Fly Fisherman, Fly

(Cross-posted at Straight From the Bottle)

I do well with death. I have been to many funerals. I have buried two friends already this year and will be attending a third funeral next weekend. Girl that I grew up with. Another car accident. I occasionally lose the children I work with. I can handle it. I barely ever cry.

But this has been different. This is family. And driving down to San Diego, I could barely see the road through my tears.

My uncle has suffered from bladder cancer for several years, in and out of remission, mainly, but cancer has a way of coming back. I got the call Thursday that he wasn't going to make it much longer.

"You need to come now," my mother said. "Come say goodbye."

My family is very close. My cousins are like sisters. My uncle is as close as I have ever had to another father. I grew up riding his horses and holding his waist on the back of his Indian motorcycle, rolling my eyes when he tried to trick me into eating bacon made from boar he shot himself.

"Never in a million years."

"Psh", he would say, "Vegetarian."

I thought I would be able to hold it together because that is what I'm usually good at-- being helpful in a crisis. Being strong. But when I walked into my uncle's hospital room, Archer resting on my shoulder, I broke down. When I held my uncle's warm, strong hand, I couldn't not turn away and sob in Archer's hair.

That was before he went fishing.

High on morphine, he decided he wanted to fly fish, so he arched his eyebrows and drew back his imaginary rod and cwooooooshhhh... I could almost hear the lure breaking the glassy water. He let go of the line (my hand) and checked (my fingers) his tackle box for bait.

The hospital room was quiet, as my uncle looked on, even Archer sat kindly in my lap for several moments before the nurses came in and with them, more family and friends to hold his hand. I let go and walked out in the hall, toward the elevator and past the maternity ward, where my best friend from childhood gave birth one week ago.

One of my cousins was married this morning, in her father's hospital room so he could be there to give her away. I got to play wedding planner-- buy her a white linen dress and shoes and her fiancee a shirt to match. My aunt made their flower arrangements out of flowers from her garden and my Nana brought Moet and made bellinis. A friend ministered the service outside the window of my uncle's room so he could watch. Because the wedding is in August and he won't be able to make it, even though my cousin said to him, "You'll be there Daddy. You'll be there looking over all of us."

To which he nodded and sighed. "Yeah, Erica. I'll be there."


The whole family is here, now. We're holding hands and we're laughing and Erica is in her white linen dress from this morning's wedding and the flowers from the bouquets are in water. And we stand around my uncle, holding hands-- my cousin Yvette and her new baby, Anushka, in the sling across her chest and my aunt, combing my uncle's hair with her fingers. Archer's chasing my father outside, their red shirts darting back and forth through the hospice window and one by one, we tell my uncle that we love him and we're here.

And he smiles and opens his eyes and looks at all of us and when we kiss him he kisses back and now and then he goes back to fly fishing, casting his rod toward the end of the bed, where his daughters sit and my Nana.

"Did you get a good one?" we ask.

He shakes his head and tries again as the family closes in around him and suddenly this doesn't feel like death at all. This feels like life. The room tightens with the flexed muscle of the human spirit and all its empowerment and love. Hands clasp together like a chain. Sisters embrace.

And we stay by my uncle's bed through the afternoon and the night, watching a master fly fisherman cast his imaginary rod toward the vases of Stargazer lillies, our fading voices rooting him on always, even after he catches his fish and goes to fly.

My uncle passed away the morning of May 9th, 2007. He was 54-years-old.


Femme Fontanelle | 5:52 AM

Shit, I feel for you and your lovely family. Your words speak straight to my heart. My Uncle is too very ill, though I lost the man I knew some year ago as his affliction is M.S, so his mind was gone a long time ago. When I moved to Australia from England, I knew that among other things, it meant that I would not be at his funeral, nor share his last moments.

I am so glad for you that you could be there with your Uncle to watch him fly-fish and give his daughter away. Those moments are so precious, not just now, but a for a long time in the future, they will remain beautiful memories. Thank you so much for sharing and reminding me of the important things in life.x

Fairly Odd Mother | 5:59 AM

My heart aches as I read this. How beautiful to be able to have had the wedding for him. I can just see him fishing from his bed.

It also brings back the memory of me walking in with my 3-day-old son to see my father, who was also in a hospital bed and had never expected to live long enough to see his first grandson. Those hands reaching out to stroke my son's soft head, the tears in his eyes, the way his voice quivered, I'll never forget any of it.

barbara | 7:56 AM

Thinking of you and your family. You guys are lucky to have each other. And like you said, rejoice in life.

