I probably should’ve hugged the casket

You never really expect anyone to die. Well, sometimes you do but you always keep such an expectation in the back of your mind.

It was a normal Saturday in June. Except I woke up to my mother calling me. She usually didn’t call on weekends and she never called me at 8 a.m. Honestly, I almost ignored the call.

You can never be 100 percent sure of what waits for you on the other side of the phone. But I really didn’t expect to hear that Uncle Jason had died.

Yeah, even though he had been battling leukemia for over a year. And yeah, his death was surprising. Three weeks prior I was at his house watching basketball and talking about college with him, we had our usual knuckle bump as I left. Three weeks later, his life ended.

It really wasn’t the leukemia that killed him. Which is something I take solace in. Knowing that his heart gave out from fighting is somewhat poetic. He didn’t give up — he died fighting.

Anyway, I really didn’t expect to hear my mom sobbing on the other end. In between sobs I somehow was able to understand her saying “Uncle Jason died.” Mom, I’m sorry I made you say that three times, I just really didn’t know what to say.

I still don’t.

After that phone call I knew both my brothers would be coming in town and that my mother would be flying up from Florida. I guess in a twisted way I was excited to see them all, but the circumstances in which I was seeing them was quite opposite to what I wanted.

I’ll spare the details of the calling hours, which consisted of holding back tears and apathetic hugs with estranged family members. My ex came (more for my mom, which I understand. My mom is the best.) and my brother and I laughed at how I tried to flirt with girls on Tinder as we sat on the curb in front of the building where my uncle made his last goodbyes with his loved ones.

Then came the funeral ceremony, whatever you want to call it. My mom, brothers and I arrived right as the hearse did. You never really think about how the deceased get to where they are supposed to be. But seeing my uncle wheeled out to something like a shopping cart was… I still don’t know. It just reminded me that the fragility of life is constantly looming.

Eventually Jason made his way to the center of the church. Before the ceremony started we all made another goodbye, be it tearful or chokingly, we all did our best.

I was doing alright, and then I saw my youngest cousin, Jason’s son, walk up to the casket. My cousin didn’t say anything, he didn’t shed a tear; he simply hugged the casket, whispered something and walked away. I like to think he said something like “I love you,” or “This isn’t goodbye,” but that’s just me speculating for my own good.

I should’ve hugged the casket.

It had been over a year since I hugged my uncle. I come from a family of huggers so it’s just in our nature, but you know, leukemia pretty much means minimal physical contact. So we had our knuckle touches. It wasn’t until my uncle was six feet under that I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had hugged him. Maybe that sounds selfish, but I don’t want to remember the last time I hugged him. I instead think about the last knuckle touch. He was in his favorite orange sweatshirt and said “Do good things.”

I tell him every time I go to visit him what “good things” I’ve done. It’s hard to hug you now, Jason, but I know when I give your headstone a knuckle touch, you’re on the other end giving one back to me.

Give someone a hug today. Tell someone you love them. You never know when you may get that phone call of someone who lets you know it’s too late.

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