Julie lifted her head up so that the microphone would catch her words well. She didn’t know most of the people in the audience. Mostly she recognized family, and a few friends. “Most of you knew James as a lawyer, a gay rights proponent, and a rabble-rousing activist. For me, he was just Uncle Jamie. When I was adopted by my parents, I thought it was a trick. No one had kept me before, just sent me back to the orphanage. I was too quiet. Too strange. A mix-breed with issues. I hoarded food in my room. I didn’t speak English well.
“Mom and Dad though, they kept me. And then, they gifted me with the best present, my Uncle Jamie. Jamie was my own personal dragon. He breathed hellfire down on any bully that picked on my eyes. He sued the school when their dress code said I couldn’t wear my favorite shirt anymore because the sleeves were too short. I was eleven. I don’t think the principal of the school could look Uncle Jamie in the eye.
“I don’t know how Uncle Jamie was related to the family. Every time I asked, I got a different story. My mom said that he was her brother of course — look at how similar their eyes were. My dad said that Jamie was his brother. Will’m said that they’d found Jamie under a rock and brought him home from a beach trip. And Jamie? Jamie said he was a fairy, so of course he was my godfather and that’s all I needed to know.
“When I had screaming fights with my mother, Jamie stepped between us and just stared her down until she stopped yelling and started listening. He never once thought that wanting to be a house-spouse was a negative life-path. He never once tried to tell me that I should be a fighter, a crusader, an activist, or a lawyer. He didn’t try to make me into a math genius or a musical prodigy. He played chess with me when I wanted and helped me create dresses for my dolls when that passion grabbed me. .
“He wasn’t perfect. No one is. He drank too much and snuck cigarettes on the back porch when my mom wasn’t looking. He had screaming fights with Uncle Will’m and with Uncle Liam. He was vicious when cornered, but never to me.
“When my parents were killed, he stepped in as my parent and I resented it. No one could replace my Mom and Dad. How dare he try? Jamie didn’t have to replace them though it took me at least a year to figure that out. He’d been there from the beginning. And when things were darkest, he stood between me and the world — telling me that it was okay to be angry, to be sad, and to yearn to turn back time. It was okay to regret words said in anger. And it was okay to rage against a world that took my parents away. And I want to give that gift to you.
“It’s okay to be mad. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to regret the arguments that were never resolved or the love that wasn’t expressed. It’s okay to be nostalgic for conversations that will never happen or memories that you only shared with him. And it’s okay to cry or laugh or share stories with anyone who will listen. I’m going to miss my Uncle Jamie, but I’m not the only one. I’m not alone and neither are you.”