My Uncle Harry

I used to have an uncle Harry.

Harry was everything you’d expect a sailor to be. Two meters tall, with big broad shoulders and a rough white beard. The only thing missing was a golden earring. 

But his apparent ruggedness was absent from his personality. He was kind, joyful, and adventurous with the mischievousness of a little boy.

Of course, he also had a boat, and as kids, we would spend much of our holiday on it. 

Where our grandpa would reprimand us and tell us what we should and shouldn’t do, Harry didn’t care. Despite our young age, he trusted us completely. We would run around the boat, fall down, get up, and he’d let us continue playing without blinking an eye. 

If you can imagine my uncle as a sailor in summer, you should just as easily be able to imagine him as the friendly Coca-Cola Santa Claus in winter. It was thus no surprise that he was the one introducing us to Coca-Cola.

Whenever we ran around his boat, he offered us a can of coke. And until this day, every time I hear the sound of the metal when opening the lid and the hissing sound of the gas leaving the can, I can see myself sitting there: on the deck of my uncle’s boat.

Although he eventually sold his boat, our relationship didn’t change. We’d always get a big hug, my dad and he would drink some Dutch Jenever – a strong liquor that leaves a pleasant burning sensation in your throat – and the room would fill up with warmth, laughter, and travel stories of yet another adventurous trip.

When I got into university, we didn’t see each other as much anymore. We kept in touch and he’d occasionally send me a message on Instagram. Although he’d usually sent a picture of a hotel he visited or an interesting exhibition, his messages could be as random as an advertisement for a women’s clothing store. 

Because I didn’t get why he’d send me that, I decided to blame it on his age. He was in his 60s, after all, and the challenges of technology became apparent – or so I thought. 

I did, however, stop replying to most of his messages. I wasn’t really sure how to respond and figured he maybe sent them by mistake. 

Only later I realized it might’ve been a cry for help or a simple request to connect.

When covid hit, something changed. 

This time, the winter didn’t convert my uncle into a friendly Santa Claus. It took him into one of the darkest winters he’d ever experienced. 

You see, a big part of his life was adventure. He travelled in and outside of the country, visited hotels, enjoyed a nice glass of wine, and was always on the road. Covid put an end to this, and it was as if it locked him inside an invisible cage. 

That’s when we got the call. 

Harry had left a letter and walked into the sea to end his life. 

But standing there in the cold sea, 

he decided he couldn’t do it. 

I think his love for his wife and daughters was too big, and he returned.

He clearly needed help, and he was brought to a clinic. 

His imaginary cage became real, and he was now locked up for several weeks. 

My mum visited him weekly and told us he’d appreciate it if we’d message him. I did so and received a message back only after several days. I sent him a reply but never got another message.

My mum comforted me, saying that he appreciated the attention but wasn’t in the right state of mind to respond to everything. All the while, his health was deteriorating. 

After numerous weeks, my uncle was released. 

I didn’t see him but realized that the funloving, energetic, adventurous Harry that we knew was no longer there. 

Not long after, my mother called to say that he wasn’t feeling well. He had heart problems and had to be admitted to the hospital. 

A week later, he passed away.

I watched his funeral online because of covid restrictions, and all I could think was, “Why didn’t I just reply to his silly Instagram messages.” I knew there was no use blaming myself, but I couldn’t stop the thought from surfacing, 

Until I had a dream two weeks later.

I was in Friesland, in my grandma’s cottage, where Harry would normally arrive with his boat. My parents and I were sitting in the living room, and they were talking about my uncle, chatting about how he’d always visit and had trouble walking lately. 

Then, we heard a sound, and my dad said: “oh, that must be him.” 

My dad can be a little forgetful at times, so my mum said: “don’t be silly Willem, you know Harry passed away recently.” But my dad was reluctant to change his opinion. 

At that moment, I saw a big shadow passing by the windows on the left. There are windows on each side, so I followed the shadows toward the front of the house. 

And there, I see my uncle.  

He looks around frantically as if he’s in a rush and searching for something. 

Then he turns his head to the right, looks right at me, and we lock eyes. 

He still seems stressed and runs towards the door on the right. He opens it, runs towards me, grabs my hand, and tells me he loves me. 

I tell him I love him too,

and he disappears.

I wake up 5 minutes before my alarm is supposed to go off and immediately start crying. As I lie in bed, my eyes full of tears, I feel something shifting. Now, instead of crying of sadness, my tears come with a sense of relief. I realize I no longer blame myself for not responding to his silly Instagram messages. And all I can think is, 

“Thank you Harry for being so kind to us, even after leaving this world.”

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3 Responses

  1. Hi Thomas, while surfing on the Internet looking for answers on who’s behind ‘Cultural Reads’ I came across your post on uncle Harry. Although you say it was a dream I tend to believe it was a virtual reality where both worlds, the one of the living and the dead, come together; call it the twilight zone.

    There is no scientific explanation for it, but I too had a similar experience. It concerns a man who would appear in dreams in times when I was struggling finding my path in life. But it wasn’t only in my dreams. Sometimes when I looked out of the window I thought I saw a glimpse of him on the other side of my garden behind the pond. Actually; what I saw was a male figure dressed in white. He was silent and never spoke a word. In my dreams however, the setting was always the same. I was climbing a wooden tower with much effort and was facing several people who made it hard for me to get to the top. Meanwhile this figure in white was in front of me carrying a sword slaying everyone who would prevent me from getting to the top.

    Sometimes he would be behind me, ‘taking care’ of the ones who’d caused me problems. This kept on for several months. Once I mentioned this to my my mother she said the man in white was probably my grandfather, but she couldn’t find an explanation. Eventually I ended up with a clairvoyant who told me the following: The white dressed figure was indeed my grandfather who was looking out for me, guiding me and protecting me from evil and hardship as much as he could. However, it was evident that I had to deal with my share of misfortune and hardship myself in order to achieve my goals and gain life experience. “Call him your guardian angel.”, she said.

    As time went by the dreams became less frequent and eventually stopped. I’m not a religuous person, but I strongly believe that my grandfather is still looking out for me from ‘the other world’ and that’s a comforting thought.

    1. Wow, Laurence. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s a beautiful story and I honestly had no idea about this even though we’ve known each other for quite a while now haha. I can definitely see the similarities and I loved that you read the story having known Harry and knowing the house in Sneek. Big hug!!

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