I think Scarface said, “I never understand why I could never see a man cry, til I seen that man die.” Well, my uncle is dying. His body is shutting down. But you would never know it.
I’ll give you a little background on my Uncle Dave. He’s one of my mother’s seven brothers; her immediate older brother. He’s one of fourteen of my grandmother’s kids. I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings here, but he’s one of my two favorite uncles. I know, you love all your uncles unconditionally, but this is the uncle I’ve had the most respect for and who has always tried his best to make me happy. He’s classic. His sense of humor is top notch. Always ready to crack a joke to make people happy. My cousin Mike told me one time that Dave would give you his last dollar if you needed it. I believe him too.
When I was younger, if anyone messed with me, I always told them that I had family that would back me up. Whether it be my cousins Mike or Bruce, or my Uncle Dave, I named dropped family, mostly so I didn’t have to get in fights. I usually tried turning the aggression into a one on one basketball game. Some kids want to fight at the drop of a hat. Not me. I did all I could to stay away. It wasn’t even because I was scared to scrap. It was because I didn’t want to get in trouble at school. I’m sure anyone who I ever had an altercation heard the line, “You better step back because you don’t want my Uncle Dave to come and whoop your ass.” My first memory of Uncle Dave always had to do with him holding his own. He would tell my cousin Mike, who is nearly a scratch golfer and someone who understands martial arts very well, that first, he would kick his ass in golf, then after that, he would kick his ass in fighting.
Last night, I saw him in a slightly different light. Carol and I visited him in the hospital. I snuck into his room when only his daughters were supposed to be in there. I could tell he was in immense pain. But he made me comfortable. I felt a warmth from him. He remembered that I had a double header on the weekend and he made it a point to ask me about it. I was thrown for a loop, because I expected him to be upset about his uncomfortableness. But through his pain, he was able to make me comfortable in his presence. His two daughters were in the room with him, helping him pass the time through the pain. Nurturing him to help ease his pain. And throught the entire time they were strong. I couldn’t imagine how they were doing it. But it was him. While they were easing him through his pain, he was doing the same to them. He would let them know that the pain wasn’t going to be long, and that they didn’t have to worry because the pain would go away, and he’d be back to normal. I was stunned that someone could be so unselfish at a time in which it was entirely fine to only think about yourself. He wanted his daughters to be at peace. And it seemed that throughout that pain, he was at peace too.
Tonight, he was brought back home to be with his family. Just about the entire family came by to see him. Almost all those fourteen kids my grandmother borne had children of their own. And some of those grandchildren have had children. You can imagine the scene. It was one of those moments you’ll never forget because everyone forgot about their own problems and only thought about his. His wife was at his beckoned call. His daughters were with him at every step. And his son was there with a blanket or pillows if he needed them. And yet, he still had teaching to do. I overheard him talking to his youngest daughter, telling her that she was going to make the right decisions in her life because it wouldn’t be only her making the decisions. He’d be helping her, even if he wasn’t around. He was preparing for life without him. He was letting his kids know what he’d expected of them, and that they wouldn’t be alone because all they had to do was remember the talk he had with them, and he’d be with them every step of the way. I sat there listening to him, truly inspired about how human he was in his time of despair. Rather than pitying himself, he was making sure things were going to be alright. It was helping him with his peace.
As I write this, I could never imagine being in his shoes. But he taught me something in these last couple days. People create problems where they need not be. They blame their lifestyle for their inconsistencies as people. They are too busy to do what is right and would rather take the easy way out. But in these last couple days, he is making sure that things are being done the right way, whether he is sick or not. My oldest son said to me today that he was scared to hug his great uncle because he thought he’d get sick too. I told him he wouldn’t get sick. But as he finally gave him a hug goodbye, I could only hope that the humility was contagious.