I found out yesterday that my Uncle has end stage lung cancer. My mother had known for a day, but had forgotten to tell me when I came home from work. Now by Uncle, I mean Great Uncle, my Grandmother's brother. My family is known as being very close. My Great Uncle Teddy, however, is an anomaly.
My Uncle is only a few years younger than my Grandmother, around 60 years old, but has seen more of the world than I could ever dream of. He has a military history that I'm not allowed to ask about, and I believe he's not allowed to talk about. He could tell the most amazing stories you've ever heard, but only when he wants to. He would bring us lottery tickets for Christmas when we were small children, and cans of green beans and sauerkraut for our birthdays. He was definitely someone interesting.
If you would have looked at my Uncle, you would have never believed he had had such an interesting military career, or even an interesting life. He owned a junk shop in the Poconos, married and divorced once with a son that only showed up every now and then for money. He lived with his friend, and drove a van that broke every other week. It was a red van, with a grey driver's side door. I will never forget his arrival last Christmas. The van's radiator had been leaking, and the water to cool it was dripping out the bottom in a quarter sized hole. So, instead of getting this problem fixed, he simply got 30 different gallon containers, filled them up with water, and kept them in the back of the van. Every ten miles he would get out, lift the hood, and empty a gallon back into the tank. That same Christmas day, it happened to be raining in the Poconos, and his windshield wipers were broken. His solution was to get a sturdy umbrella from his junk shop, and drive 45 miles an hour the whole way to my grandparents, while holding this umbrella over his windshield. I would have loved to be another car on that highway that day. To see a man, driving on the highway in his multicolored van, holding an umbrella over his windshield, and stopping every ten miles to dump a gallon of water in the front of it. Priceless.
Since I've lived, my Uncle has smoked. I don't think I could ever remember him without a cigar in his front shirt pocket. It was his eternal smell, and I know that any normal cigar will always make me think of my Uncle. My Grandmother would yell at him every Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Vacation at the lake, but he never stopped. Until about three weeks ago. He hadn't been feeling well, and was losing weight rapidly. We saw him at Easter, and fought with him for hours to go to the Hospital. A week later, he did. He stayed for a few days, where they wouldn't let him smoke. After three days, he checked himself out and spent the day at the Casino. That was my Uncle. He told us that he had a cigar at the Casino, and he just couldn't take it. After a few days of being off it, he completely lost the urge. However, his condition didn't improve. He went back to the Hospital a few weeks later, where they began tests again. Three days ago, they found the cancer.
It's a large tumor, and inoperable. One of his lungs is completely not functioning. I'm an Optimist, but I'm a realist too, and I realize that his chances of coming out of this are near to nothing. He knows that too. He says he's fine with dying, but I find it sad. This man has been in multiple wars, traveled across the globe, and he'll die confined to a hospital bed, a frame of his former self. It's hard to think that something so simple will kill him when he's survived so much.
Before everyone gets all sentimental on me, I'm not crushed about this. I'm upset, and in no way happy, but we all saw it coming. When it comes down to it, I know that if he's okay with it, then I'm okay with it. And once he goes, I'm sure it will hit me. But for now, he's alive, and happy, so I am too. There's no use being upset when he's not. He says he's had a good life, and I'd agree. He's seen places that I wish I could see. Hopefully, I'll get to see maybe half of what he has. I think it's fairly ironic that he quit about a month before this diagnosis. It just came too late. But my family is categorized for its stubbornness, and I wouldn't expect that to change now. But when it will happen, and he'll go, then I know I'll be upset, and despite how infrequently I saw him, I'll still notice when he's not there.
I know I'll miss my Uncle Teddy, and he's definitely a person that I will tell stories about to my children. But mostly I know that the smell of an old cigar will always sweetly remind me of him, his grey hair, and his goofy smile. As Kahlil Gibran once said, "The lights of stars that were extinguished ages ago still reaches us. So it is with great men who died centuries ago, but still reach us with the radiations of their personalities."
He'll always be with me.
He wasn't amazing, but he is extraordinary. My Uncle will always be a great man to me.