He sometimes reads my ramblings on an iPad at the doctor's office, and had come home from one of those visits to talk me through his thoughts on a recent Denver Stiffs article. At the end of the review, he dropped a bit of a bomb on me.
"They're shifting me to palliative care."
Six quick words from one of my favorite people got me geared up for a long goodbye.
(Be warned, this is ever-so-slightly about the Denver Nuggets.)
My dear uncle is the smartest person I've ever met, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who fought in Viet Nam, monitored the Berlin Wall, taught at the War College, and made a name for himself in Strategy and Intelligence. He's the only person I know who may have averted a war (or at least a hell of a battle) with a plane full of cigars. Yes, I actually believe that story. You might as well, if I could give you the particulars.
One of his greatest traits is his ability to listen and make another human being feel heard, valued, and important. I've lost count of the number of people I've seen leave his company with their heads held a little higher, their backs a little straighter. A true gift, that.
There are also things he sucks at irretrievably. He (primarily) cannot abide children, made a daily breakfast of Little Debbie donut sticks and Coca-Cola well into his sixties, and has never cared for sports. Thinks they're dumb. And loves to mention it to my sports-loving family.
Here are a few of the simple facts that tell me how deeply he loves me:
- I was one of a few kids he tolerated. Even liked.
- He fostered my fascinations with Coca-Cola and the English language. I've sadly given one of those habits up.
- He often speaks with me at length about the fortunes of the Denver Nuggets.
He's surprised but enthusiastic to hear how much I love writing about the team. In total, we've spent hours on the topic, when I know the Nuggets fortunes are of zero interest to him outside our conversation. He listens very well, asks intelligent questions about specific players and games, and follows along simply to show me that he's interested in my interests. I tell him all about it anyway, always grateful for that gift of his.
When his cancer was discovered this last year, it had progressed to a point we all knew there were some statistics to worry about. Aggressive treatments seemed to be performing well, only to have a late scan reveal sizeable unexpected masses elsewhere in his body in the moments before a very large surgery. The doctors' course of action changed quickly and decisively. My uncle is actually handling the news quite admirably. I've had to adjust to what seems to have become a near-term eventuality.
Let's just say I'm not adjusted yet.
In one of the hardest things I've ever had to say to anyone, I told him how I'd discovered a simple bit of math. That if we spoke every night between now and the time that he passes, I'd have not said everything I needed to say to him, even if he far exceeded statistical expectations. In several conversations since then we've chatted about meaning-of-life things, things he wants to still do, where he thinks he's going, and what he's truly afraid of. We've both shed a tear or two (or two thousand, who's counting). Though moments of our conversations truly wring my heart out, I'm blessedly getting to say goodbye. More on that in a second.
Hilariously enough, the stubborn old goat still insists upon our regular Nuggets talk, even in the offseason. We talk about the draft and upcoming Summer League games. He indulges my ruminations about what path the team should take to move forward. He argues that these chats at this moment give us normalcy. I think he's simply still showing me the love that he can. He might even have a teensy flame of love for the Nuggets buried deep down in there somewhere. He would scoff heartily at the thought.
The Nuggets can use all the love they can get these days, as they build back a fan base with a product that is about to take another key step forward. One of my favorite things about frequenting Denver Stiffs is the love for the team that exists amongst the diverse topics and personalities that are voiced on these pages.
That love is borne out of fandom, and this fan site provides a couple of things to (hopefully) foster it: great writing done by a large and vocal team of authors, and shared opinions and debates amongst the discussions below, many of which challenge my own views daily. I often hope that the team sees that there is a small-but-mighty group of fans still hanging around out there who follow along, whether said following is fun or Sisyphean. We as a group celebrate and mourn the fortunes of a revolving cast of characters who all wear the same name on their jersey, all the way to the ownership. Our own odd sort of family, in ways. Here, we even communicate. For the most part.
As to family, I'll soon be traveling to Southern Oregon to spend some time with my dear uncle and amazing aunt, chatting him up about the decline of vocabulary as a tool, fine woodworking and carving, why the Wombles were cooler than Paddington Bear, how Pachinko machines work, and what the Nuggets new draft choices or trades mean in terms of the team's future. A team he may just get to see through to this next All-Star break.
Not all of our Nuggets discussions end peacefully. We are still in bitter disagreement on the "cool factor" of the sleeved jerseys of last season. I think it's wonderful that so intelligent a man can still be so desperately wrong about a few things. No one should be infallible. A sick man might even settle the debate with a poll on a semi-popular blog.
As we share some time, we'll probably also talk more about his next steps and the things I might try to carry on for him if I'm able, both of us making scrunchy faces all along the way.
I'm so very grateful we've had this chance to say goodbye. Elsewhere in this country and in this world, so many people are sadly and brutally robbed of their opportunity to say a proper farewell when a life is taken too suddenly and too soon. I'm so proud of the founders of this site, who gave overwhelmingly in their altruistic efforts alongside so many others in the city of Denver, providing a safe space to say a belated farewell and to mourn so many lives lost or forever altered in Orlando's tragedy at Pulse Nightclub. No matter your politics (which I'd ask you to leave at the door today), hundreds or thousands of lives were altered forever. Fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters without a chance to say goodbye to people deeply loved. Mourn for those who didn't know the words they shared would be their last.
And then, Nuggets Nation, take a moment to find someone in your life who needs to hear from you. Find someone you haven't told in far too long just how much you love them. Listen to their hopes and fears, and let them know they matter to someone. Maybe they'd even like to hear you talk about that crazy basketball team you follow. It doesn't matter if you have a million more chances, take this one.