I am from a huge family. My grandfather was one of 17 children. My mom is from a family of 9 children, my dad a family of 10 children. I have many aunts and uncles and cousins.
I love all of the members of my family and extended family, but in a large family, there are some you bond with more easily than others. The great uncle I was closest to was my Uncle Jack. Uncle Jack is one of my grandfather’s younger brother (younger by 12 years). He and my grandpa and grandma were very close; in fact, he lived with them for a few years when he was young.
Uncle Jack lived about an hour a way, but we went to visit him a few times a year, and he was always the life of the family party. He was always very positive and happy. He was full of life, fully immersed in life. Whenever we visited him, he always greeted each of us with a big hug and said, “I love you.”
In recent years, we started visiting Uncle Jack with our children in tow. I watched my son develop a relationship with Uncle Jack; two summers ago when my son was four, we were visiting and my son asked Uncle Jack about a hole in the floor of the barn. In great seriousness, Uncle Jack told my son that someone had fallen from the hay loft and left the hole in the floor. My son rushed into the house to excitedly tell me the story and drag me out to the barn to see the hole.
Uncle Jack hated hospitals and doctors; they made him nervous, so he did every thing he could to avoid them. He didn’t like to visit people in the hospital and often wouldn’t. So, it was no surprise to find out a little over a year ago that he had gone two entire nights in pain and fear without going to the hospital when he was having a heart attack. The heart attack did not kill him, but it did incredible damage, especially to a man in his late eighties. We went to visit him about a month after that, and sometimes I could see him getting lost in thought, pounding his chest over his heart gently. My aunt confessed that he had trouble sleeping and often felt like he couldn’t breathe. Yet even when he was undergoing this, he still was cheerful. That day he hitched up a trailer to his tractor and took my husband and son for a ride across the property. The tractor was very old and required him to hand crank it, but he insisted he was fine, and he did it. I can still see the smile on my son’s face as they drove by.
One of the downfalls of my being the daughter of the second to youngest child in a family of 9 is that I didn’t get as much time with my grandparents before they passed as my older cousins did. My grandpa died 12 years ago; my grandma nearly 7 years ago. It has always bothered me that my own children never knew my grandparents. I grew even closer to Uncle Jack these last few years as he forged a relationship with my son. It was almost as if, through his interaction, I could see what it would have been like if my children had had a chance to get to know my grandparents.
We lost Uncle Jack a few days ago, and I feel the loss deeply. His obituary stated, “His greatest passion was for his family and loved everyone being together.” My Uncle Jack won’t be known for his enormous wealth or collection of material goods, but he will be known for his deep love of family. In the end, isn’t that what really matters?