When my daughter was much younger she had a bad dream. She told me as she pointed to a picture, “This man right here helped me find my way home because I was lost and couldn't find you.” I started crying and told her that she was pointing my uncle who died and went to heaven. He was with my daughter when she was scared, just like he was always there for me when I was a little girl. The story of my Uncle Gary can't be told without explaining the profound effect he had on me and my family. Some families aren't close, but mine: we were very close, we loved and cared for each other very much. My uncles weren't distant, as a matter of fact; they were very present in my life growing up. My mother was the third eldest of 7 siblings. Her parents passed away early, which left her to raise her brothers. They were 3, 5, 8 and 10 years old when she received custody of them. I was only 9 months old so I don't remember a time without my uncles in my life. My siblings and I were very close to them; they were more like brothers to us than they were uncles. When I was 8 years old, my parents divorced and my father moved to Ohio. I was raised by my uncles and they were father figures to me and my siblings -- especially Uncle Gary. They took turns babysitting us while my mother was working, which was great because we always had fun with them. I remember Uncle Gary always making us laugh by acting like a rock star and playing air guitar. He loved making us laugh. He would always play games with us, help us with our homework, and walk us to and from school. Early on, I learned that one of my uncles drank alcohol and the other used drugs. Things in our house would go missing -- money, jewelry and even meat from the freezer. It was the last straw for my mother when she caught Uncle Gary using heroin in the house. He had been stealing so he could support his drug addiction. My mother, needing to protect me and my siblings from drug exposure and the way Uncle Gary acted on drugs, asked him to move out of the house. It was tough love, but my mother said it was the best option. She said that Uncle Gary always knew the consequences of drug use. He was gone for months and we never saw him or heard from him. I would go to bed every night wondering if he was sleeping well, how he was doing and if he was eating. I missed him so much and, at times, I even resented my mother for kicking him out. One day my brother and I went to the corner store and the clerk told us he just kicked out Uncle Gary because he was begging for change to eat. The clerk told us Uncle Gary was very dirty as if he hadn't showered in weeks, and was really skinny. It hurt me and my brother to hear of our uncle in such a way. It was also a relief to know he was still alive. My brother and I decided we would look around the neighborhood for Uncle Gary. We made sandwiches for him in case we found him. We never did that day. We found him the following day sleeping in an old car in our garage. He looked so sad, dirty and hungry – it broke my heart and I started crying. I tapped on the window and asked him how he was doing and told him we missed him so much. My brother and I decided to skip school to talk him into checking himself into a hospital or rehab. He did, but only after we cried and told him how much we love him and didn't want him to die. The rehab center came and picked him up. That was one of the best days in my life. Uncle Gary would call and tell us how well he was doing. He eventually completed rehab and decided to move to Ohio with my father. He was doing great – he met a woman, Tina, and they were in love. They had three children together and were such a happy family. Life seemed so good. By then, I had my driver's license and would visit every other weekend. During one visit, I noticed my uncle had changed and I had suspicion that he was back to doing drugs again. I asked him and of course he denied it. I desperately wanted to believe him. My brother went to Ohio one weekend that I couldn't go. There was an ambulance in front of Uncle Gary's house. My brother said he instinctively knew something was wrong with our uncle. He saw Tina screaming and crying. The police were telling her she had to leave the house. She hugged my brother and told him she just came home from taking the kids to school and found him foaming at the mouth with a needle next to him. She frantically called 911, but it was too late. He was already dead – there was no pulse. That was the worst day of my life. One year to the day he passed away I gave birth to my little girl. I wish so badly that she could've met him. But, maybe she did in her dream. Maybe he is around. Maybe he never left. I'm convinced that my Uncle Gary is here today watching over me and my family. To my Uncle Gary: A day doesn't go by that I don't think about you. Thank you for all the memories and good times. I miss you so very much. Until we meet again… Love you always.
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