Last week my Uncle passed away. Technically he was my Great Uncle, as he was my Grandmother’s brother, but things really don’t matter. If we really wanted to be technical, I could go on about how was actually my second cousin because my Grandmother’s oldest sister got pregnant fairly young and had my Uncle. My Great-Grandparents just decided to raise him as one of their own children. This explains the thirteen year age difference between my Grandmother, youngest of her siblings, and my Uncle. With all of these technicalities aside, all that is left is that my Uncle is no longer with us.
It’s really quite sad because he was only 66 years old, which seems far too young. He had been battling cancer for five years and was actually cancer free for some of 2011 and most of 2012. Until it came back late last year, but by the end of the first week of December the cancer was going into remission and things were looking very hopeful. About a week before Christmas, however, the cancer came back with a vengeance, finding a way into my Uncle’s blood. Within a matter of days he had gone from healthy, about to be discharged from the hospital to having “two weeks left to live” with “no hope left”. Because it was so close to Christmas and he basically had no hope, so he got to go home and die peacefully with his family at his side.
His daughter is my Godmother and I was ring-bearer at her wedding, many, many years ago. It was really disheartening to see this woman I had respected my whole life be so upset, but it was also encouraging to see her being so strong for her mother.
Ryan, my Uncle’s son, oldest of three children, actually passed away about ten years ago in a farming accident. My cousin, my Uncle’s other son, told me the story about his father’s passing. My Uncle was lying down on the night of January 2nd, 2013 and he began unresponsive and even stopped breathing for a moment. His wife and son were at his side, praying it was not his time. Finally, he stirred just a little bit and my cousin asked him, “Was Ryan talking to you?” My Uncle, however, didn’t respond. My Cousin asked my Aunt to ask him the same question in Ukrainian, and so she did.
My Uncle nodded his head and said, “Yes.” Both my Aunt and Cousin told him that he should go with Ryan and he stopped breathing moments later. I hope he is with Ryan right now, in a much better place.
The Prayer service for my Uncle was on Monday night in the city here, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen a more packed service in my life. The Chapel was completely filled. The lobby outside the chapel was packed as well. The stairs leading to the second floor of the funeral home actually had people as well. It took over twenty minutes for everyone to file through and walk by the casket. That was really nice to see.
I know the reason for this as well. My Uncle was a farmer in a small community outside of a very small town. Members of my family have lived there for 100 years. My Grandmother grew up there. It’s a very close-knit community, and just a really great group of people. My Uncle was liked by them all. His personally was exploding with joy, humour and a passion for life. He made you feel better just by being around. My mom said it best: “It’s hard to imagine that the life of the party is gone.”
Apart from this, he drove the school bus for that entire area for 42 years, right from when he was out of high school until his cancer made him unable (about four years ago or so). He had driven two generations to school. Many of his earlier riders had had their kids driven by him as well. I knew he drove the school bus, but I had no idea it was for 42 years. He absolutely loved it and he had the kind of personality that I’m sure made all of the kids love it. Even though he hasn’t driven for about four years, there were a lot of teenagers at his prayer service who weren’t family. They were kids he had driven to school. That’s how much of an impact he had on them. The whole funeral process was uplifting, in a way, because it was so nice to see packed churches to celebrate the life of such a great man.
The funeral service was on Tuesday and it was out of town at a true country church that was built in 1910. My Grandmother and all of her siblings grew up down the road, and my Uncle’s farm was just a little bit further. I still remember going to visit Baba at her old farmhouse when we were kids. She lived alone there until she was about 90 or so. She was never really alone, though, because my Uncle was her neighbour and he took extremely good care of her.
The service itself was beautiful. A traditional Ukrainian-Catholic service, where the whole mass is sung. The singing was passed back and forth by a young priest – who was exceptionally good – and a cantor who had the voice of an angel, especially when she sang Ave Maria and Amazing Grace after the Mass concluded. My Uncle would have loved the ceremony.
Everyone in the community knew him and I know that he will be extremely missed. I have the most sympathies for his wonderful wife, my Aunt, who now has to live alone in the house and farm they shared together for years that double my lifetime, no doubt.
I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my lifetime, but this was by far the most overwhelming in terms of turn out and support. It was really beautiful. I’m glad that the funeral was in the same church that my cousin Ryan’s was and my Baba’s, and they are all buried together in the little cemetery outside the Church. My Great-Grandfather’s was there as well, but he died before I was born. It’s kind of sad that there’s been so much death in my family in the last ten years – a cousin, three of my grandparents, my great-grandma, three uncles – and I know it will only get worse. My Grandmother is 80 this year, the youngest of her siblings. Many of them are not doing so well and their health is deteriorating. I just hope that I can cherish whatever time I have left with them. Mostly, though, I feel sorry for my Grandma. Health-wise, she is near the top of her game, but her siblings are not so fortunate. She lost one brother just a few years ago and now another this year. I see how hard it is for her, and it makes me that much sadder. Life must go on, and life must end I guess.
With that being said, I’m about ready to end this post. I’ll be saying a prayer for my Uncle and his family tonight. I extend an invitation for any of you to join me. At least think of me and my family, if only for a moment.
Lord, guide my Uncle to heaven, please, and ensure his peaceful resting until the end.
God Bless my family, especially my Uncle’s children and wife, and please help them to remember the good times they shared with their father and husband.
And please take good care of my Grandmother, as you have done these many years.
Thanks to everyone for reading and for your support!