Friday, January 20, 2006

Uncle Ted

With about a year between them, my Dad and his older brother Ted were constant companions and best friends growing up. Moving into adulthood, they took very different life paths. Ted entered the Navy at 17 during WWII, and my Dad went off to Ohio State to study chemical engineering. Ted eventually became a tool and die maker with a blended family (before the term was coined) living in small town Ohio, and my Dad became a chemical engineer living in the suburbs of Cleveland.

Despite the differences in their lifestyles, they came together regularly to celebrate family and heritage. At family gatherings, they would sit around the dinner table for hours and tell stories from their youth. Greek sailors at heart, in their middle years they both purchased big boats and shared a passion for pouring money into those 'holes in the water.'

Dad passed away unexpectedly in 1993. He was 64. Right now, Uncle Ted is lying in a hospital bed connected to a lot of life support 'stuff.' The family is gathering from all over the country - scratch that, all over the world - to wish him well and godspeed. Although Uncle Ted is sedated, and his eyes are closed, he reacts to our questions and inane bedside banter by raising his eyebrows and shrugging. His most animated reactions yesterday came when the 'discussion' turned to Chris (my Dad).

Uncharacteristically, I dumped everything at work yesterday and drove 3 hours to the hospital to be with my Uncle Ted and my cousins. Other than my Mom, I think Uncle Ted was the person closest to my Dad. As I leaned over his hospital bed to give him a kiss on the forehead, the force of genetics and culture and family history combined, and I felt powerfully connected to my Dad and this little cluster of people who make up my extended family.

We all know that everyone dies. So why are we sad? It happens! To everyone! The sorrow must come from more than the loss of the individual. It comes from the loss of shared meaning and memory and a way of life that really only exists in our relationship with that person.

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