no voice to say goodbye

My uncle went home on hospice care today.

Last Wednesday, my dad told me the doctors gave him a week. Tonight, my aunt called to let us know he was leaving the hospital. Words like “he decided it was time” bounced around our living room, and “full military honors”. He still has one feeding tube, but he also has a blockage in his bowels–this is metastasized colon cancer; I’d be more shocked if he was totally clear. What they thought was pneumonia is just infiltration into his lungs. He sleeps a lot and can’t move around on his own.

For someone I have only known for half my life–big, complicated family, ours–I feel as though, in the end, he figured me out. The half of my life Gene saw was the ugly one. I was still a sweet little girl in the beginning. I have some brilliant memories of trips to Perry and long afternoons spent reading in, get this, the heated massage recliner. Ooh, I was spoiled. I can’t ever doubt that I was loved. Even when I was depressed, anorexic, and generally a pain in everyone’s rear, I was welcome. Then summer came, after years of winter. One year I picked up Gene’s Bible, a King James version in large print. I loved the language. That version had a beautiful translation of my favorite verse:

Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

Where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.

(Yes, I am a walking cliché. Ruth 1:16-17.)

And lo, that Christmas I had a matching Bible with my name on it.

It wasn’t the first book I had from Gene, actually. The first was a tattered, battered baby naming guide he and Pat were going to sell in a garage sale. Best. Resource. Ever. The names in it are coming back, too. Then there was the compendium of military humor from the Civil War through Vietnam. You couldn’t pry that book out of my hands some afternoons. It’s still comfort reading. So Gene understood about books. He also sent us home with a great big computer desk, which is still standing in the downstairs tech nook. (Normal people have dining rooms…) The veneer is peeled off in places, because I would sit there for hours surfing the Internet, and my fingers like to pick at things. It was too big to cart south to Florida, and I had a use for it. I don’t see myself getting rid of it anytime soon, either.

Every shuttle launch, every landing, reminds me of Gene. It’s almost poetic that our space program should end now. He used to go to the launches. He liked Florida, something I never quite understood except for the bit about the shuttles. None of the bad parts affected him. He liked the heat, and his house never took any significant hurricane damage. He was surrounded by other old soldiers. He walked his dog on balmy evenings and talked to his baby brother on the phone.

I never went down to Florida. Before the cancer, he was content to come north to us, and after, I suspect he would rather we didn’t see him like that. My last mental picture is of a tall, strong man, neither fat nor slim, older but not truly old. That is right. That is who he is inside. He had his ups and downs, but in the end, he became someone he could be proud of.

I’m proud too.

I miss the bees
I miss their honey
I miss them humming
By the flowered vine
My time is short now
I feel it coming
I see you, darling
In the morning light

Laura Cantrell “Bees


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