www.whyville.net Jul 3, 2011 Weekly Issue

Senior Times Writer

Remembering the Fallen

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It's five in the morning.

I don't know what I'm even doing awake, but I found my way to the computer.

My fingers typed out "facebook.com" and I saw a status update from my uncle.

Not him. I felt that twinge of hope that was suddenly killed off by the realization that he'd been dead for quite some time now. He died just two days before my birthday. Come the 21st of January, I went to school. And I came right back home instead of going out like I was going to. I wasn't in the mood to go anywhere. I couldn't have had any fun with the realization that my favorite uncle was gone.

I remember he would DJ all of our birthday parties, and he would do it for nothing but some of my grandma's homemade dinner rolls. He loved those. I'll always think of him when she cooks them for us. Every summer, he'd call every day to ask if the pool was open. Every day. I missed those phone calls last summer, and I miss them even more this year. He was everybody's favorite uncle. His funeral was packed; there were people in the church who sat on the floor, crammed themselves into the corners and against the walls, sat on the laps of others . . . There were even people who stood in the parking lot in the cold winter snow. We had to set up speakers to play outside for everybody to hear his service.

He was 48 years old when he passed. After many surgeries, one of which to completely cut out his esophagus, he was on so many medications and life support just to keep him alive. Everybody knew him as "that fat guy," and he sure was proud of it. Cancer and a year in the hospital completely changed that. He went bald, and his hair was longer than mine before this. In just that year, his eyebrows turned gray and the cancer started tearing him apart. After his first surgery, he looked completely different. So much weight lost. He was so whacked out on pain killers that he couldn't open his eyes or speak. He just nodded and shook his head. I couldn't bear to look at him anymore. I was so sad. I didn't want this to be the way I remembered my uncle: this broken, mangled up man who was laying in a bed helpless. He used to be this strong man who would pick up me and my mother at the same time and chuck us into the pool, then laugh. He wasn't this vulnerable man. He wasn't this sad, quiet man who was giving up.

I wouldn't ever rid that sight from my mind.

A month passed before his voice returned to him. My favorite aunt and I thought it was too hard to see him so frail and broken, so we would just call his wife; she never left his side, so she would let us talk to him. He still joked about with us the way he always had, but there was a tiredness in his voice. An aching tiredness that sent shivers down my spine.

I won't ever forget the last time he threw me in the pool. Phone in hand, fully clothed, and screaming all the while, I felt myself launched from his arms and I threw my phone as hard as I could . . . right into the neighbor's yard. This sent everybody into a roar of laughter, as the neighbors had a considerably large dog who would easily swallow my poor phone whole. My dearest uncle helped me over the fence, soaking wet, to go get it.

A year had passed since his surgery, and he'd gotten anything but better. It devastated us all. Tiki Tapu (that's just his stage name), the large and strong, couldn't even get out of his bed anymore. I refused to go to the hospital. I was in such denial that I couldn't even believe my own name.

It broke my heart when my mother came home in tears, claiming that she held his hand and he just let go. Eyes closed, he let go of her hand and pointed for her to go. He didn't want her to be there with him while he suffered. He looked at her with sorrow in his eyes and she kissed his forehead and left.

That was the last time she'd see him alive. His wife pulled him off of life support a few hours after she'd left.

His funeral was a few weeks later. Reality still hadn't hit me. It hit me hard when I walked into the church and saw the slim casket sitting at the front of the room. I fought the urge to run off, and I went to the front to say goodbye.

This slim, bald man wasn't my uncle. I refused to believe it. I sat there and stared at him for a moment. I studied the features of this poor man. He looked at peace. He finally looked at peace.

My grandma put one of her dinner rolls in my uncle's hands before they closed the casket. "To take on his journey," she said. When I turned to leave, I saw a vast crowd of people squishing into the church. It was like playing clown car with a bunch of Samoans. When he spoke, his son, my cousin, said, "When I go, Dad, I want to be remembered like you. I can only hope to live up to the man you were."

Don't we all wish to be that great?


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