A Dedication to a Very Special Man
This is a dedication to a very special man, my uncle S. After his death I stopped celebrating Christmas, anymore. This is quite a detailed post, but I felt the background, funeral, aftermath, his teaching’s and just a general overview would maybe help with understanding my reasons for no longer celebrating Christmas.
I remember it like it was yesterday, the morning I found out he was gone. I was sleeping in my own bed when I awoke to a scream coming from my living room. I was 9 years of age but was fearless and I knew the screaming was my biological mother’s. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my baseball bat and ran to the living room of our small apartment.
I saw my mother sitting there, screaming. My uncle was there, he was stood above my mother, looking sombre. I’d never seen him look like this before, so I knew it had to be something bad. I tiptoed back to my room and replaced my baseball bat before returning back to find out what was going on.
I entered the room and approached my mother just thinking she was drunk as usual and getting emotional. I asked her what was wrong, she just kept screaming, “he’s gone, he’s gone!” Panic ran through me, who was gone? Was my daddy, okay? Was it my grandpapi? It couldn’t be my Uncle A because he was there. Uncle S was fine, he wasn’t on tour anywhere with the army. Who was gone and why was she so upset? Then mother interrupted my little 9-year-old brain to say one name, S.
I yelled she was wrong, he couldn’t be, not uncle S. He was the life and soul of my mother’s family. He was the man you went to if you needed cheered up, if you needed advice. I remember asking him about being a soldier, and would I make a good one, even though I was a girl (ohhhh N, if only you knew what 2018 would bring). I remember him saying I was fearless, just like a soldier and I’d be amazing. I was convinced then that once my 16th birthday hit, I was joining the army.
The rest of the night was blurred, my coping mechanism is to block it out so much that even with any kind of therapy there is no way of unlocking the memories, even if I want to. I remember briefly writing a letter to my big cousin, who took the death as badly as I did, saying how Uncle S was proud of him, loved him. That I loved him and was proud of him, I looked up to my big cousin G, he was such a nice lad and always had time for his family, especially his annoying, little 9-year-old cousin, N. I remember both of us listening to Mariah Carey – Without You and balling our eyes out. I still can’t listen to that song without crying.
The Funeral and Aftermath
Then came the funeral, it was all things military and it would have been an incredible send off, had it not been my uncle. He would have loved it, he really was the best person in that family. He was such a morning person, would always whistle and be cheerful, whilst the rest of the family would be like Death incarnate without their morning tea or coffee.
I never, ever saw him angry and my dad loved him, my dad is an amazing judge of character usually (one mistake being my mother). There were bagpipes, there were gun salutes and then there was a world of screaming between my mother, my aunt (my uncle S’s wife) and my auntie L (my uncle A’s wife). I don’t remember seeing the other two sisters in the family, or my Nanna, but I remember the screaming.
They wouldn’t let go, it’s so blurred, I remember feeling the fierce need to shield my little cousin J from the women screaming by an open, freshly dug grave. It was horrific, it wasn’t something I should have ever seen nor should my cousin. We were the only two kids, there and even at 9, as fearless as I was, hardened from years of abuse, this was a different kind of nightmare. I was too young to be there, J was 2 years younger than me, he was only 6, wouldn’t turn 7 until the December.
What has this got to do with Christmas?
My uncle S WAS Christmas, all my best memories of Christmas are him there joking and laughing, giving everyone his attention, making sure everyone knew how loved they were, how much he cared. I remember he convinced me when I was 5 that Shloer was real wine, to the point I drank a full bottle and thought I was drunk, bumping into the radiators and walls and saying, “Woooahhh!” Before passing out from a sugar crash on the living room settee.
Christmas was never the same, I stopped getting excited, I was raised an Atheist so didn’t believe there was a God and I found out there was no Santa when I was 7. It felt like there was this huge void missing in the season, the family was fractured without the one positive man, there. No more Christmas, the last Christmas I had celebrated was with my beloved uncle when I was 8. It would never be the same.
Forever the Teacher
He taught me why Kenny Rodgers will always be the best country musician in the world. He taught me how to be the best Gin Rummy and “Bastard” card player in the family. He taught me how to shuffle properly, how to read cards, read faces and how to remain completely poker faced and non emotional. I listened to Kenny Rodgers Greatest Hits for months on end after the funeral, crying. Mother was too busy in her own grief to notice mine and I was often left alone so I had my own time to grieve.
He was the best, he was the “middle child” and close in age to my mother. They were extremely close, I also had a really close relationship with him. I’d often go and stay in Ballymena Barracks where he was based and would spend as much time as possible there. Now, I will never set foot in Ballymena Barracks, again. My uncle took his life there, on 4th August 1996, in the armoury.
There was no evidence of depression, no way of knowing what he was going to do. He had just been promoted and was an army man for life. He’d been to war more than once, he had served in the Troubles. I’m still not convinced, even 22 years later, that he took his life. There were so many questions left unanswered by the military, so much anger he was allowed to go into the armoury on his own, without someone guarding it properly.
My uncle was 34 years of age when the gunshot to his left temple took him. I’ve no idea who identified his body, or how long he was there before he was found. I know a lot of military personnel, friends, family and whatnot and they have all heard his story. It’s been turned into a “ghost” story, claiming he haunts the place where he died. I’ve found this to be not only insulting, but in poor taste for military personnel, there’s jokes, banter and a bit of craic and then there is disrespecting someone who had been to war more times since he was 16 than they will ever witness in their short careers.
There will be no tree this year, like always, there will be no decorations, no Christmas tunes, no laughs or jokes, Christmas Day will be a normal day for me. Grief impacts everyone differently, mental health is important. I’ll probably never know why he did what he did that day. It’s been 22 years and the thought of my beloved uncle still moves me to tears. I play Coward of the County and The Gambler (both by Kenny Rodgers) on repeat when I want to think of him, to let him know I miss him and love him.
Please don’t be offended if I don’t share the holiday cheer, I’ll be the first to exclaim I’m a bah humbug, but for very good reason that I never talk about. I love giving presents, making people happy and seeing my niece, nephew and now my godson’s faces when they open their Christmas gifts, but inside I’m devastated. My uncle would be 56, he should be celebrating Christmas with his daughter’s little boy, but instead he’s not.
They say time is a healer, however, I don’t think in my case it’s true. The older I get, the worse the pain of my loss becomes. This will be my first Christmas without my grandpapi, I plan to spend it giving back. Hoping to help the homeless for the day, or do what I can for charity.
Remember to hug your loved ones close, Christmas is about family, not presents or gifts.
I hope you have a lovely Christmas with your families.
Love to you and yours from me and mine.
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