Words Fail Me

liferebootdotcom: hey lj
LJ: hey
LJ: brb
LJ: hi
LJ: how are you?
liferebootdotcom: I am ok. how are you?
LJ: I’m alright
liferebootdotcom: my Uncle Bob died. he’s not really my uncle, just a friend of my father’s — but he was closer to me than most of my real uncles
liferebootdotcom: he lived across the street from my parents’ house for longer than I’ve been alive
LJ: I’m sorry to hear that. 🙁
liferebootdotcom: I’m trying to find a bright side to this but I can’t
liferebootdotcom: it’s funny how people die all the time and you can be pretty indifferent to it
liferebootdotcom: and there are different levels of indifference. heath ledger died, and I don’t really care. when cassie’s grandmom got a phonecall and then passed on the news that some friend of her friend’s died, we (mostly indifferently) responded “that’s a shame”
liferebootdotcom: hell, even when the attacks on 9/11 occurred, I had problems understanding the realness of it because nobody I knew died
liferebootdotcom: but now Uncle Bob’s dead. 69 years old, from cancer
liferebootdotcom: started in the lung
liferebootdotcom: spread to the abdomen
liferebootdotcom: spread to the liver
liferebootdotcom: spread to his brain
liferebootdotcom: and killed him
LJ: death is always much more harsh seeming when it directly affects you
LJ: cancer is awful
LJ: the same thing happened to my grandmother
LJ: but I always tend to look at it this way:
LJ: I would rather be dead, then spend 20 years suffering form an illness with no chance of getting better
LJ: and it’s not that you should be indifferent
LJ: its just there is not much you can do
LJ: and with situations like that, death is usually a blessing
liferebootdotcom: my father agrees with you. said the same thing. described it as a blessing
liferebootdotcom: considering the suffering he experienced in the last years of his life, I can understand it being put that way
LJ: truth be told
LJ: feelings like that are never put to rest
LJ: we cover up grieving because its what we do
LJ: but it creeps up on you
LJ: and that is life
LJ: and this we accept.
LJ: I don’t know
LJ: I’m sorry that you are feeling hurt. It’s hard to tell people how to deal with it. it’s sort of something most people have to figure out on their own…
liferebootdotcom: I’m just trying to write something about it that’s real, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried writing
LJ: write the things you remember. write what you feel and don’t edit unless its grammatical.

My Uncle Bob liked to tell this one story about my older brother. It was years ago, when my brother Darren was really young. If I was even alive when it happened, I certainly have no recollection of the actual event. All I remember is the story Bob told us.

Bob was a skilled craftsman. When his wife couldn’t decide on a home to buy, Bob bought an empty lot and then built a house for her. If my father ever tried to build or repair something, Bob heard him working, walked across the street, took the tools right out of my father’s hands, and then showed him “the right way” to do it. Whenever I saw Bob going anywhere in his truck, he always had tools and raw materials stacked up in the back of it. It is for these reasons that the setting for Bob’s story comes as no surprise: Bob was on his roof.

While he was up there, undoubtedly working up a sweat in the afternoon sun, he heard a little voice:

“Uncle Bob? Uncle Bob, are you up there?”

Bob set down his tools and scooted toward the edge of the rooftop. He peered over the ledge to see Darren at the foot of his ladder, staring up at him expectantly.

“What are you doing over here Darren? Does your dad know where you are?”

Ignoring Bob’s concerns entirely, my brother asked “Is Aunt Janice home? The front door was locked.”

“No she isn’t. I’m up here working, so don’t be interrupting me unless it’s an emergency. Got it?”

He turned back to his tools, but Darren called after him.
“Uncle Bob! Uncle Bob wait!”

Bob, now annoyed, looked over the ledge a second time.

“Do you know when she’ll be back?”

“No, I don’t. Leave me alone so I can get my work done, okay?”

Bob turned to his tools again.

“Wait Uncle Bob, it’s an EMERGENCY!

Slightly alarmed, he rushed to the top of the ladder and asked “What do you mean?”

“You have to come down here NOW! IT’S AN EMERGENCY!

Bob’s feet fumbled to find the rungs as he raced down the ladder. Once his feet met the ground he spun around sharply, bent at his waist, set his hands on Darren’s shoulders and asked him “What is it? What’s wrong!?”

