My dad is one of 13 kids. Don’t get excited… He’s in his 70’s and it was a really different time and a different world when my grandma had her children. You wouldn’t want to do that today. Not just because it would, obviously, be extremely spendy but also because this is a raw and cruel world in which we live.
Cynical? Maybe. Accurate? Perhaps. A couple of years ago when the economy fluttered a bit and people felt it and got scared, I started joking around with my family and friends and acquaintances at school and church and in our town. I would always say, “Well, you know, the world is going to hell in a hand basket” and then I would chuckle. (Not even a real laugh, mind you, but a low chuckle.) Most people would nod their heads in agreement and offer their agreeable tidbits about the state of the union, the state of the economy and the state of the world. Some, once in a while, would look at me like I was silly or just plain — nuts. But, it appears that I was right.
Now, as I look back, I see that we ARE going to hell in a hand basket now. I’m not a pessimistic person, (just the opposite), but if you don’t believe me, just read the daily news. There are more shootings/killings every day; there is more bullying in our schools and apparently teen suicide from it; there is more violence within marriages where one of the parents kills the spouse and all of their children (and to what purpose?); there are numerous child abductions, sexual predators, human trafficking, rapes in several countries, brutal, genital mutilation among women, insider trading and unethical business practices, the downfall of religion and pride in our human race, the continuation of war, the threat of nuclear bombs and weapons as if its child’s play, as well as overpopulation and harming our land, pollution in our air, water, oceans and earth, hunger, devastation, global warming and, of course, war. These are to name just a few but you do get the idea.
What is our world coming to? Maybe those few people shouldn’t have looked at me so strangely when I chuckled not-so-long-ago and stated my opinion a few years back. It’s happened. We’re here. We did this to ourselves –or, maybe, we just let it happen. But, as far as I see, letting something happen is nearly as bad as making it happen.
If we stand by and watch and go on about our daily lives while people are harmed, children go hungry, countries are bombed and devastated, teens kill themselves, wars go on and women are mutilated, then how can we not only look in the mirror at ourselves each morning and night but how can we hold our heads up high? How can we, as a people, have pride in ourselves and go to our two-martini lunches and on our exquisite business trips and warm, tropical vacations with our families, sit in our ergonomic desk chairs at the office and sleep on our pre-programmed sleep number beds at night? How can we just float on from day-to-day and not notice what’s happening around us? How can we live like this and not change it, stop it? How can we not feel it? Something to think about…
Back to my beautiful rainbow… My father was the 10th of those 13 children and his older brother, Don, was the 3rd to be born. (This does tie in, so please be patient… I’m a long-story-short type of person even when it’s not so short.) My grandparents had 12 boys and, then, their 13th child — was finally a girl! And, yes, you can imagine that she went to school and did just about anything that she wanted. She was a good girl and not snotty by any playground means but, if she ever needed to throughout her entire life; she could always use the saying, “Well, let’s just see what my big brother thinks about that!” I’m not so sure that she ever really said it but all of the kids knew that she could have if need be.
Anyway, I don’t want to go through a lot of details or we’ll be here from now ’til next Wednesday, so I will attempt to sum it up by this statement: although my dad was the 10th child to be born into the family, he turned out to be one of the most mature and he was by far the most successful in life. There are many reasons for it but it boils down to (in my opinion) his personality, his faith, his heart, his pride and personal drive and his ethics. Enough said.
Back to this one older brother, in particular: he found out the bad news at almost 65-years-of-age that he had some form of cancer. I was younger and, although I was getting married, the grown-ups in the family (older generation) had quite a lot of pride and didn’t speak of medical details and prognoses. We didn’t learn until much later that it all began as some form of stomach cancer and then it later spread to bones and organs and blood and such. It’s not too important what he had; it is more important how he handled it.
I know that he chose to have an extremely invasive surgery in the beginning and then he and my aunt waited, optimistically, to see how things went before moving forward with other choices and treatments. This was way back in the early, early 90’s and things were oh-so-very-different then.
Long-story-short… He had never ever used a computer in his life. Don’t get me wrong, he was a sharp man and had used a calculator and seen secretaries in offices use typewriters but, back then, there was no internet or fancy-schmancy PC’s in every home; there were no Smartphones, iPhones, iPads, handheld Nintendo DS’s or the like. All of that amazing stuff came after he died. So, to him, a computer was a magical thing.
He figured out some way to get an old Mac off of someone that was closing shop on their business. He didn’t know how to turn it on, let alone use it. One day when I was over visiting him, sitting right next to his pellet stove emitting 50,000 degrees of scorching heat, he mentioned it. (The cancer, or maybe old age, made him so very cold and I didn’t have the heart to ask my aunt to turn the stove down, so I learned from that day forward to dress in layers.)
