My Uncle Died in His Sleep, and It Changed Me Forever

On January 21st, 2016, my uncle Martin did something that changed me forever. At 7 AM, he woke up, walked to the bathroom, went to the toilet and then back to sleep.

He never woke up again. At 52 years old, he died peacefully in his sleep. No pain, no heart problems detected. He had lost 60 lbs the year before and was in better shape than ever.

Seneca said that “life is long, if you know how to use it.” But sometimes life truly is short. Not everyone gets the time they may deserve.

Since I didn’t know how to deal with his death, I did what I always do to process things: I wrote.

One of the saddest things in life is that often, it takes a tragedy to pierce our clouded vision. In his case, I could only now see stark and clear two powerful lessons from how he lived his life:

1. Stop doing shit you don’t like.

Just two days before, he sat in our kitchen and had his cappuccino, like always.

Carnival season was coming up and his in-laws (my Mom’s parents and sister) are huge carnival nerds. My grandpa founded the local club so all year round, they plan and prepare for carnival week.

It just wasn’t Martin’s thing. He hated the dressing up, the music, the corny jokes. So he wouldn’t have any of it and that was okay.

2. Spend time with family and friends, because you never know how much you’re gonna get.

What quitting things you don’t like or just feel obligated to allows you to do is to focus on what really matters.

So while the rest of the family was carnivaling all over the place, Martin was content to stay at home, relax, build a play house for my cousin or a new fireplace to have BBQs at, since he was a carpenter.

Screw tending to C-class relationships or that one, half-related aunt of yours who only complains and tells you to “get a real job” every time you see her anyways.

When you think about the people you call family and friends, who really feels like family? Who really feels like a friend?

Only if you cut out 90% of the people that don’t matter can you show the 10% that do the love they deserve.

Family is not an important thing. It’s everything. 

— Michael J. Fox

Mom, Dad, Sis & Me at her graduation. ❤️

Two songs were played at my uncle’s funeral, one he would’ve picked and one my cousin selected.

The first song was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” You couldn’t find a better song to highlight the first lesson if you tried.

I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way

The second song played as we all walked to the grave and said our last goodbye. See You Again” from The Fast & The Furious. As if I needed another reason to cry next to Paul Walker driving off into the sunset.

From the official music video

Just like Paul, my uncle didn’t get the 70, 80, 90 years most of us nowadays take for granted. But just like the Fast & Furious movies, Martin’s life was all about family. Real family.

How can we not talk about family when family’s all that we got?
Everything I went through you were standing there by my side
And now you gon’ be with me for the last ride

Every time I listen to one of those two songs now, it stings a bit inside. But after the sting, a rush of gratitude floods my heart. It’s a constant reminder.

“Life is short Nik. Use it well. Don’t do shit you don’t like. Be with family. You never know how much you’re gonna get.”

That’s what I learned from my uncle and it’s changed me forever.