Last year I lost my father in law during this time of living the vagabond lifestyle in Thailand, which over the last four years has moved to the ranks of our “second home” as a good friend pointed out to me via Messenger a short while ago. This week I received notification from my dear sister, who has been assisting with care and preparation for this day, that my Uncle had passed. This cathartic writing is in tribute to him.
A single man all of his life, my Uncle would have turned 91 in just a few short days. He checked himself into assisted living (with the help of my sister and brother in law) between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He made the decision himself. I expressed to him how proud I thought he should feel because many are not capable or brave enough to make these difficult decisions. I’m pretty sure he knew deep inside his health was failing and it was time to not be alone in his home, meals on wheels was just not enough assistance.
This is year number two of being on our Snowbird Escape and having to face the reality of being across the ocean from the ones we love when loss strikes, therefore the title of the post, A Tribute For Closure II.
Earlier in the year he and my sister, as his executor, had buttoned up financial business; final will preparation and together had made arrangements and plans for this time with the funeral home. After his move, he received the news that his heart was failing to do it’s job. Oxygen flow through his system was an issue. He chose to let his body take its course and not pursue medical options to prolong life. He declined pretty rapidly with hospice nurses visiting and then a move to skilled nursing care soon after.
I spoke to him by phone from our temporary home in Denver a couple of times in the last few months, which I am very thankful for. The little “I love you’s” from those who have always been a part of our life just cannot be replaced. I sent him a special hand crafted birthday card from Thailand earlier than necessary just in case he did not make it for his big day on March 22nd. My sweet sister read the note I tucked inside to him in his semi-conscious drugged state in his last days. In my heart, I know he knew the sentiments contained there even if they did not sink in as she read. I was lucky to visit him annually on trips “home” to Iowa for quite a few years and for those brief moments during those visits of sharing pride about our lives, I am also thankful.
My heart aches with the thought of not being with my family during this time but yet, I also feel relief. Loss of loved ones is easy for no one, I know I am not unique in that regard. For me, the rituals we practice in our American Christian culture only intensify the emotions. Instead, being far away in Bangkok where I cannot easily (or affordably) make adjustments to go home, I will take time out to “chon gaew” with a beer (his favorite beverage for many a year) next Tuesday the 25th, the day of his funeral, to celebrate the life of this man. He was such an awesome Uncle to many of us “Bogs”. Having no children of his own, each of my cousins, my own children, nieces, nephews and all those down the line were treated special by this man. Here in this post, I will reminisce over some of my fondest memories to honor him the best I can.
My dearest Uncle shared a home with my Grandmother for as long as my memory serves me, all in Atlantic, Iowa where I was born. We spent many Sundays and holidays gathered together as a family with my dad’s brothers, sister, spouses and cousins. Two really big treats that always came to us kids from Uncle Bob was the cherished lucky Buckeyes he would give us as well as coins. All of which were of special significance. These special edition monies were also our annual Christmas gifts. I cherish mine and get them out of my jewelry box occasionally to review the contents. Valuing these collectibles made a big impression on me from a young age.
Army and Irma were friends of my Uncle’s. Being young I don’t exactly remember how their connection began but I do remember well the visits with them at the White Rose. Mom and Dad would take us in when we were in Atlantic, maybe for the fair or a day at the swimming pool or just for shopping. A quaint 60’s style bar I was impressed by the low lighting, the fish tanks and the jukebox. As a child, It was one of those magical spots for me. I hope he is happy to rejoin them and feel their love once again as I can still see his heartbreak when they passed away.
When my oldest brother was married in Colorado I recall him spending the whole day after the ceremony with us kids letting us play in the pool to our hearts content. Fond memories of trips to the fire station and being allowed to climb on the fire trucks fill my heart. While he served as sheriff of the county I remember the thrill of being allowed to take the meals my grandmother prepared to the prisoners. Saturday mornings most of my life I would wake to his bellowing voice coming into our farmhouse on his visits to “help” with the farm chores. Uncle Bob was a constant in my life. Never one to stick around long he always participated with family but then would be off again, spending significant time on his own or with friends.
Luckily, I got to take a few excursions with this Uncle in my life. Always a lesson and some fun were included on any expedition with Uncle Bob.
He was a deputy sheriff during the first one I recall. Just a simple weekend trip with my grandma to Storm Lake, Iowa for some Walleye fishing. I remember moving from one spot on a roadway where the fish weren’t biting. In the car, we rounded the corner and headed into town where a group of Hells Angels (approaching 100 rowdy attitude type from the mid 60’s era) were flooding into the town on their bikes. They were on the city park grounds and ripping up the grass; “driving like hellions”. Local officers were on scene. Never one to shy away from duty my uncle cautioned grandma and I to stay in the vehicle. I saw him interacting with the local officers and then approach the bikers. To my knowledge this officer of the law (my uncle) never carried a firearm. Maybe a “billy club” but nothing more. He felt his words and power for reasoning were all the muscle he needed. It seemed to work well for him and certainly set a great example for us kids. Like the famous saying used by President Roosevelt says, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” I remember the pride I felt on this day as I watched him help to bring things to calm and in other instances when I saw him in action or when he spoke to my dad about a “case”.
Another Uncle, Aunt and cousin lived in Washington state during my younger years. I was lucky enough to travel with my Uncle to visit them on a couple occasions. I remember him going out daily, early in the morning, on one visit and bringing home the most delectable baked goods for us to awaken to. I have him to thank for my addiction (read: cannot eat just one so better have none) to bear claws and apple fritters. YUM! Always a 4 am type riser he had to do something until the rest of us came to life! Again the epitome of a couple proverbs, one from Benjamin Franklin: “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” and from John Ray “The early bird catches the worm.” that alway give me pause. Uncle Bob spoke something similar often. Since most of my career has had me late to bed I still insure I keep this rule in mind because productivity (irrelevant to actual time of day) is the key to good things coming your way. Thanks again to this man for setting such a good example.
The biggest adventure that Uncle Bob accompanied me on was when I was 22 , married and a young mother of a one year old. My husband had proceeded me on our move to Las Vegas (Sin City). My parents were hesitant about their daughter moving away, let alone to such a scary location. But, I was going, so this dear Uncle drove me, my baby boy and the remainder of our belongings in our 1969 suicide door Lincoln Continental all the way to Vegas. Such a good sport and such a protector. He made sure we were settled in and he could report to my parents I was safe and then flew home.
Later in life, in his retirement, he became a “junker”. Running here and there, staying busy, helping others rid themselves of scrap metal and earning a little money to stop for a beer and some “pickle” tickets. He also went to thrift stores and auctions and maybe even did a little “dumpster diving” for collectible items he proudly stored around his home. Showing them off and sending me home with trinkets he deemed of special meaning to me (or anyone who came to visit). It simply made his day to share these treasures. A few years ago I became a “junker” myself when we bought The Sluice Box (BoCo branded now as my business) and I proudly shared the wonder of the treasures and the fact that everything has value to someone with my Uncle during the last couple visits I had at his home. We were very proud to call each other “junkers”. I’ll miss my visits. I’ll miss this man, I will forever appreciate his influence in my life.
We end up missing many people in life but if we can just focus on the value they added to who we are, we can carry a little bit of them with us forever. Thank you Uncle Bob for the values you gave me, may you find peace, happiness and rest with those who’ve gone before you forever and ever. I love you so.
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