While we were talking about my life and what I was doing, he kept turning the attention back to my new, fledgling business and my own computer. My parents had asked me what I wanted for my birthday and, at the time; I wanted my very own Macintosh computer at home (which was a privilege at that time as hardly anyone had their own computers at all). I got one for my birthday and I was ecstatic! I immediately came up with ideas to do what we used to call in the old days as “desktop publishing” for local businesses. Today, you would think of it as creating and designing pamphlets, tri-folds, brochures, and the like as public relations tools for corporations or small businesses. I had also mentioned that I would love a printer and, again, at that time all people had was BLACK. Only black. Only businesses had COLOR printers – anywhere. My parents got me a brand new, color printer to go with my Mac and I went into business, literally. I created everything from menus for local restaurants (and outsourced them to print shops to get them laminated, too!) to tri-fold brochures for small companies that had only been relying on word-of-mouth for the past 40 or 50 years. I loved it so much. But, I think my uncle loved hearing about it more than I loved doing it, if that is even possible.
On that day, he looked in the direction of the Mac and waved his hand, asking coyly if I thought I knew how to “turn that thing on”… And from there, the rest is history. On that day, I saw the light in my uncle’s eyes return. My aunt saw it, too. And every day that I could, I stopped by their home and taught my uncle “just one more thing” that he could add to his repertoire. By the time that he had learned how to turn it on and off and play a couple of stocked games on it, he was in hog heaven! When I got to the point of teaching him how to open a new, blank document, to save it as whatever he wanted, and then to re-open it to a blank slate to write whatever he dreamed… Well, you would have thought that I just handed him the keys to a 1965 or 1967 souped-up, jacked up Mustang! He was like a kid at Christmas and he hugged me with a renewed strength (that I have no idea where he came up with it from… especially in his frail, frail, advanced state). At that time, I had a funny feeling that it wouldn’t be long before he left us. But, at that moment, he was like a kid again and that’s all that mattered.
I don’t know what he wrote on that old Mac on those blank pages in the days before he passed away but I do know that he loved me. I also know that he appreciated me for all that I had taught him because, to him, it was a gift. I wish that my aunt hadn’t passed away not too long afterward and the children and grandchildren had destroyed or given away his wartime medals, his years and years of old watches and pieces of jewelry (he was a jeweler for nearly 40 years before he retired and went South for the winters), and that old, beat up Mac that he loved so much. I still wonder to this day what he wrote and if he was satisfied when he passed on.
I do remember talking to him for hours on end because my own parents (his brother) were down South in Palm Springs travelling around and enjoying their own retirement. I felt that I was visiting for myself – and then, again, visiting for my father, too. So, I always tried to stay just a little longer than I might have so that it felt like my mom and dad were there with him, too. I brought him pictures of their time in Palm Desert and up-and-down the Oregon and California Coasts so that the photos would play with his memory enough to bring him back with a smile. And, it usually did. I remember one picture of a gorgeous rainbow and I told him something about loving rainbows and magic and such. I teased him about a children’s book that I was then-toying around with and he just looked at me with this deep, loving expression on his face. Then he said to me with all of the boldness and honesty that he could muster with those big, blue eyes, “You’ll do it, Shawn. I know you will. Rainbows and all.” And, then he smiled at me.
A day or two later, I got a call from my aunt Jane. She was at the hospital and my uncle had taken a turn for the worse. She didn’t sound like usual, she sounded business-like and strong. I didn’t like it. I told my husband, “I have to go to the hospital. It’s Uncle Don.” He asked me if I wanted him to go with me and, since he had just gotten home from a long shift at 9:30 p.m. at night (and we were still newlyweds and extremely thoughtful to one another and cherished our sleep), I said no. I walked around like a crazy-woman trying to get ready. My dad’s own father has passed away quite young at the age of 50 (yeah, with 13 children and a wife) and I had kind of always thought of this uncle as a grandpa-like figure and I know that my dad thought quite a lot of him, too. He was about 10 years older than my dad and was always there to talk to if you needed. By the time that I had finally brushed my teeth and found my purse, I quietly rushed toward the front door, frustrated at not finding my car keys. My husband was standing, waiting for me with his coat on and my car keys in his hand. I can tell you that I never thought that I would love him more than the day that we got married but, at that very moment, I did. I truly did, and without a word being spoken. And luckily, I have experienced that moment again with him numerous times in our life together.
