A matter of life and death

I’m not sure where to begin…

Today I got a call from my Mom — my favorite uncle, her brother, passed away this morning.

This isn’t a complete surprise; Uncle Eddie turned 90 earlier this year and had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late this summer.  But recently he had been doing pretty well — he was out of the hospital, at his home in Texas, and from all reports, up to his usual shenanigans.

So, it hit us hard, even though we knew in the back of our minds that the end wasn’t too far away.

He’d been a Texan for about the last 20 or so years.  Once he retired, he decided that the cold and snow of Chicago pretty much sucked and he headed to warmer climes.  One winter in Texas was all it took to convert him to a full-timer.

My Mom had always wanted him to be back here, though — she missed having her older brother around. She was almost 20 years younger than him and so they grew closer only once she got older — and then he moved away.  But with his diagnosis, she had finally convinced him to come back north.  Of course, he never made it — his flight would have been today — and he passed away peacefully in his adopted homeland.

Uncle Eddie, for as long as I can remember, was the “fun” uncle.  It was almost stereotypical in the way that he held the position as the rogue in the family.  In my lifetime, he had always been divorced and prowling the town, gambling and drinking and having fun.  He had fun teasing all of us kids and we could always be sure to catch grief from him for one thing or another whenever he was around.

This is my most memorable Uncle Eddie story:  back when I was 16, I wanted a dog more than anything in the world (my parents, while being dog lovers in theory, never wanted the reality of dog ownership) and Uncle Eddie had a dog, Bootsie, who was an awesome miniature Lassie look-a-like.  Now, this was also the winter that he wanted to test out living in the sun of Texas rather than dealing with the cold here — but he didn’t think he could take Bootsie with him.

So, what did he do?  He asked me if I’d watch her while he was gone.  I was SO EXCITED!  I’d be getting a dog!!  And a dog I already loved!  What a deal!! Of course, I said yes before he’d even finished asking… I was like a kid souped up on a bag full of Halloween candy, I was so excited.  Now, here’s the fun part:  do you think he asked my parents first?  Of course not.  He knew they’d say no.  But, he *also* knew that once he had gotten me all worked up about it, that they’d give in because it’d be easier to watch Bootsie than having to deal with grief-stricken, disappointed, devastated, overly-dramatic me for an entire winter.  He won that battle, and my Mom, while outwardly seething a bit, was inwardly chuckling at his antics.

I’m going to miss him.  I’m proud of the way that when he was in his late 70’s, he decided that he needed to learn how to use a computer and did so — almost entirely on his own (when he needed help, he’d go to Best Buy and stalk out the computer staff for assistance).  I loved the way that he always had a great sense of humor about most any situation and the that he could laugh away any tension in the room.  I was envious of the way he could play cards like a shark, always knowing what everyone else had in the their hand at any given time because he was so observant and smart.

His life reminds me that it’s good to take chances and change the scenery sometimes. That sometimes it’s better to roll with things than fight them. And that standing up for what you believe in plays an important part in making you the person you are.

I can still hear this, uttered by so many people at so many family parties:  “Oh, that Edward… he’s such a character…”

Love you.  Miss you, Uncle Eddie.

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