Friday, August 22, 2008
A Tribute to My Uncle...a Quiet Hero
(Photo taken Feb 2008 in Florida)
One thing in life we can never take any credit for is the family we are born into. To that extent, I was born into a rich family...rich in character, rich in faith, rich in hope and love. To that extent, I must boast of a particular family member.
The heart has been heavy this week as my Uncle Ted has been struggling to hold on to this side of life for a number of days now. These times are when it is most difficult to live so far away from family and your roots. My best goes out to my Aunt, Cousins and Mom who are carrying on the vigil as my Uncle goes into a hospice care situation with the medical professionals basically "calling it a day" and the election of family to not sustain his life artificially. My wife and I will be traveling up there this next week...and while we were hoping to visit Uncle Ted and Aunt Nan in a more upbeat context, Bibi and I will look forward to reconnecting and sharing in this family struggle.
This man was diagnosed with terminal cancer about 5 years ago if I remember correctly and given 1-2 years estimated time to wrap up his affairs. Since that time he has been through a number of chemo treatments, worked through a couple of strokes, and other periodic ailments like colds and pneumonia which come to those on various medications which reduces the bodies resistance to germs and infection. Yet, he has been a walking miracle both in the words of his doctors and the people who have been around him constantly these past few years. You might even call him the "energizer bunny". His "batteries" have just kept on running beyond anyone's expectations.
I always remember Uncle Ted as a robust and healthy man of good Norwegian genes. Always clean cut, no bad habits,..."Mr. Clean" you might call him. He and my Aunt are in their 60th year of marriage and within our family stand as the longest healthy marriage relationship on record. When we occasionally review albums and old family movies, I have often focused on photos from their wedding day...which I believe was the first wedding my mother performed as wedding pianist in her early teens at my grandfather's church. Every time I have looked at those photos and then at my uncle and aunt together in recent years, I have marveled at the continued zest and "connectedness" between them. Theirs is a generation of one of the last to hold the virtue of marriage in highest esteem and honor as a lifelong commitment.
We spent constant time together in my growing up years and never did I ever hear a cross word between them as a couple. Uncle is the strong quiet type, and my aunt the soft spoken but always capable negotiator...seemingly quite able to get things done or understood in the family. I never remember any yelling or screaming towards my 3 first cousins Tim, Kriss or Caryl as we were all growing up together. Both parents seemed to have firm control by simple old fashioned parenting techniques. A hard look of disapproval or use of first and middle names in a stern voice in those days seemed enough to make kids fall in line with their parents wishes...most of the time anyways.
My Uncle and Aunt are no strangers to hardships and loss. When we lost my youngest cousin Caryl as a result of a very rare and vicious disease when she was in her early 30s with a young family, Ted and Nancy always seemed so supportive and in control even though underneath I know it was just devastating. There have been numerous health challenges over the years and struggles to help various family members in crisis. Yet, I never heard a critical or complaining word. Instead they have exhibited a quiet acceptance of life's challenges and heartaches that come along with the joys of living and loving. They always seem to come away from hardships with a positive, living faith that things are going to be better. They have never seemed too concerned about storing up riches in this life, but rely heavily on a never wavering faith in God and their convictions of what is right and how we should then live.
My uncle is quietly a man of many talents though never boastful of them. He and their whole immediate family are quite artistic. We relish many of the art pieces that both my uncle and aunt have created over their lives and gifted to us...and my cousin Tim just recently retired as an artist at the Kellogg Company. It seems to run in their immediate family.
My uncle was also a "builder". I still have fond memories of playing with my cousins on the building site of their first big house on Roxbury Lane. Swinging on the vines in the trees of the wooded lot they were building on, playing hide and seek around the construction site, the smell of sawdust and construction everywhere. My uncle would work at his factory job at Eatons all day and then work half the night and all weekend on their house though always careful to rest on the Sabbath. At that point in my life, it was the biggest and most contemporary house I had ever seen. Quite the testament to Ted and Nans creativity and careful planning together. This was to be the first of many "projects" and rebuilds that they would take on...all to very high standards and a homey effect. Even their current home was the result of many hard labors and personal touches of this couple in their 70s. Ner a lazy bone between them.
