Passwords and Passing Away
Sitting in Uncle Steve's black leather executive office chair, typing at his computer. Looking out the broad window, past the clear glass lamp filled with golf balls, past the palm trees rimming the backyard, onto the golf green running like a broad river behind the houses in this plush retirement community. As I turn to look around the room, the place where my uncle spent most of his waking hours before getting sick, I see all the symbols of his life: first, the pictures of family, his number one pride and joy. second, his gadgets--camcorders, sterios, wide-screen TV, cameras digital and not, with stacks of photo paper and jewel-boxed CDs for recording and materializing the snapshot memories.
I knew that today would be the day. This morning, my dreams were once again vivid and purposeful; instead of the anxiety of the night before, this time I was on a mission to get a flight to Florida. At first, there were obstacles--car trouble, and an obligation to attend some wedding/baby celebration for Joey and Sari. Then, I was trying to get back home to pack, and found myself running through Thayer, then outside onto Harvard Yard. There, sitting on the grass, were Lucy Goddard and Matt Weed. We chatted for a bit, and then Lucy and I walked away together--turned out she was also about to embark on a trip. Talking to her, I suddenly had the feeling of calm that everything was going to be ok, and that it would all work out. She started doing cartwheels and handsprings into the distance, as the sky was painted with beautiful colors and clouds, even though it wasn't time for sunset. That's when I knew, somehow, that Uncle Steve had died. I woke up just then to hear Aunt Toby calling to my mother from downstairs. I could hear by the tenuous rise and fall of her voice that it had just happens moments ago. It was 11:00am on Christmas Day, the exact time that for the past five years had heralded the start of Aunt Toby and Uncle Steve's Christmas Brunch for Jews and their Friends, the only big social event that Uncle Steve had ever really liked hosting in all the years of Aunt Toby's party-planning-personality.
Back to the office. Sitting here, I was just getting started with my work when I saw a blue manila folder sitting alone on the desk. Labeled "America Online", it seemed to be the home for all the important computer information, so out of curiosity I opened it up. The first piece of paper I glanced at said:
I looked at another piece of paper just to be sure I head read correctly:
BellSouth DSL Email
There it was again. My name. Apparently, I was Uncle Steve's email password. Every time he had to type in a password, he entered my name. As this realization washed over me, I suddenly felt the true impact of his death. Uncle Steve loved me, and I didn't get to tell him how much I loved him. We never had the heart to heart that I was hoping to have with him, because I kept thinking it would happen the next time I saw him. And eventually, there wouldn't be a next time. All I could do for him these last few days was to help turn him over, soften the pain of his violent hiccups, and listen to his heart beat through my stethoscope. What a strong heart he had.