Can you pinpoint a moment in your life when you felt your heart break? I think I can. I think sometimes we love and connect so deeply to our most dear ones that when they leave us, a part of us leaves us too. At least that’s what it feels like to me. When George died, a piece of me went with him to wherever we go when we die, and sometimes I still weap over the loss I felt when he left.
He became my uncle on the day of my 8th grade open house, when my own mother was too drunk to go with me. He, a good friend of my mother and our down-the-street neighbor, had gotten very close to both of us over time, so when I called him in tears with my mother passed out in her room asking if he would take me to my open house, he didn’t hesitate. “I’ll be right there to pick you up in a few minutes. Don’t you worry.” He always spoke calmly, but with immense strength, and I knew that whatever he said, he meant it. I introduced him as my uncle to my teachers, and from then on, he was. Over the years, we grew even closer. He slowly but surely became everything to me. I can look back and see him at every important event in my life. He taught me how to drive. He was there when I went to prom. My graduation. He moved me into my dorm at college. Whenever I was feeling sad, or lonely or unsure, or maybe just like I wanted to share happiness with him, he was there. On long bike rides at the beach, or up in the mountains across from me sharing a warm coffee. He was there. He was always there. Until one day he wasn’t, and the loss of that still devastates me.
Within 5 months of being diagnosed with lung cancer, he succumbed to it. I watched the cancer eat him alive, and as I watched the life leave him, I could feel my light dimming just a bit. The morning he died, he said to me, ‘It won’t be long now,’ and it wasn’t. His spirit left before the sun went down. The bitch of it all is that I never got to say goodbye. I never got to tell him how much he saved me as a little girl, and molded me into the woman I am. He was the only father I ever really had, and he was the one steady constant in my life. He was the only man who never walked away from me, never gave up on me, never broke my heart, never hurt me. Sometimes I’ll stop what I’m doing and swear he’s there. He pops into my mind at the most random of times, and I like to think maybe that’s his way of gently reminding me that he’s always with me.
The more elevated aspect of myself knows that we don’t truly lose those that we love, but the earthly aspect still gets devoured in sadness. My children ask me philosophical questions all the time, and rarely can I answer them. Is there a heaven? Where do we go when we die? I mold my answers to be understandable for their gentle minds, but the truth is that for me, I rely a lot on hope. I hope there’s an afterlife. I hope we’re received by those we love there. And I hope that it won’t matter that we never got to say ‘goodbye’ because our ‘hello again’ will be that much sweeter.
Allie Barrera received her undergraduate degree in Comparative World Literature and began her career as an English teacher in Rome, Italy. Soon after she received her Master’s degree in Nursing and currently practices as an RN and Lactation Consultant in Southern California. Most importantly, she is a wife and mother of three beautiful boys, ages 7,6, and 10 months. Allie enjoys travel, literature, and spending time with her family.