The Cardboard Hoard: Life and Death
The Friday of Origins, while walking back to the Columbus Convention Center from lunch at the North Market, I called my mother, who was watching my kids back home. She confirmed the kids were doing well, and delighted in telling me how much she was spoiling them -- her favorite pastime as their grandmother.
Then she relayed to me some of the details about my uncle’s funeral. He had passed away the weekend before the convention started, and his services were held on Wednesday and Thursday, while I was in Ohio attending Origins. I’d already paid my respects to my aunt before I left, but missed the services due to the prohibitive cost of switching flights, and my sincere belief that my uncle would rather me enjoy myself at a game convention than attend his funeral -- a belief that my parents and aunt confirmed.
The convention, up until the phone call, had been a welcome distraction from my grief. But hearing the details of the services -- all of which boiled down to just how well he was loved -- made it real, even through a phone from hundreds of miles away, and I broke down crying. While what my mother told me over the phone was a confirmation of a life well lived, it was also a stark reminder of a life gone too soon. My uncle was only in his early sixties, and the sickness -- aggressive pancreatic cancer -- had taken him far too quickly, despite a valiant fight and treatment at one of the best cancer centers in the country.
My emotional outburst happened in the hallway right in front of the Unpub room. To my relief, Marti, Sarah, and Scott of Open Seat Gaming all happened to be sitting near the entrance to the Unpub room and comforted me -- literally held me -- while I cried. I was, and will always be, more grateful than I can put into words for their support at that moment. I truly believe that the friendships we make in this hobby, though they often primarily exist online and over great distances, are as real, as genuine, and as meaningful as any we make in our lives.
My uncle was a very big influence on me playing games of all sorts. He introduced me to many of the classics, including Stratego and Battle Masters. I played Risk with him, my other uncles, and my father when I was growing up. When my parents would play Pinochle with my aunt and uncle, I would jump in for hands when someone needed to get up from the table. They didn’t play couples, but guys vs. girls, and he always told me he loved when I subbed in for my father, as my dad is a lousy Pinochle player that overbids every hand. When I was in High School, I played tournament four-way chess for a few years, and one year he was my partner. He had an exceptional mind, and often made bold, unexpected moves. In recent years, I even taught him some modern games, like Jamaica and King of Tokyo. He got a kick out of both of them. Throughout my life, I’ve played countless hands of Poker with him over many nights around a card table. He was a shrewd card player, but it will give me no solace knowing he will no longer be able to win the money from my poker jar. He played, and lived, with great panache. I’ll miss him fiercely, and the world will be a duller place without him. However, I’ll always have these memories, and through these, I do believe in a way he will live on with me.
The reason I am writing this, beyond the catharsis of getting it out of my head, is as a reminder not to take the people you love for granted. Time is finite. Spend as much of it as you can with those you love while you can. Enjoy their company to the fullest. Because someday, you won’t be able to any longer, and all you’ll have are memories. Make a lot of good memories, because no matter how many there are, they’ll never be enough.