I got he call yesterday morning from my cousin Sarah.
“Uncle Duane died at 6:30 this morning.”
The news did not come as a surprise but it still felt like a blow to my heart.
Back in February 2013, our family had taken a whirlwind trip to PA to say goodbye to Uncle Duane, as he was given just a short time to live. (I wrote about that here.).
True to form, he survived for 20 more months. Tough to the end.
I had the chance to see him two more times since that day.
Last October, my brother and I made a trip to Pittsburgh and we were thrilled to be able to spend a day with Uncle Duane. We told him we would take him anywhere he wanted to go. He listed several places and as we traveled around town, he repeatedly apologized for “being a bother.”
We assured him many times that this was not a bother for us, but a joy.
And we meant it. Because it was.
Here is a photo that my brother snapped as we walked through Walmart on my way to pick up a new laptop for Duane because he was particularly interested in “joining the Facebook.” He was 87 years old. You gotta love that. 🙂
Later, Jeff spent nearly two hours setting up a Facebook profile for Uncle Duane and explaining how it all works. He would then receive several phone calls over the next few months with more questions. He never posted a status but he did enjoy getting to see the photos of all his nieces and nephews who he loved so much.
The last time I saw him was in August. He didn’t want me to take his photo because he looked so very frail, so I honored his wishes. Before we went back to New England, my mom and I stopped in to see him at the retirement home where he briefly lived. He was sound asleep and looked so peaceful that we didn’t want to disturb him. So I wrote him a note saying goodbye and said I would call him soon.
He was quite unhappy with us and said he should have awakened him.
I spoke to him several times in his last few months. His health declined rapidly and he spent much time in the hospital. When it became clear that he could no longer live in the retirement home, he was moved to a nursing home. He sounded progressively weaker each time I spoke to him.
Our last conversation was just a couple of weeks ago. He was comfortably settled in his nursing home room and sounded fairly good, but very tired. I filled him in on all the latest family news, which he was always eager to hear.
As the conversation wound down, he said, “I know that I’m on my way out, Sue. My days are numbered.”
“Well, you’ve had a good, long life, Uncle Duane. I am so glad you are still here, and I am going to miss you terribly when that day comes.”
He agreed that his life had been a good one. Then, “I’m ready to go and see Jesus.”
“I know you are.” Tears filled my eyes at this point. “And my dad is going to be awfully happy to see you again.” I tried to keep my voice light. “Be sure to say hi to him for me.”
“Oh, I surely will.”
I told him I would let him go so he could get some rest and then I said, “I love you very much, Uncle Duane.”
“Well, the feeling is mutual.”
Classic Uncle Duane. My dad’s side of the family loves deeply but saying the words has never come easy to any of them.
There is a void in my life today. I have had my uncle in my life for nearly 50 years. He has always been there for me in so many ways.
I think that when it will hit me the most that he is gone is when the phone doesn’t ring at 12:01 on New Year’s Eve. For as long as I can remember, he called at that exact time every year so that he could be the first to wish us a happy new year.
The phone will be silent this year at that time but we will all be thinking of him and the fact that he is Home and whole and full of joy in the presence of his Savior.
Rest in peace, Uncle Duane.
You were so loved.