Yesterday, the 15th, marked the sixth anniversary of my uncle John’s passing.
Uncle John was definitely one of the more positive male influences I had in my life. He was generous, engaging and soft-spoken. I remember the times when I’d come over with my kids to see him and aunt Kathy, he’d usually disappear into the backyard. I wondered why.
I thought briefly that maybe he didn’t want us over. I quickly dismissed that thought. Maybe he just kept to himself because he didn’t have much to say. He would never tell you how to live your life, but would dispense advice if you asked him.
That’s a model I follow with near-fanatic fervor. It’s hard to sit back and hold your tongue sometimes. I imagine it’s going to become increasingly difficult as my sons enter their teenage years. I hope to father them with an even, fair hand.
I remember when I got the call from my wife about John being in the hospital. It was mid-February.
She made sure it was OK to tell me (HIPPA laws being what they are). Lacey was working on the neuro floor of the hospital at that time and took care of John. I don’t recall all the details of what she told me over the phone, but I felt the need to go see him right away.
All the immediate family was there. They seemed sad, but resolute, at that time. It was the beginning of the ordeal to come.
I offered my support as best as I could. I still feel foolish saying things like, “Let me know if you need anything,” or, “I’m praying for/thinking about you.” I know I’m being selfish in fixating on my cookie-cutter comments. There are more important matters. And even if what I’m saying has been said in nearly every situation that arises where someone needs support, or thoughts/prayers, I know that voicing my concern is important.
John was diagnosed with brain cancer. The most aggressive kind: Glioblastoma.
Feb. 26, 2011
We had Logan’s 3rd birthday party on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011. I believe it was at Peter Piper Pizza. It went about as well as a kid’s birthday party could go, I suppose. Logan got that movie-quality Buzz Lightyear toy he wanted. I’ll never forget to look of pure joy that washed over his face when he opened that present. Do we ever get to feel that kind of joy as adults?
As we were heading back home after the party, Lacey suggested we go see John and Kathy. Honestly, I was tired (and not exactly looking forward to the plethora of Logan’s gifts I was going to have to assemble). I didn’t really want to, but I said “sure.”
February 26 is John’s birthday. They had already had a small celebration at their house. I remember seeing the candles in the strainer by the kitchen sink.
A 6 and a 0.
We stayed for awhile, catching up with some of my cousins and their kids. Logan has a cousin that’s about eight months older than him, so I’m sure they played with some of his new toys. As usual, John kept to himself. He sat in his chair and watched the news, petting Bella as she walked by.
“Hi Giz,” he said in a sort of fatherly voice as he pet that beautiful papillon. (Her name was Bella, but she resembles Gizmo from “Gremlins.”)
As we left, I said “goodbye” to my cousins and aunt. I approached Uncle John and reached out to shake his hand. He pulled me in for one of those manly type hugs (where you’re still clasping right hands, but you put your left arm over the other’s shoulder and pat their back three times).
I remember his eyes.
Calm. Clear. Resolute.
I saw no fear for himself in those eyes. Only for those he knew he’d leave behind.
“Happy birthday, Uncle John. I see you around, sir.”
That was the last time I saw him.
Waves of anger
I don’t remember crying at John’s funeral. I don’t recall crying over the whole situation at all. I remember just one emotion taking over all the rest: anger. I was angry because such a good man didn’t deserve to have this happen to him. I was angry because his children and grandchildren would no longer be able to see their beloved father and grandfather. I was angry because I made a list of assholes in my head would I would have gladly given this terrible disease to, if I could have.
But here I am, six years later, my anger has dwindled into bitterness. I may never let that bitterness die. Like the anger I have about other things in my life, I use that bitterness to remind me that I need to be the best man I can for those around me.
Another emotion, no an ongoing thought, has slowly replaced the anger I have: admiration.
I admire how my aunt has soldiered on. I know she must have her bad days, where she grieves. That will probably never go away. But she’s still a mother and a “grandmommy.” She’s the keeper of John’s memory and she keeps him alive by sharing stories about him.
I don’t talk to them much, but I admire how my cousins live on, keeping John’s memory alive by loving their kids the way he did.
When I was a kid, I used to live in fear of dying. What if someone murdered me? What if a tornado crushed my house? What if the school bus crashed?
I am going to die. I hope it’s later rather than sooner. And one thing I strive to do everyday (though I fail sometimes) is be the best person I can. Hopefully, when those who go on after I “get my reward” see my headstone (1983-????), they’ll look at that dash and say, “That’s the time when Les loved us.”