Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Uncle Howard

My Uncle Howard is in very poor health. His daugher Mary has started a very moving Blog called "At Home with Dad", chronicling her experiences after moving back home to help take care of him.

It's extremely painful for me to read.

You see, my father (Uncle Howard's brother) died of lung complications after a long illness, also tied to an oxygen tank. I was lucky to be with him on the day he died, but I still feel guilt that I was the child who lived too far away to be there with him much. My other siblings and in-laws and of course my saint of a mother were his nurses, helping through all of the complications and heartaches that are part of a lingering illness. I could only keep him in my thoughts, come in when possible, and wish there were more ways I could've helped.

I'm jealous of Mary in a way, because she gets to be there with Uncle Howard in his time of need. I also know how incredibly difficult and trying it must be, to see someone you love so much in so much pain. If you get a chance to read her blog, please do -- it's honest and moving and well worth the tears.

But reading it has also given me a glimpse into an alternate universe, one where a man who looked like my dad, who sounded like my dad, who even smelled like my dad, was kind to his children. Who left his daughters little Valentine's Day gifts. Who talked to and laughed with and hugged on his children. Growing up (and I've never told anyone this), Uncle Howard was always the Dad I wished I'd had. I didn't see him very often, but I vividly remember hugging him and hearing his smoke-graveled voice rumbling in his chest, desperately wishing that my own father could be as kind to me. I felt loved by Uncle Howard, even though we barely knew each other, in a way I never felt loved by my own father.

So while I am terribly saddened that he is so ill, while my heart goes out to my aunt and my cousins that a great man is being betrayed by his own body, while I share the pain they are feeling, I also feel joyful that at least they have a father who loves them so much, who cares for them so deeply, who gave them happy memories of treasured days. When the time comes (as it will come for all of us one day) that he is no longer here physically, those memories and feelings of being cherished will remain.

We should all be so lucky.


Denise said...

Jeff, I wish I was there to hug you. I have more to write on this, and will do so later tonight.

Mary said...

I am so humbled by your kind remarks about my blog and at the same time my heart is so heavy that it may have brought up painful memories for you. Like Denise, I wish I could reach across the miles to give you a hug.

I did not get to spend a lot of time with your Dad. Growing up he was just my uncle that bore a remarkable resemblance to Trapper John, MD. So although I wish that I had the words to comfort you - I feel painfully inadequate.

Jeff, you and I did not grow up together in the way that some cousins do. Because of this, I don't know you as well as I should. I don't know if this will help, but I feel compelled to tell you anyway.

Growing up, my image of you was this incredibly smart and talented artist that I was somehow lucky enough to be related to. I got this image directly from your Dad. I never heard him talk about you without expressing his pride in you and awe of you. He always bragged about you to us.

I guess he was talking to the wrong people. I'm sorry if he never expressed or showed that to you. I guess sometimes we all make the mistake of not telling or showing those closest to us how important they are.

Like I said, I did not know Uncle Jimmy very well- but I do know how very proud he was of you. That always came through.

Thank you for the thoughts and prayers. You have them in return from all of us. Take care.


Jeff Hebert said...

Thank you Mary, that's very kind of you to say.

I guess my post got a bit maudlin, the key point was just to say that Uncle Howard is a great man, and I am happy for you guys that you have him in your lives. I love him a lot.


Denise said...

Jeff, in the book we got Dad, there was a page to write, "Somebody you consider a genius." He wrote your name. In the hand-written will he gave me many years ago, he wanted you to have a lawn mower because you had to cut a lot of grass, and, he wrote, I owe him that mower.

I remember when Chuck and I split up, I went to stay with Jimmy for a couple of weeks. Dad was furious that I didn't come and stay with him and Mom. I reminded him that he said once we left home, we could never come back again. He was silent for a moment, and then he said, "I never meant that." I think there were a lot of things that Dad said he never really meant, and he never said the things he really meant. But he was very proud of you from the time you were a little kid. I don't think Dad understood a lot of us, but he loved us the best he could. One thing about Dad, he was a complicated person on one side and extremely simple to understand on the other side. He was very proud of you and, yes, he loved you Jeff.

Mary is right -- too often, we brag to the wrong people about the people in our lives whom we love. So this is a reminder for me to tell the people directly in my life how much they mean to me. And, Jeff, you mean the world to me and to all your family. My boys are absolutely crazy about you because of you. Yes, I often feel like a leech because I have this wonderfully talented brother (you!), these spiritually gifted brothers (Jimmy, Joey and Johnny) and two sisters with more spunk and brains than anybody else I know. Add to that sisters-in-law who are so generous and full of self-identity that they make me proud to call myself a woman and two brothers-in-law who are strong, decent, caring and good men who have often risen above strife and disappointments to become wonderful men, fathers, friends and husbands.

We all feel about Dad that way from time to time, and Mary and her family have the opportunity to say all they need to say now. We should take that as an example and say it all now and when it feels right. Don't wait. Ever.

Give yourself a hug, brother dear, and remember how cherished you are by so many. And not just because you're the only one in our family who can go out and purchase 100 acres in Texas, but because you are you.

Love ya, bro!