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.”
22 thoughts on “My Uncle Harry”
What a great homage to your Uncle Harry, loved learning about him through you. It made me remember a great-uncle I had myself and how he used to play with us, reviving old, fond memories.
Thank you for writing this and hope there’s more to come!
Thank you so much Oscar, also for the feedback!
This is really beautiful. Thanks for honestly sharing your thoughts about a beloved member of your family. As a person who has been through self-blaming for not having spent enough time with family members until not having another chance, I feel “seen” in this post. Only when we realize that not everything is about us; it is “the people we love get to heaven, and there’s nothing can stop them from living the life they want”; can we finally find inner peace and try to be better. To see them down the road. 🌞
Thanks so much Ngoc Anh for the thoughtful comment <3
Wow, Thomas. Very touching. I agree with Ngoc Anh, it’s beautiful, and thank you for sharing. I’ve got people who I used to be close with who do the same thing. I always think “Why do they send me this stupid stuff?” I never take enough time to think about how they’re feeling ran that what they’re thinking. Now I see just how important that is.
Thank you so much bro!
This was beautiful Thomas😘.
Thank you <3
Siento mucho Thomas la pérdida de tu tío Harry, y como lo has descrito puedo imaginar cómo era él.
Un gran abrazo amigo
Muchisimas gracias amigo <3
Wow man, this is beautifully written. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story about your dear uncle Harry. It’s heartwarming to see how he left you with such wonderful memories from your childhood that you will cherish forever!
Thanks so much man 🙂
Thank you Jorge
So well done, Thomas. Thank you. Touching and resonant – you brought home real contact with your uncle.
Hi Magus, thank you so much for the thoughtful comment
This was beautiful and would resonate with anyone who has struggled with the guilt of not being sensitive to another person – family or friend – who is no longer here.
Your writing made me feel like I was on a slow-moving river, the water bouncing off rocks, rushing silently through still pools and finally falling into a light-filled valley. It brought forth both tears and smiles.
A beautiful tribute to your uncle and perhaps a form of catharsis for you.
Thank you for sharing.
Thank you so much Joan. It was definitely a form of catharsis for me.
I decided to share it hoping it would touch other people who’ve been through something similar.
To receive such a heartfelt comment from you (from someone who didn’t know my uncle) means a lot to me.
Thank you so much and big hug!
Mooi stuk man. Bijzonder verhaal dit. Super waardevol om je gedachten op papier te krijgen in zo’n verhalende vorm. Benieuwd wat je ouders/fam van het verhaal vinden
Thanks man! Mijn ouders en zijn vrouw vonden het gelukkig een heel mooi verhaal.
Beautiful. How lucky you are as to have Uncle Harry in your life.
Thank you 🙂