As always, thank you for your condolences, support, and prayers for my family after the death of my uncle. You guys are amazing and I am so, so thankful for you.
When I left home two Saturdays ago for Louisiana after we received the news of my uncle's fatal car accident, I thought I would be returning home about 3 days later. After a few years of some really hard times in his life, my uncle had made his wishes known to certain family members. He wanted his remains to be cremated and he did not want a funeral service. We thought the process would happen fairly quickly, but not long after we got on the road to make the trip, we got word that it would be nearly a week before all of the appropriate papers were signed and arrangements could be made. Although I hadn't quite packed for it, I decided to stay the whole week with my mom. My husband returned home without me to go to work for the week, with plans to come again the next weekend. I was incredibly glad to be able to spend the week with my mom. I knew it would be hard for her as she mourned the loss of her older brother, and I'm thankful that I was able to be there to keep her company.
Of the 5 children born to my grandparents, my mom is in the middle. She grew up with an older sister and brother as well as a younger sister and brother. My aunt, the eldest sibling, passed away 7 years ago from cancer. Watching my mom grieve after losing another sibling was most certainly difficult.
You can't help but notice how life changes people as time goes on. Since news of the accident, I know that my mother's thoughts have returned to her childhood memories of growing up with her brother. Theirs was not an easy childhood. They had strict parents, much hard work, and many chores and responsibilities. The highlights were always summers spent with their grandparents, but Mom's favorite memory was when her brother took his two younger sisters and a friend to see the King himself, Elvis Presley, in concert in Houston. I've listened to her tell that story (with almost as much joy as the day it happened) and many others my whole life.
But people grow up and circumstances happen, and sometimes they get the best of us. Sometimes we survive them, but we come out on the other side damaged and broken. Recounting the last few years of my uncle's life here would get too long, too involved, too complicated to even make much sense. I know that he was a very private person, mostly keeping to himself in later years. After a set of pretty wacky circumstances that included a final, complicated divorce, my uncle just wasn't the same person anymore. I'm sure that somewhere inside he may have been, but he was at the very least changed. His life was less like living and more like surviving from day to day. When I look at all that unfolded over the years, I can see why he had been so affected by all of it. And although he had made some really bad choices, I still feel very sad about how his life turned out.
Instead of dwelling on that, I'm remembering the uncle I knew who always had a big, silly grin on his face and encouraged us to have fun. My uncle was a Cajun who loved to cook and loved to dance. He was the uncle who handed the keys to his brand new truck to my preteen sister and told her to take it for a ride down my grandparents' little dirt road. And when we returned a little while later after putting that brand new truck in the ditch (of course, after he made sure that my sis and I and our cousins were okay), he laughed and said, "It's just a truck. You had fun though, right?" Admittedly, that wasn't the smartest thing a man could ever do, but I remember how cool it felt that he trusted us, and that he cared more about us having a fun story to tell than he did about having a few scratches on that truck!
This is what we do. We remember the good things about our loved ones. We draw on happier times even if we have to reach back over a few decades and a lot of mistakes to get to them. And so, even though my uncle wanted no funeral service, my mom and her sister went forward with a small private service attended by immediate family only. My uncle didn't need it, but his family needed an opportunity to say goodbye. It was very simple and brief.
At the service, my aunt told the Elvis story and my sister told the truck story, and everyone remembered him in their own way.
And I think he would have liked that.