My mother called me on Friday night to tell me that my dad’s brother was dying that he would probably be gone in less than twenty-four hours. He is by far my favorite uncle and I have many fond memories of him all the way from childhood to recently. She called again today to tell me that he had passed away. He was about 75 years old and had been sick for many years.
His ill-health was one of the reasons I got to reconnect with him. He came to stay with my parents after assisting his wife in suicide. She had a painful, debilitating disease that was in its last virulent phase, and being a courageous and thoughtful man he helped her to end her pain. At that point he was still able to take care of himself at least somewhat. About a year later, he had to have some minor operations and his kidneys were going. I visited him in the hospital several times and learned some things about my father that helped me understand him a little better. It did not help me much in coping with his behavior, but it put pieces into the scattered puzzle picture I have of my father. My uncle also gave me an example of selfless love. Even in his debilitated condition he worked hard to reconcile my parents and their children.
He was a minister, a chaplain in the navy, and had a good and open heart. He talked loudly and laughed louder. He told corny jokes and had a million puns and he was an expert tickler. He was enthusiastic and sometimes manically so and often was not the most sensitive person, but his overbearing humor often lightened heavy moments. He struggled with depression his whole life and I think underneath all that loud laughter was an extremely sensitive man. I always got the feeling of care and interest when I was with him in his quieter moments.
My father’s relationship with his brother was often strained and critical, competitive. And in the end, I could not be in the same room with my dad when my uncle was there. My father became impossibly overbearing and critical of him as if each conversation were some kind of competition. My conversations with my uncle were always gentle and supportive and full of kind humor. He was I think a sad and gentle soul who tried to lighten his world with a laugh loud enough to chase the darkness away. I will miss him and his laughter.