My cousin’s name lit up on the caller I.D. this morning but I didn’t answer.
It wasn’t because I didn’t want to talk to Missy, but I didn’t want to hear her message.
However, one can’t delay the inevitable, so I picked up the phone to listen to her voice mail.
Her voice was thick with tears as she said the words we all knew were coming but still didn’t want to admit were really true: “The doctors say his heart is weak. They are giving him about another month.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “I’ll talk to you later.”
The message ended.
I looked outside where the sun was shining brightly on the snow-capped mountains. I was alone in the house except for our dog Buddy, who slumbered blissfully beside me.
I had been watching my former pastor online since I wasn’t able to go to church this morning and the service was ending just as I hung up the phone.
“Go in peace,” he said by way of a benediction.
Those words settled onto my sad heart like a welcome blanket.
My Uncle Duane has been in the hospital with pneumonia for the past week. Tests have revealed that his 86 year old heart is weakening. He will be moved to a nursing home later this week.
We are never ready to say goodbye to a loved one, are we?
Uncle Duane is my dad’s older brother. He enlisted in the Army when he was a teenager and experienced battle on the front lines during WWII. He worked as an accountant for the US Steel company until he retired. Through the years, he has been the most involved and enthusiastic of uncles, taking a keen interest in the lives of his nieces and nephews. We have all been the recipients of mailed newspaper clippings that highlight our various pursuits, family photos, as well as carefully selected birthday cards that were meticulously signed the exact same way all these years:
And no phone conversation was complete without a full weather report…for both our area and his.
As I walked through the house, my eyes landed on a photo of the family taken in 2008. Uncle Duane is seated on the couch holding his camera. Almost involuntarily, a huge smile broke across my face.
The running joke in the family is Uncle Duane’s inability to operate a camera.
Every single time the entire family gathered together, he would ask us to pose for a group photo. Ten minutes later, we would still be in the same position, smiles glued to our faces as we tried to contain our laughter while Uncle Duane fiddled with his expensive camera, saying things like, “I just don’t understand what’s wrong with this thing!”
One year my dad was given a camera for opening a checking account at the local bank.
He took great delight in good-naturedly drawing my uncle’s attention to the fact that his cheap point-and-shoot provided better pictures than the expensive Canon or Nikon his brother had purchased.
It was all in good fun.
As happy memories from years gone by flooded my mind, I had a good cry.
When my family came home from church, I broke the news to them.
We all decided that in a few days, we will head back to my hometown to see my sweet uncle.
His birthday is coming up, so we are going to get a cake from his favorite bakery and sing to him. I will take lots of photos. We will listen to his stories, share the latest happenings in our lives, and we will laugh.
None of us will say it, but we will all know that we are saying goodbye.
On a day known only to his Creator, my uncle will leave this earth to finally see the face of his Savior.
He will also be reunited with his baby brother—my dad—who he adored.
I am so grateful for that certainty.
When I called Uncle Duane this afternoon to let him know that we were going to pay him a visit, he protested, saying he was not worth us making a 13 hour drive.
But the protest was a half-hearted one and he could not hide his delight at the thought of seeing us again.
And before we disconnected, he gave me a full weather report.
I love that dear man.