Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life in the kitchen and out of it. She has a weekly food column on CBC Radio One, Here & Now. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to university student, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman and Instagram. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Say Uncle







Infusable is a long word, it must contain many anagrams. This word, these nine letters can distract me from the larger issues.

Like the sounds of my sister weeping. Or my Uncle's labored breath, and the green skin that would horrify the vain, proud man in the ICU bed with the IV bag hanging over his head. The one with the grammatically incorrect infusable written on it.

But the word isn’t long enough, and my mind can’t quite make it past the fact that each word seems to relate to my Uncle in some way: able, fun, sun, enuf (bad spelling is okay in crisis anagram-making situations).

And it was enough/enuf.

The life support was pulled and my Uncle died from complications of a stem cell transplant.

That’s the short version. The longer version is that he lived with MDS, a type of blood cancer, for years and tried different kinds of treatments, including a Hail Mary in the States. He was in remission when he checked in to the hospital but the only way to cure MDS is a stem cell transplant. So, my Uncle walked into Princess Margaret knowing it all, and he chose to do it anyways.

He opted to try the radical treatment with the idea that a “normal” or “near-normal” life was on the other side.  Instead, he leaves a widow and two sons and the rest of us. (The fact that it didn’t work, in no way diminishes the importance of cord blood donation and registering at onematch.ca.)

The even longer version is contained in binders, folders and file cabinets; and in the memories of doctors, nurses and countless attendants; it is in the thousands of discarded needles, face masks, tissues and vials of chemo drugs and in the one empty bag of stem cells of a nameless young man who tried to something good.

You won’t find me using the words: battle, victory or losses. My Uncle faced what he had to do with courage most days, with resigned fortitude some days, and with sheer self-pity on others. He didn’t lose a battle because that implies his mind could overcome his biology, or that the sides were somehow equally armed. It's a ridiculous idea that a strong mind can beat cells splitting at a rapid pace. He was determined, but that doesn’t mean anything when your bone marrow is failing, or your kidneys can’t function, or the infusable bag is hanging behind your head.

It’s trite to say he was a one of a kind, but he was. He was loving, and mercurial, he was moody and hilarious. He was outrageous and also shy. He loved luxury, his wife, his sons, his dog, my husband, family and his friends. He was unpredictable and had no filter that stopped the rush of his thoughts to the open air. That could be disconcerting or wonderful. Sometimes both. He loved love.

But now he is not here. I have become a cliché, driving around with boxes of his clothes in my trunk. I can’t drop them off at Goodwill, but no one wants them. The suits are beautiful but they don’t fit anyone, or it’s too weird to wear them, or they are too him -- and so they get put in my car and taken out again.

I am surprised by the irrationality of grief. My mind is at war -- I still expect I will open my door and see his car parked illegally out front. But that is the past, not the future.

Weekends are hard to manage without our standing Dim Sum date. Little things become minefields. I am overcome as I drive by his tailor, or his apartment, or Lake Ontario with its memories of summer days on his boat. My husband and I weep at movies where there is any loss at all.  I find myself defending myself to my friends -- explaining that he was more than an Uncle, he was a male figure in a fractured family, he was -- he was just him, and it's not really anyone's business to measure my grief against theirs (a lesson I  hope to hold on to as I become a bystander to other's losses).

I would like to be a good parenting writer and say that my kids have learned lessons; that they have said beautiful and deep things that have helped us all heal. But it’s not true. They go about their days and nights. They aren’t so keenly aware of the passage of time, of how missing someone is forever.

Once in a while, a small voice says to me – I miss Uncle David, and I just say me too. My husband whispered to me that life isn’t as good anymore. And it’s true.

Life will go on, Dim Sum will continue. Life is good. The waters of grief will recede, they already have slightly. But the hole can’t be fused. Anagrams can’t hold. This is growing up. There aren’t enough anagrams in the world to piece it back together. 

Reader Comments (4)

they leave such chasms--in us, in the universe. I am so sorry.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Emma - so sorry for your loss. You truly are a gifted writer - thanks for sharing your Uncle (a little bit) with us. Kathy

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Buckworth

Beautiful, Emma. Truly. My condolences to you and yours. xo

November 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLouise

I am so sorry for your loss. You put much more eloquently what I have always thought about using the words "battle" or "victory" when it comes to cancer, as if those that are taken didn't fight hard enough. Grief is a slow moving rollercoaster, and its not up to anyone else to say how long you are on it. Thank you so much for sharing about your Uncle David.

December 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKris

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