"I just called to let you know, they put your uncle on the ventilator yesterday," Mom said.
A lump rose in my throat. I thought about Al's ornery smile, how it would creep across his face behind that old tobacco pipe. His quick wit had always made family get-togethers entertaining.
I knew he'd been ill; I could see it in his eyes at Grandma's birthday party in June. Despite the disease slowly suffocating him, he had joked with all of us.
"He has pneumonia," Mom continued, amazing me with her strength. How was she holding back the tears so easily? If this was my sibling, I'd be in pieces.
"What are the chances that he'll pull through this?"
She sighs, carrying the weight of her sorrow through the phone line. "Not good. Even if he does pull through, it will happen again, and it will be worse every time."
I tried to remember my last asthma attack, the pain and frustration I felt last time I had pneumonia, how walking up the stairs left me winded, how the whistle inside my chest kept me from sleeping.
Visions of my grandma at Uncle Al's bedside flittered through my mind. It led to memories of the silent tears that rolled down her cheeks as I stood with her at grandpa's grave nearly a year after he'd passed. I couldn't imagine the pain she must feel now, facing the loss of a son.
I swallowed hard, knowing Mom would break down if I did. (There are few things worse than hearing your Mom cry and not being able to hug her.)
"I don't want to let go of Uncle Al, but I don't want to see him suffer either," I said after several moments of silence.
In my head, I calculated his age, realized he's only two years older than Mom, that he won't get to see any of his grandchildren get married or graduate from high school. It was too much; I had to end the call before I broke down.
I told Mom goodnight and laid the phone in its cradle.
Why does life have to suck so much sometimes?