We're off to Q. City Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday, Nathalie and I, to say goodbye to Oncle Jean, who got a tummy ache awhile back that turned out to be terminal cancer. We're going for one last visit to this gentle old man, who in his 94th year is being called home, as some would put it. I must speak with him in French, because he can't converse in English. I could say, when it's time to leave, "Sois bien", which doesn't apply, for to wish someone to "be well" implies that it's is still possible. I'm tempted to say what I always say in situations such as this, the simple, but illogical "See ya". Illogical because I won't ... see him again, except at the funeral parlor. In French that would be "a la prochaine" (till next time), though we both know there'll be no next time. But it sounds better than the sad-filled "So long" or finality-laden "Goodbye". See ya on the other side (if there is another side). (If only they could find a way to tell us.) Of course, one could say nothing at all - pretend it's just another visit. I did that when I crossed four states to say goodbye to Bini. We both said "See ya", continuing the pretence (or was it veiled hope?) Like a shared secret, we didn't even let on to each other. Humans are funny that way. We cope how we can.
Oncle Jean, who always sat and talked to me, despite my poor French and his limited vocabulary of English. He'd grasp my hand and smile, give you his undivided attention, never once corrected me for my grammar, always rose from his chair to greet you, this thin, frail, elegant old man, genuinely interested to listen even if there was no news to tell. A lifetime of prayer, and teaching, his family mostly gone; now all those descendants, sprung from that ever-diminishing older generation, their spouses, children, children's children ... we make our last visits, not unaware that for some of us, yes, we're next, (we laugh) - knowing this scene will just repeat. I will miss the carefully fashioned annual Christmas card which in this age of duplicatability, means everyone got to get one. Everyone, down to the last little cousin. While the rest of us mainly use email now (saves so much postage, 'tis true), Oncle Jean's greetings still come hand-delivered by post - (I mentally correct that to "came') in which he always writes - (I mentally correct that to "wrote"), that we'd always be in his prayers. There will be no such cards this year. I'm thinking, it is a good thing sometimes to always be in somebody's prayers, that if you're told by some serious-looking white-coated physician that you'll soon no longer "be", as you slowly drift further toward the "going" (to wherever it is we all go when we croak) - there's comfort in believing that some of those that are left behind still remember. I suspect, Oncle Jean will still say he's keeping on praying for us - a praying man to the very end. I see those bright, eager eyes, that warm, friendly smile, that kind, ageless old face - for I have only known him as old. I don't know about you but I tire when reading long poems, especially such line-chopped prose as this pretending to be a poem, but it seemed a fitting format for this spontaneous tribute to the kind old man I know as Oncle Jean - who is not really my uncle at all but family nonetheless. I wanted just to thank him for those few brief conversations, for all those heartfelt intercessions on my behalf to the mysterious Whatever, "beyond". Merci encore, Oncle Jean. See ya.