On Thursday, I drove to Iowa to bury my uncle. He passed away at home last week.
Unlike my grandpa, I don’t have photos of my uncle to post here. I don’t have affectionate stories about him from my childhood. I’m not traveling through the stages of mourning, as we didn’t really have a relationship to mourn. When I got the news last Thursday, I was – and remain – honestly more upset by my lack of reaction than by any feelings of loss.
I had the unpleasant task of contacting Rich’s Facebook friends to spread the news of his passing. I can think of few less appropriate ways to notify someone of this sort of thing, but we had no other way to reach these people, and no indication of others that he would have wanted us to contact. The responses I received described a man I never knew.
After the brief service on Thursday, the lot of us went out to lunch: my parents and grandma, my mom’s siblings, a cousin, and a few friends. My grandparents’ angel neighbor asked my mom and her siblings about their favorite memories of Rich, and it’s telling that most of them involved conflict, but that they could be told with affection and laughter.
So this is what I know of my uncle: he was wildly intelligent, and applied this intelligence to the things he was passionate about: astronomy, model trains, cameras, motorcycles, computers. He He hated the military, and gained weight to avoid having to serve in Vietnam. He had a friend who was poet laureate of some South American country, and when his friend received this award, they drank a station wagon full of beer. Until this fall, he held the family record for the half marathon – when I beat his time by several minutes, he reminded me that he had run the race in a storm with an injured plantar fascia. He was difficult and argumentative – as wildly intelligent people often are – resulting in polarized relationships with his family, but deep respect from his friends. He loved cats, and is buried with the ashes of some of his late feline friends. He smoked enough pot in the 70s that he developed an allergy to it. He was proud of me and my siblings, and told his friends that my sister and I were beautiful, though we never heard it from him.
He didn’t believe in God, and would have turned in his grave – or walked out – at the words of compassion and grace meted out by the pastor at the service. Regardless, I hope he’s at peace tonight, wherever he may be.