Saying Goodbye to Uncle C_

Yvette, Clarence, Eileen, Lorraine

When my Uncle C_ was born seventy-six years ago, my mother was five years old and comfortably ensconced in her role as the spoiled baby of the family. Petulant and jealous, she wanted nothing to do with this terrible little usurper of her valued status in the family hierarchy.

Mom often tells me how wise my grandmother could be: without a word, Grammy simply walked over to where her hurt, angry little daughter was sitting in the little living room and placed the tiny bundle that was my Uncle C_ in her arms. Mom has told me that she looked down with wonder into that precious, innocent little face with eyes as blue as the sky and – in an instant – she fell head over heels in love with him.

They were not a rich family and with her parents’ encouragement, Mom headed toward the nearest big English town to make her way in the world when she was just fifteen years old. She did come home to visit as frequently as she could. Back in those days, the train still passed through the little northern villages on the western side of New Brunswick and the conductors would drop Mom off right in my grandparents’ back yard.

As the train would pull away, Mom’s two younger brothers (who would have been five and ten years old at the time) would both be there to greet her with huge hugs. When the visit was over, Mom was always careful to give her little brothers a bit of spending money before getting back on the train to head back to where she now lived. C_, in particular was always devastated to see her go.

“He used to cry his little heart out,” recalled my mother, when she recently told me this story.

When my Dad came into the picture a few years later, you might have expected C_ to be upset that something else was stealing the attentions of his beloved big sister, but instead, he and my Dad became the closest of friends. Dad – a sentimental man – told me once with tears brimming in his eyes, that C_ was the best friend he had ever had.

At one point in C_’s final days, when he was in the hospital and was no longer talking very much, one of his nurses was trying to figure out what a ‘normal’ reaction would be for him and she asked me if this was ‘usual’ behaviour. It struck me that she was meeting this Uncle I have cherished my whole life for the first time. She had absolutely no idea what he was really like, or just how much the cancer had changed him. I am not usually good with words unless I can write them down and this situation was no exception. I mumbled something about him ‘not being himself’ but otherwise, I found absolutely no words to tell her that this thin, frail, quiet man couldn’t be further from ‘being himself’ than at that moment.

It took me a few days to find the answer I wish I had given her then: “Well, he’s always been a big man with a huge chest and big muscled arms just perfect for giving hugs,” I would have said, “And he is so capable. He can build an extension onto his house. He can renovate a kitchen. He can clean the snow off his own roof (from the roof!). He can keep his own driveway clean in the winter. He can repair his own car. He can cut and split his own wood. He can grow a garden full of delicious food. He can hunt for his own meat. Oh, and he can spot a trout in the dark pool of a brook better than anyone I have ever known.

“He’s always working, he never stays still and he’s endlessly interested in everything,” I would have continued to tell this nurse, “And he takes you on the best car rides where you learn how very much you didn’t know about the natural world.

“Oh yes,” I would have continued, “And he is the most resourceful person I have ever met: when I was younger, I used to love to go on the four-wheeler with him, especially when he would occasionally stop to show me a hazel-nut tree, or a wild berry patch, or the best place to find fiddleheads, or show me the way the moss grew on the trees and what that information meant for a forager. My Mom has that same gift: none of her siblings were ever going to go hungry as long as they had hands to gather food and eyes to find it.

“And he’s incredibly strong,” I would have told that nurse, “Once, when my Aunt was in a car accident, he got to the scene before the first responders, who were bringing the jaws of life to get her out. And because he loved my Aunt as much as I have seen any man ever love a woman – he couldn’t wait, so he pulled that car door off with his bare hands.

“His heart was full of love,” I would have told the nurse, “Because no one had more love to give than Uncle C_. Sometimes he told you he loved you, of course, but usually, he just showed you. When I was a single Mom, and C_ and my Dad both felt very helpless about that, he would always check my oil when I would stop in on my way to see Mom and Dad. He never made a big thing about it; he just did it. And I knew, every time, that this was his way of telling me he loved me and needed to do something to show it. Once the oil was changed to his satisfaction, he would take me over to his garden and make sure I went on my way with lots of fresh goodies to eat.

“He worried about all of us, too. Especially when I would head across the long, lonely highway on the way to see my parents, even though I had been a grown-up for quite awhile at that point, he would ask me if I had enough gas, and he would remind me not to drive too fast and to call when I got there so he’d know I was safe.

“I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his temper,” I would have had to admit to the nurse if I were being honest. “He did have that infamous family temper that so many of us inherited – myself included. Luckily though, it didn’t come out all that often and I never actually witnessed his temper for myself.”

I would have finished by telling the nurse that most of my memories of C_ include him smiling. Or laughing. Or teasing one of the kids mercilessly until they were stomping out the door or crying. Uncle C_ was forever laughing – or smiling – about something.

I suppose that nurse – and all the other wonderful nurses who took care of him in his last days must have figured out just how special he was, though. His hospital room was almost always full – and for the weeks he was in palliative care, his bed was always surrounded by all the people who loved him.

There was so much love in that room: he and my Aunt L_ raised the most beautiful, loving family. We were all blessed to have him in our lives…

Patti Moore Wilson/©


Author: Patti Moore Wilson, wednesdayschild2

I write what I feel. And I rarely know exactly what I feel until I write. I have lived long enough to have known many joys and many sorrows. I have made many mistakes; I have forgiven myself for a few… I have learned that there are lessons in every step of this journey, if we only take the time to pay attention… I hope you will feel free to pick and choose the stories that resonate for you…

9 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to Uncle C_”

  1. Thinking of you Patti, praying for peace and comfort at this time. Your Uncle sounds like a wonderful man, what a lovey tribute to him you have witten.

    Liked by 1 person

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