Monday, June 30, 2008

Goodbye, Uncle Bob

Last week, our great-uncle Bob died. It wasn't sudden or unexpected; Uncle Bob was 91 years old and celebrated his 71st wedding anniversary the day before he died. He also welcomed his 11th great-grandchild that week, and died in his sleep with his wife and youngest son by his side.

Uncle Bob was a typical, corny sort of uncle, always telling the same jokes (Did you stick your finger in this drink? Because it tastes so sweet!) and repeating the same old stories each time we saw him (When your mother was about your age...). We never discussed politics or current events; he never asked about my boyfriends or studies or work. We each had our part in the family: he, the affable patriarch; me, the zany youngster, and we rarely strayed from our roles.

Now, of course, I wish we had. I never asked him about his days as a shipbuilder during the war, or his photography hobby, or his uncanny knack for fixing anything that was broken. When I was a kid, I was more interested in getting airplane rides from him than hearing stories about his youth. As an adult, I was too busy chasing around my kids to sit with him for more than a few minutes. Just when Amy and I started planning our final trip down to Florida to visit him, it was too late; his mind and body alike were wasted away with cancer, emphysema, old age.

At Uncle Bob's funeral, I learned more about him than I had during my entire life. I never knew about the shipbuilding or the photography, though of course his family reputation as the fix-it man was legendary. But as each person rose to speak about Uncle Bob, I realized there was a lot that I did know about him. His kindness. His absolute devotion to his wife, my Aunt Rose. His complete satisfaction and happiness in his life, a life that gave him more than 30 years of retirement, and allowed him to die in his own home, surrounded by those who loved him.

I didn't cry when I found out Uncle Bob had died. Instead, I thought about lucky he was, about how jealous I was of his life and death. Uncle Bob wasn't a wealthy man, but his life was rich with friends, family, and happiness that few people ever get to experience. I will never spend 70 years with my one true love. I will never be completely satisfied with my life. I will certainly never have 11 great-grandchildren.

And I will never forget Uncle Bob.

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