rest now, Uncle V
This weekend is a blur of movement and pause. Uncle V was my favorite uncle—
An Army captain in Vietnam who prided himself on “bringing every one of my boys home”.
A rough-around-the-edges veteran with a big heart.
A man who adored (and was adored by) his dogs.
The uncle who saw me crying at his mother’s funeral (my grandma) and brought me a beautiful, sparkling gold chain the next day, “for the brat, just because”.
The uncle who loved my mom’s home-baked cookies, and often requested custom-mixed batches.
The man who would have celebrated his 64th birthday, and 44th wedding anniversary next week.
He was also a restless, hurting soul, haunted by war-time horrors and turning to alcohol to push them away. He heard the Gospel multiple times from several caring people with beautiful relationships with Christ. I’m not sure what their impact was on his life, but I know that God is merciful and gives us the most happiness that we can possibly handle in the afterlife.
Everything started in earnest on Friday, and we all rushed to the hospital and stayed through Sunday morning. Days blur together into memories of time spent with aunts and uncles, with my sister and mom, of driving miles and miles, back and forth to the hospital, of having my mom and sister spend two nights in our home (a first!), of staring mesmerized at the stupid, chiming vitals monitor as Uncle V’s vital signs weakened, of my feet swelling to painful proportions from standing for hours beside his bed.
Thankfully, Uncle V had a DNR (do not resuscitate) order, so we were all spared the dreaded moment of deciding whether or not to “unplug”. Pulmonary Fibrosis is a cruelly debilitating disease. Mercifully, his ravaged lungs’ inability to absorb enough oxygen to feed his brain meant that during the last day and a half, Uncle V was deeply unconscious. His body fell into a deeper and deeper sleep until everything simply stopped.
I’ve seen multiple deceased persons, and have often heard the cliché, “Oh, s/he looks like s/he’s sleeping” and thought, “Ummm, no. S/he really just looks dead”. But Uncle V really did look like he was simply napping, relaxed and quiet.
The VA hospital nurses graciously allowed us to pay our respects before calling in the flurry of personnel to carry out the final procedures. They put up a small, laminated sign (obviously made by staff members) securing it onto the sunset-purple dividing curtains with gauze tape. It had an eagle in profile with a single tear falling from its eye, and an American flag in the background. It read: “We thank you for your loved one’s service to our country. Please know that our thoughts are with you during your time of loss”.
My mom, sister, and I paid our final respects….I kissed my fingertips and pressed them to Uncle V’s forehead (he’s the only departed person I’ve felt able to physically touch, basically because he’s so darn loveable). His wife reached over to hug him, but the guard rail on the bed was too high. Thank God for the EMT class that taught us how to drop the guard rails on hospital beds… We all stood back as she kissed his face and laid her head on his chest, and said goodbye one last time. What was going through her mind, kissing her beloved husband of nearly 44 years for the last time? She straightened up, eyes glistening. “He’s finally resting,” she said, her voice quivering with tears and relief.
I love you so much, Uncle V. Have fun at the party. We’ll catch up with you and Max in a bit.