Remembering before they’re gone

My dad was already 10 years gone from us by the time I started writing a blog two years ago. So everything I’ve written about him has been tinged with the golden glow of memory. Most of what I’ve written about Dad has been about what a wonderful man he was – with a note or two along the way about the not-so-desirable traits I inherited from him (we won’t get into that in this post). Even though he wasn’t a saint, from my daughterly perspective he hung the moon.

But his death is not the only one to have touched me deeply in the intervening months.

Three days ago I attended the funeral of the second of my mom’s brothers to die this year – my Uncle Charles.

Uncle Bill died in March in Yuma, Ariz., where he had lived for more than four decades, including much of my childhood. I never even started writing about him because I just didn’t know how I could say what was in my heart. I didn’t think I could do our relationship justice – Uncle Bill was very special to me.

Because I didn’t get to see Uncle Bill the last time I had an opportunity (something I will always regret), I made sure I saw Uncle Charles two weeks ago, when it was apparent the end was near.

I was expecting him to be so medicated on painkillers that he wouldn’t recognize me, but when I got to his bedside and Mom said, “Suzy’s here,” he smiled. Didn’t open his eyes – just smiled. I stood there a few minutes and just stroked his shoulder. Then later, when Mom and I stood to leave, I took his hand and he squeezed mine.

Such a little thing, but so profound when you know it’s probably the last time you’ll see someone you love so much.

Uncle Charles died Monday, Oct. 26, in Batesville, Ark.

He, too, was a special uncle to me. One of the two pastors who preached his funeral on Thursday talked about what a sweet spirit he had, the other about his being a good friend and wise counselor. Okay, yes, those things were true. But what overpowers my memory about Charles Taylor was that he was mischievous. His antics – like licking his finger and swiping it across your eyeglasses, or pulling your hair ribbon that your mom had tied just-so – were what we talked about after the funeral, my aunts and cousins and I.

He was a mischief-maker and all-around fun-loving guy. But the truest thing that was said about him on Thursday was that he loved his family. No doubt about that. He doted on his wife and daughters and grandchildren.

But what I thought about as we were pulling out of the church parking lot on the way to bury my Uncle Charles was not about the dead, but about the living.

About how much I love my brother.

About how I don’t need to wait until someone’s gone to express my feelings.

I’m not sure whether JT noticed that I hugged him a little longer than usual the last time I saw him – the weekend I said my unspoken goodbye to Uncle Charles in the hospital.

Maybe Bruce’s illness has hit me harder the past couple of years than I have spoken about. (Bruce might disagree that I have left anything unsaid.) We have decided to move to Batesville to be closer to Mom, JT and his girls, not to mention the aunts, uncles, cousins and church family I left behind 23 years ago in search of adventure.

That was half my life ago (I will turn 47 this month). And half a life is enough time to start appreciating the good fortune I had to grow up in a small town (two small towns, actually), where the people at the bank not only know you by name, but they’ve known you since before you knew you wanted to leave them for “bigger and better things.”

The good fortune to grow up with parents who stayed married to each other to the end, with a brother who – even amid sibling conflict of sometimes-epic proportions – still managed to love his little sister in ways that surprised her.

My brother and I are polar opposites. He makes friends easily and I have to know you awhile before I trust you. He goes on gut reaction, while I psychoanalyze everything before making a single move. He can’t sit still for more than five minutes, and I’d spend an entire day reading a good book if I had the time. Et cetera.

Despite our different approaches to life, our basic moral values are the same. After all – despite opinions and theories to the contrary – we came from the same womb.

We were raised by the same two parents, who taught us both to love God, country, apple pie and baseball. (Although the subject of baseball, in itself, casts suspicion on that conclusion – he’s a darn Yankees fan!) [Note: Since reading this post, JT has made it clear that, while he does enjoy a good Yankees slugfest, his veins bleed Cardinal red.]

My bubby is a real guy. He hunts, watches sports ad nauseam, plans Friday-night card games with his friends, mans the grill when we get together for barbecues. And, even though he has two daughters, he doesn’t quite get all that “girlie stuff.”

That’s all okay – in fact it’s the way it’s supposed to be – even though he is not exactly like me. (Would our mother be able to handle it if he were?!)

Like Uncle Charles, and Uncle Bill, and Dad, my brother JT loves his family. Even though the ways he demonstrates it may be subtle at times, it’s an undeniable fact. (He has a big heart, but he’s more likely to express his feelings in deeds than words.)

He calls my mother, his next-door neighbor (actually, their back yards adjoin), every day. When he’s on the night shift, he calls her from work before her bedtime. When he needs to know (or tell) something, he calls her. He is protective of her, as he should be. He buys her groceries for her, mows her lawn, drives her to work when the streets are icy. I’m grateful, because I’m too far away to be of much help with those everyday, practical things.

JT and Mom are so much alike, just as Dad and I were alike. They “get” each other in ways I’ll never understand. I’m glad. I’m glad to know she has him to take care of her in ways big and small.

And when Bruce and I move to Batesville (Lord willing), my brother will take care of us. And we’ll take care of him.

Isn’t that the way it should be?

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