I’ve been caught up a bit lately with the recent death of one of my extended family members. As I’ve mentioned previously, I have been extremely fortunate to have been blessed with the experience of coming from a huge extended family. My mom is one of 11 siblings (and if that weren’t already pretty cool, my dad is one of 10!). I am a huge family person, and more often than not, I’d rather be spending time with family members, whether it be just with my own husband and/or kids or with some of my own siblings, cousins or some other extended version of myself. Of course, I am quite thankful to have some very dear friends that I am proud to be associated with, but I have to say that the majority of my life revolves around my family unit, and that’s just where I tend to be the happiest.
One of the negative things of being part of a huge extended family is that I’ve been to a lot of funerals. Unfortunately, most of the 10 aunts and uncles on my mother’s side have already passed, and only three of them remain. These final rites of passage all suck, but I think that over time, I’ve come to appreciate celebrating these events with all of the wonderful memories that I have of the person that has moved on.
With every passing year and with each passing of another loved one, I also notice that I am much more aware that more than likely, sooner rather than later, I’ll be the subject of this sad ceremony. Of course I don’t plan on leaping off a tall building, as I cherish life entirely too much for that, but realistically, I’m probably more than half way towards that journey. I think that actually helps me to be a little bit less sad during these events, as I have the faith that we are just moving onto a different leg of our journey–and fortunately or not, we all go down that path at one time or another so isn’t much healthier to be a bit more accepting of the inevitable? That’s been my recent frame of mind anyway. In fact the last conversation I had with my recently departed uncle over the summer was that he was tickled that he’s lived a very full life and was at peace. He had hoped that he would not succumb to the dreaded cancer that so many of our family has been afflicted with and didn’t want to live by any extreme measures. Well, if nothing else he got his wish as he died suddenly and quickly without having to put his immediate family through an enduring illness.
Of course I am still sad for all those that are closest to the dearly departed, as even if you know it’s coming–weather sickness or old age–nothing can prevent that feeling of shock that you won’t be able to hear their laugh or see their smile again, at least not in this lifetime. I love that at the past several funeral services that there have been photos posted that help you to celebrate the dearly departed’s life, and not linger so much on their sad demise. I think that’s truly how the folks that have gone on would really want it to be–cherishing the great times that will always be a part of everyone that was touched by them, and not on the sad fact that they will not be physically present with us anymore.
The most recent death was of my dear godfather, an upbeat man named Jim. I definitely can say with certainty that this man enjoyed the ride of life. One of his kids commented that they were actually scouring the photos and trying to find one that he wasn’t smiling or laughing, and they couldn’t. He was a doting godfather for sure. He was proudly at every birthday party, first communion, graduation and rite of passage of my life. The memories of his infectious laughter and beaming smile will always warm my heart. Unfortunately, I was much closer to him as a kid because living away at college and upon graduation made visits further and fewer apart. But, that will never change the memories I have from my childhood. I liked the fact that he called me Babs–with a really stretched out inflection that just made it sound larger than life, “B-A-A-A-A-A-A-B-ZZZZZ. I know it kind of made my dad a little nuts as he always said–that’s NOT your real name. But, I LOVED it, and I think Uncle Jim knew that, and why he called me that exclusively. It made it all the more special that it was something that, just he and I, really, shared.
I really loved too, when he transported me back to a different time and place. He served in the military, although I can’t quite remember which war he served in, I can tell it made a deep impression upon him, and felt that he served his country and did his duty, but that was a closed chapter and he’d rather recount some of the happier times of his life. He told stories about the fun he had, and sometimes even though he didn’t always go into specifics, you could just tell by his expressions that he was just plain enjoying life and that added dose of smiling laughter was enough to lift your spirit.
I loved how he opened his home and his heart to family and friends as well. He grew up in the city, and for a long period of time, looked after his aging mom who eventually was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. As anyone who is a caretaker knows intimately, that job is incredibly selfless, and take a special kind of loving individual to be able to tolerate. After many years, his mother eventually passed away, and he moved far away up state away from the city of Philly in which he grew up.
He extended to all an invitation to his new home, Potter County whose sign proclaimed on our recent visit there for the memorial service that it was “God’s Country”. It is definitely one of the more unspoiled places left these days. Although there is a small town which provides some of the more modern necessities that we’ve become accustomed to, the surrounding area is largely wooded and is known by many as a mecca for hunting. He had regularly escaped there to hunt with his buddies during his lifetime as a mailman, and loved it so much that he vowed that he’d move there for his retirement–and he did. You’ve got to love a guy that makes a goal and sticks to it. My brother, and many of my cousins experienced stomach hurting laughter and plenty of male bonding moments whenever they made their annual forays into God’s Country to enter my uncle’s backwoods haven. The void that this annual ritual will have without him to share in it, I’m sure will be difficult, if not impossible, to fill.
One of the things that struck me particularly during his service was the fact that when asked by the pastor what she had to say about her dad, his daughter said, you know what, he was perfect. There is nothing at all that I would have changed about him, he was the perfect dad. That’s a pretty high standard right there, and shows you what an impact he left on people’s lives.
So here’s to you Uncle Jim. Here’s to living life with laughter and love and that ever present smile that shined in even the darkest light. Thanks for all of the memories and love. Hope to see you again when the time is right. Love ya!