REAL TALK | Uncle Dale
I have always had a deeply rooted passion to document stories for others, whether it be the next chapter of their life being captured through a lens or taking a pen to paper and writing stories based off of my own thoughts, dreams, etc. The person in my life who always encouraged me and inspired me to go for my dreams was my Uncle Dale. And when he passed away in January 2009, my dream to be a creative died with him.
As some of you may or may not know about me... it has been my dream to own a photography business since I was about 9 or 10 years old... of course, whilst being a writer. Because clearly I had no concept of how much time all of these aspirations would require. ;) My Uncle Dale was a creative himself. At 18, he left home to attend college briefly in Florida and eventually he landed in the Los Angeles, CA area. He was an actor and worked his whole adult life toward that passion with such fire that I couldn't fathom. He had the innate ability to take criticism and rejection and use it to his benefit to propel him into the next thing. He never once (or at least that we knew about) dwelled on a "no", a missed opportunity, or a shattered dream.
From around the age of 7 or 8, he instilled in me a lot of values. Of course at that age, it was always very exciting to get to see my Uncle Dale because he lived so far away. Honestly, I didn't get a chance to get to know him very well until I was older... but he was always this bright spot in my life. His desire to never stop learning and challenge himself in book teaching, faith and religion at all levels... again, it was such a blessing for me to witness. He was always the center of attention and expected to be nothing less. He didn't care an ounce what you thought of him, but he made sure you knew what he thought about you. He never wanted to hurt feelings or create bad vibes, but he also never held back. He was an honest man with a heart for love.
Dale was so incredibly proud of me when I graduated high school and headed off to college. I was the second person on my mom's side of the family to go to college (he was the first), and I would four years later be the first person to graduate college. My uncle flew home from Cali to watch me walk the stage at Southern IL University Carbondale and receive my bachelor's of science in Journalism. If I had known that May 2008 would be the last time I would ever see him, I would've said so much more. I would've asked more questions. I would have made the moments we had count for more than face value. I would have grabbed my tape recorder, charger, pen & paper and document his entire life. I would have made sure he knew how much he inspired me on a dally basis, even though he wasn't here very often. He didn't have to be -- knowing that he was reaching for the stars in ways some people only wish they had... that was enough for me.
It was around 6:39 a.m. when the call came. I was living in Champaign, IL at the time and working at Jo-Ann Fabrics. If memory serves me right, we were adding some new fixtures in our store and we had a lot of extra help that morning with the building crew coming in and extra staff to help move around product to make way for the new fixture. I tried not to have my cell phone out of my locker but this morning it was sitting on the cutting counter. I heard it ring and saw it was my mom, so I went ahead and answered it. I could tell by the sound of her voice that something gravely wrong.
"I have something to tell you, and I don't know how to say it so I'm just going to say it. Your Uncle Dale had a heart attack last night and he died."
I vividly remember my body going limp, my face going cold and I started to cry. My body started to shake as I was in such disbelief that I wasn't really sure what I was saying, what I was doing and I definitely didn't care who was in the vicinity to watch my emotions go awry. I remember calling or texting my husband and telling him... I vaguely remember in whatever medium the conversation took place, the response was, "oh shit."
The next few weeks were long. I didn't take a lot of time off of work, because all I did at home was cry, remember, get angry and cry some more. At least at work I had my mind off of the whole thing temporarily. It was merely a bandaid in what would become a six year internal struggle with myself. I lost my person. The universe took away my muse, my encourager, a part of my soul that I would never see again... or so I thought. At that point, any thought I had of being a writer or a photographer completely vanished like a horrific magicians act that was far too real. I was suddenly wandering aimlessly through life, which for roughly six years was riddled in periods of dense fog which left me unable to see the obvious things that were right in front of me. I no longer had a purpose in life except to get up, work, come home and sleep. It was an absolutely miserable period of my life, and at the time my relationship with God was very bleak, so I did not reach out to Him for guidance like I should have. Instead, I blamed Him.
Sometime in 2014, I had an idea to start a business. I worked with my best friend to create a logo for myself with my business name. She made it beautifully, and then I did nothing with it for about a year. It wasn't until July 2015 when I had a dream... a vivid dream that Dale was in. We were down by the lake reading tarot cards (which was something he loved to do), when he stopped and said, "Amber, what the hell are you doing with your life?" I remember being put off guard but it was dream land so everything was happening in slow motion and my response followed suit. Then, the words that brought me where I am today...
"There is absolutely no god-damn reason for you to let your dreams die. You have a gift, and you're letting it sit and for what reason? Me? Get the hell over it -- I am fine. Get your shit together and do what you are supposed to."
It's taken me until even this day, and I still find myself grieving his death, even though I know he thinks I'm crazy and wants to slap me silly. However, I incorporate his legacy into everything I do. He is forever a part of my life and my heart, and I will never be able to show him how much he has done for me. I can only hope that he sees what I'm doing and knows that without his not-so-subtle dream push... I may not be where I am today.
Miss you, Uncle Dale. So very much.