Darren looked up at him, smiled, and asked “Do you have any candy?”

Bob referred to my brother as “The kid who made me climb down off the roof because he wanted some candy” even after Darren had grown to be nearly 30 years old.

My next memory of Uncle Bob is when I was in third grade. I woke up for school, got undressed to shower, and turned on the water. When I reached my hand into the stream to feel its temperature, I noticed a bug was on my shoulder. Under normal circumstances, I would have just brushed it off — but since this bug was burrowed into my shoulder, I started screaming.

My father and Bob rushed from the kitchen breakfast nook to the upstairs bathroom in a matter of seconds. Once they managed to calm me down, they explained that it would be alright — it was only a tick.

Bob wanted to burn it with his cigarette immediately.

“It’ll let go and back right out, I bet.”

I don’t remember many details after that comment. I do remember that a hot washcloth compress didn’t make the tick back out. I also remember being too nervous to let Uncle Bob put his cigarette anywhere near my shoulder. I know that I did let him light a paper match and try to burn the tick out with it, but ended up getting burned because I wouldn’t sit still. I also remember that soaking the washcloth in some clear solution that smelled awful (no idea what it actually was) and pressing it to the tick made it die. I was driven to the hospital and had it removed.

Fast forward to after I’m all done with school. I’ve moved into my first apartment after graduation, and I’m interested in adding electrical circuit solely for powering my air conditioning units. I called upon the help of my father, who in turn called upon the help of Uncle Bob.

The three of us entered the basement of the building and found the electrical panels. In an effort to teach me how to wire an electrical circuit safely, my dad started going over the plan: Now that we had seen the panels and determined that our new circuit would fit, we should knock on the doors of each apartment and let the residents know we were going to throw the main for a few minutes. It was, as my dad insisted, the safest option.

Uncle Bob rolled his eyes.

“Give me that,” he said as he grabbed the circuit and wires out of my dad’s hands. “I’m gonna wire this baby HOT.”

Mixed emotions waved around in my dad’s mind. He carefully said “Are you sure?” because although he trusted that Bob probably knew what he was doing, the off-chance that he might electrocute himself still made him want to play it safe.

“You want a real lesson in electrical safety? Stay right here.”

My father and I waited while Bob retrieved a pair of matching two-by-fours from the back of his truck. When he came back down to the basement, he handed one of them to me.

“Alright Shaun, because your father is concerned about being safe, I’m gonna stand on this board while I wire the circuit. While I’m doing it, if you see me light up, then I want you to hit me with that one you’re holding as hard as you can.”

I stared at him in disbelief.

“I mean it. I won’t be able to let go on my own. You gotta hit me hard enough to knock me over.”

Needless to say, my father and I were both holding our breath while Bob wired the circuit. Thankfully, Bob knew what he was doing — I never had to try to separate his electrified body from the panel using only a beam of wood.

How do you write something about someone after they’ve died? How do you sum up all that they are in only a few pages? What can you even say now that they’re gone without feeling like it’s simply not enough — or how do you stop writing once you’ve finally started? You can’t possibly write everything, even when you want to. Language fails.

Consequently, I’d like to ask for a moment of silence instead.

Whoever you are, and whatever you’re doing — if you’re taking the time to read this, I ask you this favor: Close your eyes, be silent, and be still for just a moment. Even if you never knew him, please offer up just this moment.

Thank you. Goodbye Uncle Bob.

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10 Responses to “Words Fail Me”

#1 Deb Estep on 25, Jan, 2008 at 6:40 am

Hello Shaun,

I’ve landed at your blog and your post today about your ‘Uncle Bob’, from a link at Stephen’s Hopson’s interview of you.

IF I have done the math right, I am guessing you are about 25. Next month I can say I am double your age. 🙂 It takes the passing of someone near and dear to us to ~change~ our attitude of indifference to all death. The longer you live, the more death will be a part of your life.

I believe IF Uncle Bob could step back for a moment and speak with you, he
would remind you not to take life or time for granted. Make certain those you
care about know how much they mean to you.

I had an Uncle Bob too…. My Mom’s brother passed over 10 years ago.
Your sharing the stories of your life with your Uncle Bob touched my heart and
took me on a road trip of my own dear Uncle. He called me… Debs – E – do. LOL
And you know what….. I need to call my Aunt, Uncle Bob’s wife and check in with her.

