Updated: Jul 12, 2019
When I was a kid, we lived next door to my grandmother. She and my grandfather were the first of our family to come to the States. They settled in the same town they landed, where most of my family still currently live. Growing up next door to my grandmother meant an everlasting full belly, candy on demand (polite demand, of course), and loads and loads of family. They poured in from the local airport and used our block as Grand Central Station before moving on to continue living in the US. My grandparents helped every family that they could in any way that they could. My grandfather would help financially, or with sound advice on how to make it in the US, while my grandmother kept them full, prepped their beds with fresh sheets, and ensured their laundry was done just as fast as it was thrown in the hamper.
I LOVE that we grew up connected to our roots.
In particular, we strongly bonded with my grandmother's niece (my aunt) and her three children. They stayed for several months while their father worked states away to build a life for them. We played hide and seek, washed cars, and ate ice cream together. Memories I'll always cherish.
To be honest, I don't have many memories of their dad at my grandmother's. Only a few. And those few were of a kid (me) in passing seeing him as a serious man.
Fast forward 20+ years. I took my little family to visit these cousins on a road trip one summer. We only stayed for a short time, but in that time I reconnected with this beloved family, and maybe for the first time ever, connected with my uncle. As it turns out, my perception of "the uncle from my youth" was missing a few important details...
He was also an incredibly hard worker and the sort of person who made you feel like family, even if you weren't. He was loved and respected fiercely by his wife, children, and grandchildren. He shared a beautiful appreciation for good food, and an adorable and special bond with his daughter's dog (Hi, Kaia!). He posted cars, selfies, lunch, grandchildren, and his beloved Kaia frequently on Facebook. He posted so much so, in fact, that if I didn't see anything from him for a day, I would call my grandmother to see if he was feeling okay. He spoke to children softly and with respect. He took great pride in his wife and children and their accomplishments. And finally, he was a true fighter. One of his favorite Facebook re-posts was: "No matter how many times I break down, there is always a little piece of me that says No! You're not done yet! Get back up!"
These past few months, his medical struggle took a turn for the worst. Finally, my brave uncle, whom so many felt connected to, was at last ready to rest.
I believe he knew this time was different. From a bird's eye view, he seemed to have orchestrated his most perfect goodbye. His children made final memories with him, he met his newest grandson, waited for his Kaia to come from across the country, and celebrated one final anniversary with the love of his life in the comfort of their home. Just hours after midnight with his family near, he took his final breath peacefully in his sleep.
There is no greater moment than a groom seeing his bride come down the aisle, and there has never been a moment more heart wrenching for me than watching that bride embrace her groom 42 years and 3 days later, for the very last time.
Good or bad, every single moment passes. If my uncle's story has taught me anything, it's that how we choose to see those moments defines how they'll shape us.
Rest in blissful peace, Uncle.