Today marks 1 year since Uncle Pete passed from this life on to eternity. I wanted to write some brilliant eulogy, to effectively capture his spirit, to express all that he meant to me and make you all wish that you had known him… But I got distracted.
So here’s something I put together in Photoshop instead 🙂
It’s been two months and four days since my uncle Pete left behind the worries of this world.
Today would have been his 55th birthday.
And the fantastic thing of it is that they still are!
In spite of the circumstances, Sherry carries on the joyful essence of their relationship and what it means to all of us. Even in her sorrow, she radiates the love and good humor that were once carried by two.
Sherry is stronger than she realizes and more inspiring than she’ll ever know.
Among countless other things, Pete and Sherry taught me how to imitate a richy-rich, snobby voice (imagine the Howells from Gilligan’s Island). Saying the most mundane things this way still reduces me to a pile of giggles.
From them, I learned to appreciate nice, long conversations held on the front porch or deck. Time is better spent outside, away from the television.
They instilled in me the therapeutic value of intermingling serious subjects and gut-busting funnies. The most beneficial laughter often accompanies tears.
Pete repeatedly demonstrated that even annoying commercials can be funny when irreverently taken out of context—he had a habit of hilariously singing and dancing like the guys in the old Nextel commercial or muddling through jingles like the McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish song.
Above all, they provided a glimpse at the beautiful result of spouses treating each other like respective kings and queens. They carried as much respect for one another as they did love.
That’s something that neither could have done without the other.
That’s something I will forever cherish.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.”
(The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien)
There’s nothing particularly endearing to me about the Lord of the Rings saga, save for Samwise Gamgee’s unwavering loyalty to Frodo. Nevertheless, this exchange with Gandalf strikes a chord.
None of us ever really wants to face tragedy. Sure, we may have some strange inclination towards fictional accounts in action/drama/post-apocalyptic fare and we may even give in to gawker syndrome when passing an accident scene, but the vast majority of our species does not genuinely wish to see suffering.
And yet, we are privy to tragedy and pain on a daily basis, be it on a personal or global scale. The bad in life seems to happen so frequently that we can become indifferent to it. It’s only when the pain hits close to home or in a shocking, unexpected way that we pause and truly mourn.
This morning, for the first time in my life, I awoke in a world where Uncle Pete does not share his smile. Just shy of a year after his terminal diagnosis, the cancer became too much for his body to handle. It is now my turn to mourn.
On Friday afternoon, I received word that Pete had been moved to a hospice facility. My extended family had already planned to come to town on Saturday, so I joined them that evening. I expected it would be a difficult visit, but I couldn’t have imagined the degree to which I had underestimated.
Severus and I sat with Pete and Sherry for about ten minutes Saturday night. What do you say to a dying man who is physically little more than a shell of the person you’ve always known? Naturally, I told him he looked good (to which he replied “under the circumstances”). I told him that he was a trouble-maker and a brat; he said I was a brat, too 🙂
When he got fidgety and started pulling at his oxygen tube, I lectured him not to be like Papaw—who had died after pitching a fit about not needing the oxygen and throwing his mask across the room. In typical Pete fashion, a Papaw-esque fit ensued…followed by a devious little smirk and “hee hee.” He then told me to sit down (in as close to a Papaw imitation as he could muster). We bantered a little more, but much of his mumbling was incoherent and I could tell he was hurting.
Not knowing what else to say, I suggested that we let Pete get some rest. After kissing him on the cheek and discreetly slipping a note into his breast pocket (I’ve no idea if Sherry read it to him), we walked to the door.
“See you soon,” I said.
“Are you coming back tomorrow?” he managed to squeak out.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” said she who was on the verge of tears.
But I didn’t make it back in time.
When we got out of church Sunday morning, I had a voicemail from my mom and text message from my dad—”Pete’s home now.”
In the days ahead, I hope to detail some of the lessons I learned from my uncle and the example he and my aunt set. In the meantime, my duty is to help Aunt Sherry as much as I can. Her transition from wife to widow is not an easy one; I pray that she will feel peace and comfort.
It was right about this time last year that my aunt Sherry began insisting that something was wrong with my uncle Pete. His father passed away in June 2012, so we tried to alleviate her concerns by suggesting that he was merely in a bit of a slump from the loss. Woman’s intuition reigned victorious—early August marks the one-year anniversary of Pete’s terminal diagnosis.
Overall, he’s been handling chemotherapy fairly well, not suffering the plethora of ill effects that many report (or not admitting to it, if he is suffering). He’s still our silly, crazy, funny, kind Pete; mental function is not inhibited as it was when the brain cancer raged prior to radiation treatment last fall. Regardless of his skill at hiding it, though, Pete’s physical discomfort and outright pain has been on a steady rise over the last couple of months.
Monday brought another scan, and the oncologist asked to meet with Pete and Sherry to share the results. That discussion happened this morning, and the conclusion is rather disheartening.
The cancer lesions have grown, and chemotherapy has done little or nothing to slow the spread. There is apparently a different type of chemo that could be administered, but the oncologist suggested it has only about a 5% chance of making any difference. We’re unsure right now what Pete and Sherry will decide to do. Even without any further treatment, life expectancy is 3-6 months.
Given his rampant cancer, Pete has overcome a lot of “expiration date” forecasts already. There’s a chance he’ll exceed this one, too. In the meantime, we’ll just keep savoring the time we have.
This is still May, right?! Like most of America’s Heartland, we’ve had snow over the last few days. Great weather for watching Star Wars movies, not so good for 5k training—I’m not feeling terribly confident about Saturday’s impending event.
At any rate, it’s about time for an Uncle Pete update. This time around, I’m sharing bits of a message my mom sent to her coworkers [I’ve included a few notes]…
I come from a family with a LONG history of mushroom hunting. Every spring, my parents would pair us up [4 sisters], grab some bags and a sturdy stick (in case of snakes) and head into the woods. In the olden days, when I was just a small sprout myself, we would have family reunions where we would go find morels, pick some “greens” and have a feast. Some years we found many, some years few. My mom once found a 12-lb morel—she nearly fainted.
Morels only come up in the spring and only last for a few days. The conditions must be just right; they need warm, damp soil with lots of decomposed plant material. Kind of sounds like a science lesson.
When Pete married my sister [my aunt Sherry], my dad spent hours with him, teaching him how to find the best places for those yummy gems. Pete hates eating mushrooms of any kind, but the hunt draws him to the woods every spring… He actually starts walking the treadmill in February to be in shape for the days when the weather turns warm and he can head out. He spends hours walking to find the best spots, brings home his bounty, and then doesn’t consume even one.
Pete started walking the treadmill again this year; it was good to see the old Pete back again. But it took too long for the warm days to come, the cancer in his bones is starting to flare up and walking is becoming difficult.
Life is kind of like a small mushroom. With the right conditions, it grows quickly and flourishes. But its season is short. Enjoy it and share it with the ones you love.
God put us together for a reason. We’ve been walking on the treadmill of prayer together for a while, preparing for what lies ahead. There will be some days we’ll need walking shoes and some days we’ll need wading boots, but now we’re in shape to walk with those friends and families who need us. And we just might find more than a few blessings along the way.