I’d written about death last May on my blog. I think you will find some solace there.
Be sure to read through the comments too.

Shaun, my sympathy to you and your family on the passing of your ‘Uncle’.

{{{Shaun}}} <—- sending a hug your way.

xo xo


#2 Steve Noyce on 25, Jan, 2008 at 9:03 am

Dude, words didn’t fail you. Thanks for the reminiscences.

#3 LJ on 25, Jan, 2008 at 12:32 pm

Words did not fail you. Words never fail. They are the closest we have to the truth.

Thank YOU for the inspiration.

#4 Stephen Hopson/Adversity University on 25, Jan, 2008 at 3:24 pm


This was an interesting yet solemn article on your own experiences with your uncle and his passing. You’re right – a lot of people express indiffernce when they are told someone else died. The most we utter is something like “Oh, that’s a shame” or sometimes we try to be helpful and say “At least he’s no longer suffering.” It’s never an easy thing to respond to especially when you’re trying to be sensitive yet you don’t know the person.

I wrote a similiar article about the passing of my flight instructor who taught me how to fly. I had just found out that he had died so I decided to write a short story called “The Flight Instructor Who Gave Selflessly” in March of 2007. It’s similiar to what you just did.

As you requested, I immersed myself in a moment of silence out of respect for you and your uncle.

BTW, words are just words. Sometimes they fail, sometimes they don’t. Words fail in situations where you’re trying to describe something that can only be felt experientially. But in this case, I don’t think your words failed at all. Even though I didn’t know your uncle, I still felt a measure of respect for what the man attempted to do while alive. I suspect people who read my flight instructor article would probably say the same thing.

#5 Shaun Boyd on 25, Jan, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Thanks for the kind words. I titled this article ‘Words Fail Me’ because I had so much trouble writing it. Even after the article itself was finished, it still had no title. After almost an hour of silent reflection, I realized that I was searching for words that simply didn’t exist — I was trying to perfectly describe a feeling, and there were no words to explain. I finally titled the article ‘Words Fail Me’ because in these circumstances, it can be hard to say anything at all. Fascinatingly, the act of remaining silent — even for only a moment — can sometimes convey more than words can.

#6 Jinno on 25, Jan, 2008 at 6:51 pm

I’ll have to agree with everyone else, you conveyed all that was possible with your words. I feel as if I can accurately imagine the type of man that Bob was, and the kind of connection you felt with him. That said, that is something that will NEVER be completely possible, but I feel you did a good job conveying it.

My deepest condolences to you Shaun, and keep on writing, you’re definitely good at it. I’ll keep on reading.

#7 Bibi on 27, Jan, 2008 at 4:20 pm

Hi Shaun, I will share your “Uncle Bob” article with his best buddy, your dad and since your dad does not do any computer stuff, I will print it out. He will be touched with what you wrote, also I will send it to Bob’s mother who is 92 and who buried her second son within two years and also with his sister who is 72. Your dad is helping them out at this time with snow shoveling, car maintenance and little things in and around the house. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Your brother, who does not handle funerals well, was one of the pall bearers.

#8 Ryan on 27, Jan, 2008 at 9:20 pm

What you did here with this post is beautiful. You took a moment to reflect on one who passed by letting him live, if only for a moment, in the minds of those who read it here. While i could never have known Bob, you brought his soul to life in a simple and beautiful way that allowed me and all of your readers to reflect on the man he was. I doubt you could do anything more to honor him. I lost one of the most influential relatives in my life years ago, but i find that telling the funny, and most memorable stories about him to others are what keeps him closest. Well done. I’m sorry for your loss, but thank you for the courage to share it.

#9 Mark McClure Coaching on 10, Jun, 2008 at 7:58 pm

You did real good with those words and certainly a part of Bob’s life came alive for me as I closed my eyes.

While it certainly seems that our lives run along time-directed lines, I always like to imagine that there’s a certain “thickness” to time we are not normally privy to – and the best we can do with words is to capture a sliver of this. That you did!

Thanks for sharing.

mark mcclure

#10 S on 08, Jan, 2010 at 10:04 pm

As a general matter of practice, I do not stop what I am doing for anything — or anyone.

You asked, politely, however, and for the right reasons — so a moment he, or his memory, now has.

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