When we lose someone we love, the last thing we feel is lucky. Yet, to have known someone whose loss leaves such a big hole in our lives that it can only start to be filled by time spent with others who knew that person, talking about memories of the time spent together, is truly a blessing.
Some of the memories I have of our Steve (or Uncle Steebie, as most of us kids have called him at some time in our lives) are so old that I don't even know for sure whether they're my own memories or whether they've been implanted in my mind through years of hearing them from family members. I know I remember the nights he'd read me stories before I went to sleep, when I'd force him to start the page again if he coughed or tried to skip bits. I don't think I was old enough to really remember the night I had an ear infection while staying with him and our Jacky, though I definitely remember my room in their house. That night, he traipsed around the streets looking for a payphone to call out a doctor (they didn't have a phone at that point, and there were no mobiles for normal people in the eighties). He went back out later to find an all-night chemist for the antibiotics after the doctor had visited. He'd get up in the middle of the night to bring me blackcurrant juice. He took me to my first Liverpool match, and though I can't remember who we played or what the score was, I remember that he was mortified that I'd painted my face red for the occasion. He bought me umpteen scarves and kits, and was looking forward to doing the same for Dom. One of our recent WhatsApp conversations was about how he was planning to take Dom to a "real" team's ground, because his dad's an Evertonian so can't be trusted to teach him about proper football.
It's hard to realise that he's not here any more, that our family now has to close around the gap that he's left. There's nobody else who'll call me just to ask what my cat is doing, or send me photos of his cat watching the telly or snuggling in the bed. Dom will soon grow out of the clothes that Uncle Steebie bought him on our last trip home, but the Lego we all went shopping for together looks set to be a favourite for a long time yet.
He loved all the kids in our family like we were his own, and we loved him. To us, he was more than an uncle, fulfilling the role of brother, father, grandad and the world's first Crazy Cat Man. I don't know I'll pay tribute to such a great man, but I'll start small - feeding stray cats, donating to cancer charities, talking and talking and talking about him to my boy, who wasn't lucky enough to have his presence very often or for very long. I'll raise a man he'd be proud of.
Being a part of his last days was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but one of the great honours and privileges of my life. I hope that holding his hand towards the end and occasionally going to find a nurse to check his painkillers or top up the salve for his lips will go some way to repaying everything he did for me in his too-short but overflowing life.
He was a quiet man, but he died a hero. But then, to us, he always was.