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More Than Words

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There is no way to measure the influence someone can have on a person. My entire life has been spent overanalyzing and over thinking snippets of conversation and although I have learned a tumultuous amount from hearing words that seem insignificant, I could never have learned all the things I did with the passing of my late uncle, Sandy. I’ve come to realize that the people who we believe are ignorant to life actually are the best teachers and the most wise of any of us. The lessons I learn from Sandy continue and are the most invaluable ones yet.


The path Sandy traveled on was not a short one. This road went on for the majority of his life. I believe he stumbled onto this path around the age of twelve. Some would call this faulty parenting but as most of us young people know, our parents don’t always find out about every little detail of our lives, as they would like to believe. The year of his death was just like any other in everyone else’s life. We went about our business, innocent to the inevitability and surprising factor of death that would soon blanket our family. I was about twelve at the time and I, oblivious to what our family would soon endure, was looking, childishly forward to a Halloween party. I had heard pieces of conversation between various adult family members. I heard “bad influence,” “addiction,” and “loneliness,” all my life. But I went on, looking forward to this irrelevant party. I was aware that my uncle had struggled with addiction to numerous things but I did not know the gravity of his decisions. I always saw my Sandy as a friendly, outgoing, and loving person. To me, he had never been affected by addiction. Apparently, their Sandy was irresponsible, irrational, and out-of-hand. I went on listening to these quietly and quickly spoken conversations, knowing that I was not meant to hear them. The night of the party closed in and the blended Shifflett and Sutton families went on living our separated lives.


The night of the party, I was giddy. I went home with my friend and we began to get ready for this supposed night to remember. I knew something would happen tonight but I wasn’t sure what. I, at the time, was certain it would be completely harmless. Like a first kiss or a special moment with some particular person. Small, simple, pure things that are important to most twelve-year-olds. The night was young and anything could happen.


When people started arriving, the realism of the party set in. The fellowship of friends will always feel wonderful and this night was no different. I do not really remember most details of the content of the party. All I really remember was the ecstasy of being with good friends having a good time. I didn’t want it to go away. But when my mother arrived, she insisted that we leave right away. Something about her was different. I’m not sure what had changed. The lines in her face were more pronounced and I could see some sort of anxiety written across it. But I did not want to leave. I put up a small fight but I knew something must’ve been wrong for her to be acting so short-tempered with me. I gathered my things, said my goodbyes, and got in the car. As soon as we, my mother, nana, and sister, backed out of the driveway I asked “Why did I have to leave so early??!!” in an irritated voice. I glanced at the clock and it read 9:13. I knew that “leaving early” was not even remotely true but I was agitated nonetheless. That’s when I noticed my mother shaking. My mother only shakes when she feels very strong emotion. My expression instantly softened and I asked the same question in a different tone. “Mom, what’s wrong?” My voice was soft, almost unheard from the fear I felt. I did not know what was coming and I was terrified of what she would say. I noticed Nana’s pained expression and I knew it wouldn’t, it couldn’t be good. “You’re uncle has been hospitalized,” she said, with tears in her voice, “Again,” she barely whispered. My nana and mother whispered in the front seat of the car about the details of his hospitalization, trying to keep us from the dreadful details. But my trained ear did not betray me and I heard what I did not want to. “Mom said he’s wasn’t breathing when she found him. She called 911 and they told her how to perform CPR until the EMTs got there. I don’t know what’s going on now.” A tear slid down my cheek. My uncle had been hospitalized before. A few years ago, when my grandparents and uncles were living with us, his lung had collapsed but he was life lighted to the hospital and survived. The doctors said it was a miracle that he had made it. The chaos of that night had never fully left me but as I heard this news, all the fear that had left, returned two-fold. But there was something in my heart that said it couldn’t be as bad as the said. I guess it was my adolescent mind that was always trusting, always thinking the best would always turn out.


When we arrived at the Portland hospital, we jumped out the out of the car faster than our legs could carry us. Have you ever walked in a place and knew immediately that something was wrong? That’s the feeling I had as I rushed into the lobby. My nana said something to the nurse at the check-in window and she pointed us to a little room off to the side of the waiting area. I had never been to this part of the hospital before. As we walked down the small hallway that turned into an enclosed room, I heard my grandmother wail and my heart fell and so did my tears. I knew what was coming now. When we entered the room, my grandmother cried out, “Oh! He’s gone! He’s gone! They just came in and told us! Oh no!” My entire body ached. There’s a void that forms when you see one of your elders or even an adult cry. If they aren’t in control of themselves, then what are they in control of? Seeing them cry inspires insecurity. This was the most pain I had ever felt, physical and emotional. The grief, of these first few moments was unbearable, or so I thought.


The next few days were awkward, silent, and full of tears. I kept thinking of all the people whom I had never seen let their guard down so much, cry like little children. It hurt to see them suffer. They say there are different stages of grief. My mind was in denial of his death. It didn’t want to believe that he was gone. I still expected him to bound down the stairs for dinner or see him in the kitchen making a late-night snack. I still expected him to pop out from behind a corner and tease me like he used to. There were dreams I had that were painful to wake up from. In my dreams, nothing had ever happened and we had gone on with our lives and Sandy was still there. The permanence of his death still hasn’t fully hit home even now. But as I go on my with my life the pain lessens and I forget more and more about my dear Sandy.


What did I learn from him anyways? I continue to find new things out everyday. I could’ve learned to notice the little things and never take anything for granted. Maybe I learned that life is precious and short. Maybe I learned that everyone is given a second chance one way or another. Maybe I haven’t learned anything at all. I’ll always wonder what his life may have turned out like if it hadn’t been cut short. Maybe that’s just it. Maybe that was supposed to happen. He might’ve been ready to go. Maybe it was to teach me something life-changing. Maybe it was fate.





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