By Brady Mikusko
I received the call from my Uncle Bob on a Friday night. Now, keep in mind that this guy had never called me. I was in my late 40s at the time. So for 40-plus years, I had never received a call from him. After the “How are you?/I’m fine” ritual, he told me that he was working on a family tree and wanted to know who my brother Pat had been married to. Looking back now, the question itself was a very funny one. Pat has been married at least four times, maybe five. I don’t think I even met one of his wives. So if Uncle Bob thought he could get accurate information from me — he was mistaken!
At the time though, his call and the question were a wee bit complicated, and I felt immediately suspicious, uneasy, and definitely reactive, in a go-for-the-jugular kind of Irish way. My first thought was: Why is he calling me and not my brother, Pat? I understood why he wasn’t calling my other brother — Mike had been dead for eight years. But Pat was very much alive.
A bit of history about Uncle Bob. He is the third child and only boy in an Irish/Scottish family, my mother, Alice, being the oldest. He married late in life and, although he and his wife Jan tried, had no children. Uncle Bob was the center of attention when he came to visit our family, with me and my four siblings sitting around the chair, delighting in his Irish storytelling. However, all in all, he was not much of an uncle. Infrequent visits, and with hindsight — very little ability to relate to me and my siblings.
Most important to this remembrance, however, is that he broke off his relationship with my mother, right around the time she left my dad, Ed, who had suffered a stroke five years before. One explanation at the time was that he was angry with my mother for leaving a disabled (albeit long-time violent) man — for another man. The theme of this story has something to do with loyalty, I think. (I also think that one never owes a violent man loyalty, but then, I am a mere woman in a world filled with a lot of angry men. What would I know?) Another story is that he was angry at my mother for leaving my dad without a word to her own brother about what was going on and where she was. He was worried about her is the essence of that story. Worry connotes love, right? No matter what the actual story, the result was that Bob and Alice had not spoken to each other in 17 years. Now that is not a pretty story.
(Note: In a desire for historical accuracy and to be fair to my mother, she had tried once — and one time only — to get through to her pig-headed brother. We were all at a funeral of some relative, and upon the urging of her children, my mother tried to speak to Bob. He totally rejected her attempt and my mother went back to her corner of the ring, convinced even more in the rightness of her position.)
Back to the call.
I was reactive, and the call got my Irish up. I remember asking Bob how he could be so interested in a family tree when he hadn’t spoken to my mother in 17 years. It seemed, well … incongruent and well … hypocritical. And furthermore, if he wanted that information, he was not getting it from me. He could call his nephew, Pat, directly, or he could call his sister, Alice. Within seconds, his wife was on the line and the two of them — with me still on the phone — fully engaged in a nasty fight. I can’t remember if I hung up on them or they, on me. It was one or the other.
And it was a long, sleepless night.
Fast forward to morning, to me holding a freshly-made cup of coffee. I was trying to remember who said what, and figure out what in the hell to do with the whole damn mess. Within a short time, I called my uncle to apologize to him, and he rebuffed my apology. (Remember the funeral when he rebuffed my mother’s apology. Déjà vu.) Not only did he rebuff my apology, but he alluded to “knowing” something horrible about my mother and said he would tell me about that someday…. I was really shocked. For one thing, in my world, if someone apologizes, you accept their apology. (It may be the Slovak from my father’s side in me, as I do recall that my own Irish mother never has apologized to me, ever.) For another thing, his comment felt so “dirty,” sliding it into the moment as a kind of special “f*** you” to me, his niece. I retorted, “Nothing you could ever say to me about my mother would impact how much I love her.” Loyalty is an Irish trait.
One of us hung up the phone.
I went downstairs, feeling incredibly upset and sad and filled with confusion. More coffee. I remember staring outside. I remember asking myself: What in the hell can I do about this?
What happened next is forever imprinted in my mind.
A small bird fell from the sky and landed … dead, on the brick patio. Two tiny legs and feet pointing upward, the bird on its back. Dead as a doornail.
I stared. I looked around. I looked up. And I knew.
The answer to my question had come. Clarity. Guidance. I got it. Finally. My relationship with my uncle was a dead bird: Never really had one, never would. Dead bird.
I went upstairs and wrote my uncle a heart-felt, clear-headed, non-blaming letter. I explained to him how much I wanted him to be the kind of uncle I wanted, how much I wanted him and my mother to be the kind of siblings who visited each other and who were involved in each other’s lives, including mine. You see, I yearned for my Uncle Bob to be something he was not. I was hurt that he was soe caught up in his 17-year fight and estrangement with my mother that he was willing to lose me, too. But then again, he never had me. He never really was there. I expressed my love (a distant love to be sure) for him, and I said, “Goodbye.” I wished him a happy rest of his life.
I saw him once some years later at my father’s funeral. He pulled me aside, hugged me, looked into my eyes, and he wished me a happy life, too. “I mean it,” he said. I nodded.
I know he did.
Postscript. As a life coach, I have many clients who are seeking answers: answers to their problems, their issues, their concerns, and for many — answers to the whole question of “meaning.” For example: What is the meaning of this conflict? This ache in my heart? This chronic unrelenting issue? This problem at my job? Why I chose this partner? As readers of Crazy Wisdom Journal might expect, it turns out that I don’t have the answers, really. The answers lie within or will come to my clients. I do play a part, however. I raise possibilities. Offer my insights/observations. Ask questions. Provide tools. But just as often, I nudge them to look inside and find the wisdom that exists within them — waiting to be listened to. At the same time, I also urge my clients to look outside themselves and find the guidance and information that is often coming directly to them. One could even say, at them! I believe that if we are not open to such guidance, we will probably miss it.
Brady Mikusko, M.A., L.M.S.W., is a Certified Newfield Network Life Coach and also a divorce and separation coach. As a life coach, her focus is to help clients get unstuck. She is currently developing a series of workshops called “Brain and Body Breaks,” which teaches tools to help people de-stress, improve the functioning of their brains, and increase their vitality. For more information, visit www.bradymikusko.com or contact (734) 747-8240.