe your confusion will end one day, some day, when you’re on a bed like your uncle.
    Thanks for this epic writing!

  9. Pink Ninjabi says:

    My deepest sympathies to your family, and kudos to this amazing blog post. I forgot to add that this is one of those things we get to experience as we move older. It teaches us to be unafraid somehow, that it all ends with a few breaths, and thus we must live it with whatever we have left.

    Peace be upon you,


  10. Barbara Yasui says:

    Nephew Jeff,
    Your blog post moved me deeply. One of the good things to come out of Bob’s illness & death was that it brought me closer to family members and friends. You were one of those people. Yes, we spent many summers together at Sunriver and saw each other at various family events, but I never really had a sense of who you were. It was mainly my fault that I never took the time to get to know you–I thought of you as a “kid”, one of my many nieces and nephews, and I didn’t bother to look beyond that label. But during the trauma of last year, I came to realize what a sensitive and loving person you are (I hope I’m not embarrassing you by saying this so publicly). Your visits, your posts, your little gifts, all touched me.
    Don’t downplay your importance to Bob’s life–you were much more than a “footnote”. It was not chance or coincidence that you were there during his final moments–you were meant to be there, and I’m glad that you were.
    Love, Aunt Barb

  11. dtangle says:

    Well written. Very Tuedays with Morrie-ish. (:

  12. iWee says:

    Very fascinating and touching reading…

  13. aver1 says:

    i cannot add anything to what you have so eloquently expressed or what is written in the comments. thank you for writing such a thought provoking post…

  14. Awesome, poignant, profound…..and much much more.
    “Life is a theater, choose your audience wisely”

  15. Pingback: The Perk of Pteromerhanophobia | Doctor Quack

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