I won’t go into too much that happened that night while standing, holding my uncle’s cold, frail hand in my right hand and holding my husband’s strong, warm and cozy hand in my left because that’s a story for another day. Just know this: if you know nothing else about me, know that he knew that I was there, he felt the love coming from me, and that he loved me back. Even if the tubes in his mouth and the debilitating disease kept his dying body from showing it or saying it, I knew that he heard my words, he understood, and that he loved me. It was an almost peaceful feeling until my aunt said, “Oh, don’t worry, honey. You don’t have to stand there too long. After all, he can’t really hear you and he can’t talk or anything. So, if you want to come out in the hall, we can just chat for a while.” I didn’t go there to see her; I went for him.
I want you to know that I stood there with him and held his hand and chatted away with him – about nothing, and yet, everything for quite a long time – until we were ready to go, until I was ready to say goodbye. And, when I took a deep breath and felt that it was time, I felt alright because he seemed tired and ready to go to sleep. Knowing how long-winded I am, I probably wore him out, poor thing. So, I didn’t feel the depth of guilt that I thought that I would: for leaving and walking away. Sometimes, I think that we, as human beings, feel that if we’re there, right there when our loved ones pass that we don’t feel that sense of guilt. I don’t know what I felt except that I told him that my mom and, especially, my dad LOVED him with all of their hearts and would be home soon to see him (even though I knew it would be too late to see him but not too late for a funeral). I told him that my husband was right there and that he loved him and I repeated our names so that he knew who was talking to him even though, he knew.
I will never forget it but my aunt was overhearing my goodbye and she leaned her crotchety old head into the room and said, “Honey, he can’t hear you anyway”, almost like a warning. After knowing her all of my 30-years-of-life I never hated her more than at that very moment. My mom, the Ph.D. in Psychology told me later that that might have been her way of coping or grieving or dealing with the guilt of losing her best friend. I don’t know. I just know that what she said was oh-so-wrong. Because at that very moment, I squeezed my husband’s hand to see something that almost took me over with grief.
I sucked air into my mouth and it made such a horrible sound like it was my last breath on earth: my uncle was crying; he was literally crying. And a tear fell from his left eye and glided softly from the corner down toward his cheek. I let go of my husband’s hand with my left hand and wiped his tear away. I sucked air again but this time more softly and slipped my hand back into the warm nest of my husband’s for safety. I yelled loudly, so that he could hear me, “Well, we better let you get some sleep. You look a bit tired and I probably wore you out! (I laughed, then paused.) I LOVE YOU, UNCLE DON. We both do. We’ll come and see you tomorrow. You get some rest. I love you!!”
And, we walked out of the hospital room with one quick look back to him. I breathed deeply, resigned to the fact that my being there didn’t matter. I had no control over anything. Only God had control and I was letting go and letting him figure out the hard stuff. I just tried to breathe. I hugged my aunt, thoroughly disgusted with her, hugged my cousin and we quickly left. There was no reason to stay. And, if I had stayed there for more than a brief, single minute to chat, I know myself well enough to know that I would have wanted to tear into her and ask her how in the heck could she say such horrible things about the man that she loved all of her life? I wanted so bad to tell her about his tear but she would have only poo-poo’ed it as something else. But, my husband and I know better. I cried all of the way home, sobbing softly, and mumbling to myself. My husband just held my hand and softly smiled as he drove us to our home.
We got a call early the next morning about 5:00 a.m. He had just passed away. The funeral was amazing because they had a color guard and they gave him a 21-gun salute. He deserved that and more. It was a gorgeous day even though we had some Pacific Northwest rain for a little while. I had remembered my umbrella, so it was OK. When we hit the highway to come down off of the cemetery hill – down to their home that they had shared together for decades and decades – for the after-service gathering, I did that funny thing again – the sucking of air. It was like someone sucked the life out of me, the air inside of me: I grabbed my husband’s arm and just totally lost it. There, right in front of us, over top of their home stretched a rainbow, but it wasn’t just any rainbow like one might see after a misty rain; it was a DOUBLE rainbow – just for me. It was like someone was telling me: no, Shawn, it isn’t just a rainbow – it’s a double – so, pay attention.
Now, I don’t know if it was from my uncle for me to know that he was alright and that everything was OK but I knew that he WAS at that very moment… He was OK. I don’t know about those things: rules in heaven and all, so it could have been God just letting me know that I could breathe easily again. It reminds me of the plaque that sits just to the left of my laptop on my writing desk in our library; it was from our two, beautiful, intelligent, creative, amazing daughters this month for Mother’s Day. It reads: “Breathe Deeply”. And, I do.