Norman Cousins My uncle died yesterday. He was a man in his 80's. He fell and hurt himself...his head. The fall was likely the result of a second, and subsequently fatal, stroke. I wasn't with him. I have not seen him in decades. He was in Utah with his wife. There will not be a funeral. He will receive the prayers of his immediate family at the graveside. And a long family tale will come to closure.
When I was very young he was one of the constant and kind males in my life. He was a hard working man. He and his son raised sheep. He was also fond of horses and I hear he bought and sold a number of them. Later in his life he made excellent business decision with real estate and I've also heard he sealed huge business deals on a handshake. He was a Mormon and I know nothing about his religion or his side of the family.
This group of people we call "our family" is so loosely connected that I can't tell you if my Uncle had sisters or brothers. I don't know who else called him "Uncle" outside his wife's side of the family. I don't know when his parents died or how or why they died.
What do I know? That he was kind to me when I was a child. I also know that a number of years ago he had an affair. And this is where it gets a bit complicated. His sister-in-law, my mother, was married to a man from Sandy. The man from Sandy was my father. He was at least half Mexican. That was the source of enormous shame to my mother - that subject is a story for another time. Anyway, my father died suddenly of a massive heart attack in 1965. My parents were divorced when I was five and when he died I was in high school. My Mother was in her 3rd marriage (three of six) . My father had remarried a woman who was Greek. His wife had been married before and had two children. Then they had one together, a boy. After Dad died one thing led to another (I don't know the any of the details) and my uncle and my father's second wife had an affair. My Aunt eventually found out about it and the affair came to a halt. She never forgave him his infidelity. But she did not leave. When he had the first stroke she was there and managed his care until the very end.
Is she saddened by this passing. I don't know but if she behaves anything like a normal person after caring for a sick person for along time, she is probably just relieved. She fulfilled her duty. She and I have never discussed her husband's cheating. I know that the "other person" was a kind woman. But I have been cheated on too. I know that in that circumstances, the "other" person and the spouse who strays, no matter how kind, loses some if not all, moral currency.
So, I run my hand over this piece of tattered fabric - this piece of memory. My mind's hand strokes the frayed threads of a long-ago childhood and adolescence. My mind's ear remembers him coming in at night after a day of assuring that his farm was well run with his sheep herding dog "Killer" and saying a simple "Why Hello". I did not budge. The dog "Killer" had that name for a reason! The two, the man and his huge dog, ambled off to do man things. I was in my 30s and visiting after not seeing my Aunt in some 10 or so years. We spent the evening, my Aunt and I, just chatting. I had no idea that moment was the last I would see him or hear his voice. Time is a rascal. It has a way of spinning us around so fast that we don't know we're spinning. Our silly imitation of the planets around the sun. And the sun image...our own lives.
In a few weeks, one of my adult children and I will journey to his burial site and leave some flowers. I'm sorry he cheated. But I am not sorry that he was my Uncle.