I also remember my uncle's car refurbishing projects in the basement garage of my Grandparents home when I was a kid, specifically the old Mercedes Benz that was towed in, all crashed and rusted one day. I watched my uncle refurbish by hand that whole car body for weeks and seemingly months after working his regular job...a little bit most every day...until out came this brand new looking vintage Mercedes. I could not appreciate the accomplishment at the time, but I now only imagine the sense of pride in driving a vehicle that you have put so much sweat and effort into rebuilding. Building value with your own two hands. Taking pride in what you MADE, not what you BOUGHT.
I also owe my interest and passion for flying and airplanes to Uncle Ted. He had signed up towards the end of World War II at age 17 for the Air Force and left at that tender young age for Florida where he was trained to fly fighter planes. From that time on he always had flying magazines everywhere and went often to the Experimental Aircraft Association's Oshkosh, Wisconsin fly-ins. I latched on to every word and description of the latest experimental aircraft or vintage plane he had seen whenever he came back from those trips. I still plan to fly my own small plane one day in this life...substantially due to those early influences. The sense of adventure that seems to run in our family.
Perhaps his passion for flying and fine if slightly used automobiles contributed to his "can do" approach to life. Whatever his hand found to do...he did it with all his might. And when these recent battles with deteriorating health have tried to overtake him, he has always found a way to keep going, keep busy, keep focused on the positive. One day at a time finding all the joy and fulfillment his energy will allow him to...and then to some miraculous level even higher.
His phenomenal ability these past few years while going through various types of chemotherapies and all kinds of drugs...to still get out of the house and walk 9 holes of golf with his core foursome of octogenarian golfing buddies is testament to his dedication and commitment to whatever he set his mind to do. I saw this myself this past February when we were blessed to spend a week together as a family in Florida. Uncle and I went to hit some golf balls at a driving range one afternoon...and while he was obviously frustrated and unsatisfied with his deteriorating capabilities...he still had that glint of determination in his eye to push as far as he could with what he has left. And of course, he was very encouraging to me, telling me how impressed he was with how far I was hitting the ball...while conveniently NOT taking note of my shots that yanked left or right...way off target. And it is the little details he takes note of that really make him unique. After hitting quite a few balls and feeling quite worn out from his condition, he still very diligently returned the empty golf ball basket and borrowed clubs we had used to the specific spot we had taken them from. Energy he didn’t need to expend, yet a class performance always.
American culture during my lifetime has heavily leaned towards accumulation of wealth and "security". My uncle and aunt have never exhibited any great ambitions to wealth or extravagance. They have enjoyed the simple pleasures in life, worked towards simple goals, enjoying the results of their personal labors versus counting on others. A great team, an inseparable pair, and surrounded by adoring family and large network of friends. This couple is the kind of people that make GREAT friends...forever type friends.
I am very thankful today for the family influences I have had...and the special care and concern my uncle and aunt have shown for me over the years. They set the mark in so many ways for the way life is supposed to be lived and how love is to be exhibited in a marriage...in that quiet everyday consistency and shared senses of humor.
Words are always deficient in defining the spirit of a person. I would lay the following adjectives on my Uncle Ted; quiet, unassuming, humble, fun, witty, hardworking, dependable, unwavering, adventurous, consistent, supportive, well rounded, strong and committed. Looking for weaknesses, I don’t find too many unless you count being TOO giving, TOO caring, or TOO trusting in the Lord as "weak".
My uncle is a "Man's Man"...and my life has been enriched by having his influence in my life. Even his struggle to continue his life and stay with us on this side has been an example of how to live and overcome difficulties that no sermon or book could ever match in effectiveness.
We are miles apart Uncle Ted...but even in your current struggle...you continue to be a mentor and lifelong example. God bless you, Aunt Nan, and my other loved ones up there...and we will be there soon as we can.