Scar | 9:21 AM

wow..that was beautiful. I'm glad you are there and i love you.

BOSSY | 9:44 AM

Oy, so sorry. Cancer sucks ass. As do car accidents. Bossy has attended too many funerals lately herself and it's wearing her out. She's not sure she likes this Life Cycle business. Hugs to your family.

Anonymous | 4:24 PM

hugs to you and your family. you have showed us that there can be beauty even in death, when it brings everyone so close together and fully able to recognize what is truly important in life.
thank you for sharing that with us. love ya. pascale.

Anonymous | 5:28 PM

I don't know you, but I'm sitting here bawling from your beautiful words. I know death and pain, too, and you have made those two things beautiful. I'm so glad you were able to have such tender moments with your uncle and family. The wedding description was the most touching thing I've read in a really long time. Thank you for sharing with us.

Wood | 5:29 PM

So, so sorry for your loss.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

Amy | 9:49 PM

I'm so sorry you are losing someone you love so much.

You are so blessed to be able to tell him goodbye in this way.

I wish I'd been able to do that with my dad.

Thinking of you and praying for all who loves this man.

Anonymous | 4:56 AM

I'm so sorry for your loss. Sadly, I know what it's like to lose a relative to the slow and horrible death that is cancer.

In the time to come, you'll be so happy that you were there with him in his last hours. It's the best thing you could have done for him, and for yourself.

Hang in there. Hugs.

Anonymous | 5:28 AM

Well, if you don't usually cry at death, I sure made up for it when reading this post. I wish him many calm, clear days on the lake and loads of biting fish.

merseydotes | 6:15 AM

I am so sorry for your loss.

I hope your beautiful writing helps you get through this rough time.

Karen Bodkin | 6:23 AM

Thank you Rebecca. Through blurry eyes, I gotta say, I love you.

karrie | 7:40 AM

What a beautiful tribute.

He looks like a very kind and fun guy in the photographs below.

Anonymous | 10:58 AM

I'm so sorry. What a beautiful post... he would be honored.

Anonymous | 12:19 PM

So beautiful, this tribute to him. What a delightful man.

I'm so sorry.

Anonymous | 3:31 PM

You write to beautifully - thats about all I can type right now through the tears. My deepest condolences for what you and your family are going through. Rebecca

Anonymous | 4:52 PM

Pass me the tissues too...What a beautiful memory to have, and what an incredible man to recieve such care and love in his last moments. Love you much...D

Anonymous | 5:22 PM

beautiful. I'm sorry for your losss.

karengreeners | 5:44 PM

He sounds wonderful. I'm so sorry.

PunditMom | 7:07 PM

I'm so sorry for your family to be on the verge of losing someone who sounds so wonderful. It doesn't make it any easier, I know, but we're thinking of you. He sounds like a wonderful uncle.

Anonymous | 11:58 PM

Aw, I'm so sorry. I love you! This is the most well written tribute I've ever read!


Love to all of you for your warmth and kindness.

Anonymous | 5:51 AM

Your words really touched me. I lost both my uncle and grandma to cancer within 6 months of each other. It was so hard. But you're right, when you're there with the person, it's not about death. It's about life. A celebration of the life they've lived and the little life they have left.

Stargazer | 8:07 AM

So sorry to hear about your uncle. I think it's a blessing that you are all able to be there with him in the end (just as much for you guys as for him) It's interesting though to me as this is the second time in two months I have heard about a man fishing towards the end. I just think it's so beautiful to be thinking you are out on the lake and not in the hospital. You write so eloquently about subjects that are so deep. What a gift.

Binky | 10:26 AM

I'm so sorry for your loss. And grateful for the eloquence of your perspective.

pixie sticks | 1:22 PM

such a lovely goodbye. I'm so sorry for your sadness.

Anonymous | 8:51 AM

I don't know you, I don't know your family...but through your words I came to love your uncle.

I am sorry for your precious loss and hope the loving memories he made for you can bring you a smile.

Shannon | 8:38 PM

I didn't know it but I needed a good cry. And apparently all it took was your post and half a glass of wine. Thank you.

Anonymous | 1:27 AM

Oh Rebecca, that was so beautiful. Such a moving post and what a wonderful way to go, surrounded by your family.
Your cousin's wedding will be an incredible memory, such an amazing thing to do for her father.

I hope when its my time that I am surrounded by such love. 54 is too young though. Far too young.

Thinking of you xx

Anonymous | 6:23 PM

This is my first time to your blog and your writing is just beautiful.

Peace to you and your family.