Let me tell you about my uncle.
His name is Bob. He grew up in San Francisco. He lived in Seattle. Over a year ago, he was diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer that left him paralyzed on one side of his body and was expected to kill him within a month. He fought it for thirteen months, never giving up. He died about a month ago.
Let me tell you about Bob’s family. His wife, my aunt, spent the year supporting him in every way she could, showering him with the love he deserved and ensuring that his quality of life was the best it could be. His children, my cousins, seemingly without hesitation, halted their adult lives in New York to give everything they could to their father. I have never before seen such devotion, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I never see that level of devotion ever again. Angels could’ve hardly done better.
Let me tell you about Bob’s siblings, nieces, nephews, and friends. Repeatedly, during the course of the year, they would fly to Seattle to visit and help (or at least try not to get in the way). Every trip to Seattle seemed to ensure that the previous trip to Seattle wouldn’t be the last one. After a while, there was never a last time to see Bob. There would always be a next time – “I’ll see you later.”
Let me tell you about Bob’s brother. He is my father. This past year, he flew to Seattle more than he probably ever had previously in his entire life. This past winter, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, my father said these words to me: “Why do we never have time to visit people until they’re dying?” At Bob’s funeral, he gave a eulogy that expanded this sentiment: “We never have time to visit our loved ones until we know there’s not much time left. Well, I have news for you: there’s not much time left.”
Let me tell you about Bob’s funeral. It was a snowy January weekend in La Conner, Washington – a small, sleepy town north of Seattle across a river from the Swinomish Indian Reservation where the services took place.
I’ve never had so much fun at a funeral. It was a blast.
There was native american drumming and singing preceded by drifting speeches with no point or direction. There was Japanese taiko drumming, a slide show, an interactive eulogy with costumes, the singing of Beethoven, and a delicious buffet with dessert and an open mic.
But best of all, there was laughter and togetherness. In a cozy motel in sleepy La Conner, we joined together to watch the NFL playoffs. Together, we sang songs at a restaurant (much to the chagrin of the staff, I’m sure). We sat around a fireplace after the celebration of life, merrily and sorrowfully drinking; every newcomer to our gathering would require another toast: “To Bob!”
No family is perfect, but those which are strong can come together in times of great sorrow and laugh together, drink together, and be merry together. I am proud of my family, but moreover, I am proud of my uncle for being such a great man leading such an admirable life – a life that could bring us together at its closure to remind us what it means to be here on an otherwise lonely planet.
Thank you, Bob.