|"This one's for you, Uncle Jamie ..." - Caryn Conley Bowen|
©2010 cliff bowen/halfglassistan
This unprompted photo of my nephew J.C. was taken last year on Halloween night in Atlanta. His mama, my baby sister Caryn, was 300-something miles away in South Carolina, fielding phone calls, fetching fast food, giving Nurse Tilly much needed breaks and — along with my big sister, Chrisie — basically making sure whatever was happening around me just happened. If without my knowing, at least without my worrying about it. Because in less than 24 hours, Mr. J would be — I choose to think — in the heavens where the above almost-two-years-old John Conley Bowen is looking. And, it must be noted, saluting with a Tootsie Pop, my favorite simile for describing Mr. J's personality. Hard outside. Soft inside. Meltable parts always much closer to the surface than he'd ever have you believe.
Caryn didn't caption this photo until a week later, November 8, what would have been Mr. J's 48th birthday. Mr. J did not like to celebrate his birthday, but as he was reminded every year, " ... you knew what you were getting into when you married me. Birthdays are not ignored in my world ..." Last year, it was celebrated on Facebook, where still-stunned friends and family posted simple messages.
Mr. J's death was surrounded by what I am choosing to call — instead of cruel coincidences or circumstance — beautiful accidents of truth. He died two days after our 11th wedding anniversary. He died the day after Halloween (Trust me, there's a story here and it's coming, too. Soonish.). He died on his father's birthday. He died on All Saint's Day. (I would have gone to light a candle for him for the rest of my days regardless. Way to go, baby, dying on a Holy Day. Now every year, you're gonna get that full-blown ritual of Mass that you dug so much.) He died a week before his own birthday. I choose — I very definitively choose — to see poetry rather than pity in these coincidences.
Except the truth that just sucks. My brilliant, beautiful nephew J.C. will only know his brilliant and beautiful Uncle Jamie through stories and pictures — as will so many of our Munchkins. And the eerie poetic quality of this undeniable circumstance of suckitude? When I had just turned three, my Aunt Betty Ann died of cancer. She was, as my beloved Uncle Ray has so often expressed without anyone contradicting him, "The best of them all," meaning my mother's siblings. That phrase repeated itself a year ago when my beloved brother-in-law Rob said many times of Mr. J, "He was the best of all of us," meaning his siblings.
I'm not equipped to pass judgment on either declaration. But I am all too familiar with the pangs of loving — deeply and desperately — someone you never knew. The blessing in Betty Ann's death ... Wait. What's that you say? Yes. Yes, more coincidences. ... Betty Ann left behind a teenaged daughter, Lynn. Who just happens to be my godmother. And as a too-early-widowed woman herself, she is also a guide, a comfort and everything I've needed a second mother to be. Lynn is also the mother of the mothers of many of my oft-mentioned Munchkin tribe who has given me so much joy over the past year — Mommies and Munchkins alike. And finally, no coincidence at all, her latest grandchild's name, James. Whose two-month birthday does just happen to be today.
So. I've decided that every year, the November chapter of The Ballad of Uncle Jamie will be about happiness. About love. And I will think to myself about the way all of these independently unconnected dates and details are pressed into a imperfectly perfect tale.
November 1 marks the one-year anniversary of Mr. J's departure from this world. I'll be Atlanta for the week, receiving very much needed sister, parent, puppy and J.C. therapy. And the opening page of the story to come will be a sky filled with bright, free-flying symbols of weightless — and painless — shiny, happy messages to Mr. J.
I know, without a doubt, even though he's another place, he's with me. With all who love him. But when I think of him, when I talk to him, when I stop whatever I'm doing to just breathe, I look to the sky. So that's where the messages are headed.
With J.C.'s help, I'll be releasing 50 balloons — 49 for Mr. J's birthday that I still will never ignore — and truly one to grow on for Baby James. To them, I'll tie names, messages, anything that's light enough to float and from whomever would like them attached.
CatCon will be fielding and organizing any requests. (I know. I've already had to tell her three times: "No. Glitter.") Comment here on the blog. Click on the e-mail the author link below. Email me here. Post it on my half-glassed life's Facebook page.
As I've said before, here in Halfglassistan, we welcome all. And as we say here in South Carolina, "Y'all come." Bring on the love.