Irreplaceable here, but in a better place

Irreplaceable here, but in a better place

I will never forget the afternoon we had the little tiff. I had noticed my uncle’s salt-and-pepper eyebrows were becoming a unibrow of sorts, so I sat him down at my kitchen table, opened the curtains, and began to snip and tug.

“You don’t want to look like Andy Rooney, now do you?” I chided the sweet man. After two or three plucks, his face began to redden. I knew my window of opportunity had passed as he rose from the table, all 6-foot-3 of him. My aunt and I began to laugh.

“And you thought it was no big deal when I had three babies,” aunt Ann began teasing her husband of over 60 years. “And now you can’t even handle having a few hairs plucked from your brow.”

Of course, a minute later, we were sitting together having our coffee and muffins, chatting like best friends. That was how it was with my godparents.

Last time I told you about my uncle’s heart issues, about his year in the assisted living, about the fall in January that resulted in more terrible health problems. I felt sick about his situation, because with 100 miles between us, I couldn’t easily visit him often. By Monday he had passed.

Some people, like my uncle Don, are priceless, one of a kind, irreplaceable, so I couldn’t catch my breath when my cousin called with the sad news he was gone.

You see, ever since I was a little girl, I had a deep love for Mom’s little brother. When I had hard times, he was there, like when I went through a separation and divorce some years ago. I needed a father figure, and my dad was long gone, so I went to my uncle. He and I burned up the phone line many evenings as I walked my dogs. He was so caring, so even-handed, such a great listener. And I needed his friendship.

A few years later when his health began to fail, he came to me.

“I don’t remember how to pray,” he confessed one morning. Used to rote prayers and weekly mass, uncle Don wasn’t sure how to navigate that sensitive issue as his health faltered. So each day I called him. Together we talked to God. We talked about the healing he needed to do, the amends he needed to make. We said novenas together. Before long he was talking to the dear Lord on his own.

Although I was heartbroken when I found out my uncle had died on March 12, I felt a lot better when I found out my grandmother had visited him. He said something to that effect to my cousin, saying he then felt safe about his passage. That made all kinds of notions ricochet in my brain, like would my version of heaven be accurate?

I remember not long ago, uncle Don and I again began burning up the phone lines. It was before his most serious health concerns had surfaced. But he was weakening and scared. For a life-long Christian, I was surprised when he asked, “What if it doesn’t exist, Les?”

“What are you talking about, uncle Don?”

“What if this is it? What if there is no God, no Jesus, no heaven?”

I gave him the usual responses I’ve mulled over when we question such things. There just has to be a heaven, I said. This life is too darned hard for there not to be one. What about the promises Jesus made about paradise? And how could we possibly remember a carpenter’s son who walked the earth 2,000 years ago if he wasn’t God’s son too?

Of course, my uncle, with a master’s degree in counseling, had all the retorts I’d imagined.

“Here’s how I see it, uncle Don. Some day when you die, you will be folded in the arms of God. You will see your mom and dad again, your brothers, your beloved friends, your sweet cousin Bobby. You won’t be sick anymore. Your bones won’t ache. Your eyes will see with the clarity of a child’s. And every tear will be wiped away, just like we are promised in the Bible.”

I could hear my sweet uncle sniff before he asked, “Do you really believe that, Les?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Remember when Bobby had his Fourth of July parties? All of our family came for burgers and dogs on the grill while swimming in his backyard pool. Remember the photos we took from those parties. That is heaven itself,” I told my ailing uncle.

“OK,” he said in a quiet voice.

A few months later, Grandma came to take uncle Don to Jesus, and I think that’s exactly what he found.

Love, just sweet, sweet love.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load