Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reformed Rebel--a memorial

Remember when I said here that one of my fears is losing someone I love? Well, it happened. My Uncle Paul died in his sleep on Sunday night/Monday morning. I don't know what to do with this. Don't know how to assimilate it into my everyday. He had been in ailing health for years, the last 5ish on dialysis, the result of kidney failure due to repeated heart cath procedures with dyes that are lethal to kidneys. On top of this, his wife is severely debilitated due to MS. This sequence of craptastic health combinations led to him having little quality of life in recent years. So it is selfish of me to wish him still here. I ache for my mom, as this was her oldest brother and while expected, is death ever really expected? We expect to lose our parents to death at some point, but losing a sibling is another thing entirely.

My uncle was a walking conundrum, shaped by my well-meaning, but hard grandfather. This left him like him, but not. Like him in stubborness and looks and different in his love for the bizarre. My uncle was a rebel at heart. He was a Marine. Rode in the rodeo, played rugby, rode a Harley, drove a Corvette too fast and generally gave convention the middle finger. Surprisingly conservative in his politics. He had art in his soul, as his photographs are truly, simply fantastic and awe-inspiring. Fantastic even in the age of film--long before Photoshop. He even went so far as to build a dark room (do people in their 20s or younger even know what this is?) in his garage. He loved dogs. LOVED. His dogs were among the most spoiled in the world and often sported their own liberal dusting of his beloved expensive men's cologne.

In my childhood, I was convinced he was living a jet-set life. I remember visiting him in Denver and playing in the snow. Snow! For a Texas-girl, that was high times. He met and married his second wife and they honeymooned in Hawaii. Hawaii! He had traveled abroad. Abroad! He had a pool in his backyard. A pool! He often worked in different states, as he was contracted with Boeing doing. . . something? He loved having my sister, my cousins and me visit his house and swim (at least I think he did). For quite a while, he and my aunt would take my sister and I to dinner once per year and let us order whatever we wanted. Dessert! Appetizers! Luxury. I knew him to be eccentric, but I was ego-centric enough to not even pay attention to his role as a father or grandfather.

This is where the conundrum comes in. . . he was a rebel-rousing soul that was often less-than considerate to his first wife in their adventure as a family(I was too young to realize this). He was away more than he was present for his daughters. His grandchildren saw him once per year, if they were lucky. He left the hospital after a failed kidney transplant against medical advice. Up into his 50s, it seems responsibility was his foe. However, living with someone with a degenerative, debilitating disease will transform. Crippled by his own health as much as my aunt's, he never wavered. Someone who had run from responsibility his entire life was now chained to responsibility and I didn't hear him complain. He may have, probably did, but I didn't see him act resentful. Others questioned his determination to take on my aunt's care by lifting, changing, cooking, feeding, bathing, etc. Why not put her in a nursing home? It would be easier for him, right? Examining his younger life, one would assume this is exactly what he would do. But no, "for better or worse" held a higher meaning for him.

One of a kind. I hope that Friday's memorial service will help me to believe this presence is gone. Until then, my mom's announcement of "your Uncle Paul died" is ringing in my ears.

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