When I heard my family wanted to get together yesterday on the one year anniversary of my uncle’s death to share stories about him, I have to admit I was a little…apprehensive.
Actually, if I’m being completely honest, I thought it would be a disaster! As soon as my mom told me what we were doing, I imagined a room full of tears and tissues, everyone exchanging memories of his last days in the nursing home, and talking about how hard and long this year was without him.
I miss my uncle just as much as the next person, but the void he left in our family is still very fresh, and I wasn’t sure talking about him all day was going to be a good thing…
But gosh- I was SO wrong.
Naturally, mom and I were the last people to arrive at the house yesterday. When I walked in the door, I was instantly taken back by the laughter echoing down the hall from the living room. I walked further into the house and quickly realized- there were no tears and no sad faces anywhere…everyone was smiling!
Suddenly it hit me- I had clearly forgotten who we were celebrating!
OF COURSE everyone was smiling- my uncle Jerry was the best! His down syndrome made him special that’s for sure…a special blessing straight from heaven to my family for 51 years. He was a beautiful carrier of endless joy, a pure heart, a gentle spirit, and childlike faith.
When it comes to those things- I’ve had no better role model here on earth.
So yesterday we squeezed onto couches and pulled chairs together around a table of brownies and cake and a pot of really strong coffee, and told our favorite Jerry stories.
One of my favorite stories happened when I went to the nursing home to eat dinner with him one night. Everyone in the nursing home eats together in a big cafeteria and sitting a few tables down from us that night was an elderly man with a very bad cough. About every 2 minutes, this poor man would have a coughing fit. As you can imagine this created quite the commotion, but he clearly couldn’t help it. Eventually uncle Jerry had enough of all the noise and yelled in a very loud voice for the whole room could hear- “SIR CAN YOU PLEASE JUST BE QUIET?!” Only uncle Jerry can pull off such a stunt without upsetting a soul! Who could get mad at him when he flashed a smile like this one?
We talked about how he always knew what day of the week it was based on what he ate for breakfast. Friday, of course, being pancake day.
We remembered his imaginary friends- Eddie Cooper and Gerard, and laughed at how we talk about them now like they are actually a real part of our family.
My aunt talked about times she refers to as heavenly moments, when God would speak to her through uncle Jerry. What better messenger is there (I think anyway) for God to use than a man with a pure heart who speaks exactly what he hears..a man who isn’t worried about what people will think or held down by pride. He doesnt question what he hears or think twice about what hes feeling. He doesnt try to make sense of anything beforehand- he just speaks. It only makes sense that heaven flowed so naturally through him!
There’s so much I remember…my uncle gave the very best hugs. His laugh was loud and contagious and came from deep in his belly- I can still hear it so clearly! His eyes were full of love. His hands were so small and gentle. His shirt was always tucked in tight and his pants pulled up high and usually a little crooked…but he always looked so sharp! He sat at the center of every table and was the life of EVERY party…
I had forgotten, until yesterday, how good it is to tell stories. It nourishes the very deepest parts of your heart and makes you feel alive again- like finding your favorite t-shirt buried deep in the closet or walking the familiar streets of an old college town.
Yesterday was amazing and I left there feeling filled and thankful- quite opposite to the emotionally draining experience I was expecting! I left thankful for the special years we had with him and even more thankful that his stories will continue to live on- bringing our family together and making us laugh for years and years to come.
Thank you uncle Jerry, for reminding me to CELEBRATE.
I love you