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My Uncle Tommy 1936-2009

Posted Jun 12 2009 9:38pm
There is a man I want to take a few moments to introduce you to, because he meant more to me than I'm willing to admit.

And yet, I failed him.

My Uncle Tommy was the one we visited most as a family when I was a child. Youth sometimes dictates that you don't wish to interact with individuals deemed "family."

They won't speak to you like they do the adults. They smell of moth balls and cough syrup. They pontificate when they should be silent.

I'm sure you've a few of your own you don't wish to speak of.

Uncle Tommy was the antithesis of everything I just mentioned.

I was incredibly shy as a child and Tommy would do everything in his power to get me to interact with the family. He never said out loud that you were a guest in his home, because he was welcoming from the start.

He was a father, grandfather, husband, uncle, brother, cousin, Marine and policeman.

He was quick to laugh, prone to wit and towered over me but never talked down to me.

And I'll go ahead and say it, and I don't care who's listening: he was my favorite Uncle.

But again, I failed him.

Tommy grew up with my Mom in Jamestown, North Dakota. The epitome of unbridaled Americana. He was their eleventh child, my mother, the thirteenth. Six years separated them both, but their bond as brother and sister lasted a lifetime.

On June 11, 2009 at exactly 11am, I attended his funeral.

My Mom shed tears before the service began. I placed my hand on her shoulder while my Dad put his arms around her. Supporting her grief as ably as we could.

I honestly didn't know what else to do. But I knew this was one of the worst days of her life. And I was glad I was by her side.

I didn't count, but I would imagine over a hundred people were in attendance. Many, many more wanted to join this somber day, but circumstances beyond their control kept them from honoring my Uncle.

Since I discovered the news over a week ago, I have been flooded with memories of my Uncle. And I'm happy to report, every time I think of him, he's at his best.

Lanky and strong. Tan and fit. Vibrant and happy.

When I was roughly eight or nine, before my illness made its presence known, everyone took a huge family trip to Yosemite.

The lands beneath us were so astonished by the presence of Uncle Tommy, we had earthquakes for most of our visit.

On one of our many hikes, me and my Uncle were standing side by side as we traveled down the trail to catch up with the others. To our right was a giant granite rock with little flecks of limestone coloring its skin.

Another giant rock must have fallen upon it at some point, because it had given birth to a number of smaller rocks, all with the same outer shell.

Tommy bent down, without slowing his stride, and grabbed one.

"Here's a nice one. This one's for you."

He placed it in my hand and I sort of just looked at it without responding.

I glanced up at him with a shy, meager look.

"So you won't forget this trip."

And off we went.

For the last thirty years, wherever I have moved. Or worked. Or travelled to, that rock has followed alongside.

And its never lost its luster. Until now.

It has transformed from a happy childhood memory to a weight upon my soul.

For I failed him.

I was unaware of this, but as the years slipped away, so did Tommy's back.

Two years ago, he was in the hospital and was prescribed a medication that eventually caused his kidneys to fail.

He spent two years on Dialysis until he suffered a heart attack on June 4th, 2009. He had just returned from treatment and was resting in his favorite easy chair. His wife, my Aunt, heard him make a sound similar to a snore.

He never recovered. And never returned.

And why I'll never have a chance to say I'm sorry.

When I first discovered Tommy was on Dialysis, I always meant to contact him to answer any questions he might have or help him ease his life into the treatment chair.

That contact never came.

I'm so wrapped up in my own illness that I rarely poke my head out to see if anyone else needs help.

I failed my Uncle Tommy miserably.

This was a man who was loved, adored and cherished by his family and was taken too soon at the age of 72. His death will reverberate for those who knew him for years to come.

I have so many regrets related to his passing.

Why am I so wrapped up in my illness that I didn't take the time to ask about his?

Why didn't I take the time to drive the two hours to visit more often?

Why does a tainted soul like myself continue to live while someone so loved and cared for was taken too early?

The answers will shadow me for the remainder of my existence.

Thank you for everything Tommy. Laugh, and smile and rest in peace.
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