Originally posted on Dec. 22, 2005 on All Along The Watchtower.
Last week, I thought today would be little more than a day of drinking and celebrating with my co-workers and those I developed relationships with during the last seven years as the Courier’s editor.
But God had different plans.
So, instead I will be going to a funeral.
Uncle Bert is an “in-law” relative. And since Laura and I have been together just a little more than four years, it’s not like I can say we were particularly close. And even Laura, I think, is grieving the uncle she knew from her childhood more than the Uncle Bert who decided to end his sorrow and grief a bit sooner than the rest of us expected.
But his suicide, like all suicides, has left me troubled.
Roughly a year ago today, Uncle Bert smoked a cigarette with me outside my new home. He was always very nice to me. Sure, all of Laura’s relatives were nice to me (some more than others), but Uncle Bert seemed comfortable talking with me; and he wasn’t what you would call a big talker.
He had a thick Downeast accent, gray hair, a wiry frame and a warm smile. We talked about my driveway, which really needs to be repaved. He spent several years as the owner of a paving company, and told me that my driveway was actually in pretty decent shape.
“You have a nice home, Randy,” he told me. “You’re doing a good job with those boys.”
There’s no way to explain how much that comment meant to me. He reminded me of my own late Uncle Leonard, a man who raised me during my teenage years when my mother was overwhelmed and my father was focused on indulging his every biological whim.
I always felt for Uncle Bert; he struck me as lonely, and there was no denying the fact that he never quite accepted the loss of his wife, the woman Laura knew as Aunt Cathy.
Laura and I were both raised as Catholics. And yesterday (or maybe the day before), she asked me if I thought Uncle Bert would go to heaven.
Yes, I told my wife as she brushed away a tear. “The God I believe in would not turn Uncle Bert away. Uncle Bert was a kind, decent and honest man. If he doesn’t go to heaven, then it’s no place I want to be.”
The Church tenets were designed to keep people alive. Although its doctrines are fear-based, the intent, I think, was more practical and based in necessity.
God, I believe, is sad that Uncle Bert is no longer with us. But I believe in a loving and forgiving God, a God who understands and accepts our human follies. Would you turn away your child if he or she made a mistake?
Laura and her cousins have much closer realtionships than I ever had with any of my cousins. They get together frequently every year. So I know Peggy and Liz (two of Bert’s four children) as well as any of my in-laws.
Peggy and Liz are amazing women with families of their own. Their father’s better traits are certainly apparent in the way they raise their own children.
I just hope Uncle Bert knows what a special gift he gave me by openly expressing a vote of confidence in my struggles to be a stepfather.
As someone who spent the better part of a decade struggling with severe depression and at least two serious suicide attempts, I was shaken to learn that Uncle Bert went through with his shuffling of life’s mortal coil.
I just hope God knows what He is doing, and I hope we all learn from the lessons that are so readily available in every day living.
Uncle Bert is gone and will not be here for this Christmas or any other, but I choose to remember that sly grin and gentle demeanor. And I know that all the streets in heaven will be well-paved, at least in the smoking section.