Saturday, June 13, 2009

Goodbye Uncle

My favorite uncle (out of 35-40 by blood and marriage) just died on Friday. That's him above, sitting on a car in the desert during a trip from Illinois. Also on the car are 1957 plates and a bumper sticker from the "Waring Auto Theatre" in Carbondale (fancy name for a drive-in!)

It was the emphysema that got him, even though he suffered through so many other things in his life he was mainly ravaged by his years as an alcoholic and a smoker, it was the tobacco that got him (just like it got so many other of my family members).

Some of the following was told to me by my mother, grandmother, and others. Some of it I know from first-hand experience.

He is the one responsible for my parents meeting each other. He and my dad (Bill) were buddies. He was in the drunk tank at the local jail, so Bill came over to the house to get his older sister (my mother, Lola) so they could go get him out. That’s how Bill and Lola met.

He was just a teenager when he moved in with his brother and wife, who was the biggest drunken whore and worst mother in ten counties. I'll resist writing more about her now, there's too much stuff to write. I will say that his brother died young, and asked him to promise to marry his widow and raise his 3 kids (since it had apparently already been consummated...). He kept his word, married his brother’s widow and stayed married to her through her natural life - 40 more years until she died (a victim of congestive heart failure and also emphysema). Both of them were alcoholics, and his wife was also a sex addict.

(When my female cousin called me to tell me about his passing, she was also calling him "Uncle" - and this is silly that I never gave it any thought before, but he was her uncle too. She said, "yup. He was my uncle-daddy." And sure enough, he was. I always thought about him being her dad, but, of course, he really wasn't.)

I spent many many hours growing up, along with my cousins from 2 other families with drinking issues, hanging around waiting in the dive bars while parents, aunts, uncles tried to talk somebody or another home from a binge. All the families I grew up around were highly dysfunctional.

The couple dealt with those issues until they were well into middle age, then his wife found Jesus and he got on board with that too, they were both needing to straighten out anyway, so it seemed to help. He wasn't one (like her) to have visions of Jesus in the cloud formations, or even to mention religion, he was just a really nice and good person who always took the hand he was dealt and played it for better or worse. He had a great deal of loyalty, tolerance and patience.

When my mother was in her downward spiral from her emphysema, she was living in the same town with him, and he ended up being a primary caregiver for her in her final years (whereas I was living a couple thousand miles away -- I could visit but was unable to bear the caretaking burden). He visited her every day, took care of her paperwork, ran errands, hired nurses, and also had to endure her growing outward hostility toward those most closely related to her. He was made of stronger mental stuff than I was, that's for sure. We comforted each other by blaming her lack of oxygen for at least some of the hostility. He withstood it, even when he had plenty of health issues of his own.

A few years after his wife died, he married a woman who was one of those extreme right-wing fundamentalists. I've blogged her in sadly hilarious ways here before [here's where Jesus appeared in her son's shower and here's a vile christian racist email I got from her] - never met her and don't need to.

She's the reason I got completely out of touch with my uncle. I never confronted her on her beliefs (what's the frikkin point of that? Is anyone going to change their mind?), and she seems to be absolutely convinced that she is God's tool and mouthpiece.

My cousin has said that she thinks the the rest of the family are not going to honor his wish to be cremated. This is one of those weird christian things - my own mother, after years of being open-minded toward all kinds of religious beliefs, became very fundamentalist at the end - absolutely refusing cremation because she was going to need her body intact for The Rapture - even though cremation was the only option that was we could all afford.

I've been busy going through the trunks looking for old pictures so I can send to my female cousin before she herself dies, she's had cancer for a couple of years. I can't get much information out of her about it, but she hasn't offered much hope. She'd love to have these old pictures - and, as much as I love them, it's better to get them sorted and circulated.

I've got up to 6 aunts and uncles left. One aunt is in a nursing home in Roswell NM. One is the above-mentioned handmaiden of the God of the white people. One more I know is alive. The rest I can't even find on Google. Almost all gone...


Ptelea said...

I am sorry for your loss. It is interesting how, at this age (also born in 1953) that we come in such close contact with death. I come from a very small family and my dad and two aunts are the only ones left since my mom and uncle died years ago. My 79 year old Aunt has moved in with me since she doesn't do well on her own. She would prefer to 'check out' since she has Alzheimer's. I am enjoying having her around and it is spurring me to get my affairs in order - and just to enjoy life as long as I am able!

Blueberry said...

Getting affairs in order, I know what you mean. I've been scanning old pictures all day, want to send the originals to my cousin so she can enjoy them and send them along before she dies. Alzheimer's - I don't think I'd want to go a long time with that either. Hope you are holding up. Being a caregiver is difficult.

Friðvin said...

Sorry about your uncle. Very interesting family story though. Some of those folks remind me somewhat of my grandmother, but you had more of them! :-)

Blueberry said...

I had a very large (extended) family with extra heapin' helpins of dysfunction.