My uncle died last month. Lung cancer sucks. All cancer sucks. The whole thing is wildly and brutally unfair. Nobody deserves that crap, but especially not kind and generous people who spend their lives making the world a better place.
But this isn’t a piece about the hideousness of cancer. This is a piece about the spectacular gift of family.
I traveled to Washington DC last weekend for my uncle’s memorial service. And it was beautiful. The whole weekend was filled with love and laughter and – yes – fun. Because here’s the thing – spending time with family is awesome, even when it’s for a sad reason.
In the week leading up to the service, my phone buzzed constantly as the group texts flew fast and furious. Who was coming out for the weekend? How were we getting there? What flights connected in what cities? Could anybody pick up a travel buddy along the way? Share a cab? What hotel? Maybe an Airbnb? Can somebody please add Cousin Grace to the text string, I don’t have her number!
As the dust settled, we found a hotel in easy walking distance to my aunt’s house and all bunked up there. I shared a room with cousins I hadn’t seen in years and we talked and laughed and piled into the beds with our moms to watch one of the Harry Potter movies.
Another night, my cousins and I struck out on foot into the city in search of late-night nibbles and spent a couple hours drinking beer, feasting on chicken nachos, and sharing stories about our uncle. Somehow we managed to resurrect a series of limericks written at a family gathering at least fifteen years ago that glorified my uncle’s ping pong ability. It’s funny what sticks with you.
My uncle was a quiet man. Marrying into a tribe of fiercely strong and outspoken women, he tended to relax comfortably in the background of events, but I found that I missed his voice. He rarely called my aunt by her given name, using instead a nickname derived from her last name. I’m pretty sure he was the only person who ever called her that and I kept listening for it throughout the weekend.
The service was beautiful and the church was absolutely packed. I welcomed the opportunity to meet my aunt’s friends and chat with the people who knew and loved my uncle. People cancelled vacations, dropped everything, and traveled hundreds of miles to come and say goodbye. That’s the kind of man he was.
So if you ask me about the weekend, I’m going to tell you that it was fantastic. It’s not that there wasn’t sadness – my uncle’s passing left a huge, gaping hole in the family and our hearts will stay broken for a long time. So yes, there was grief. It’s just that there was more love.