Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Uncle David

Today’s post is very difficult for me to write, yet I think it is very pertinent to the topic of the week (Breast Cancer Awareness, if you haven’t been paying attention!)

When I was still in middle school, my mother married my step father. Not too terribly long after, his brother, Uncle David, came to live with us because he was “having problems.”

Uncle David was a depressive who liked to stop taking his medication when he was feeling better, which would cause him to slip back into terrible pits of depression that lasted for months. While in these pits, he would sit at the table, muttering to himself, chain smoking.

He wasn’t always a depressive. When he was feeling good, he would play his guitars and sing old rock n’ roll songs. In fact, as teenagers, he and my stepdad formed a band that was mildly popular in Nowheresville, WA in their day. Uncle David loved gardening; he would completely landscape the yard only to rip it up and to do something else. He was always watching either John Wayne or the Three Stooges, chuckling to himself. He was also fond of picking up our shitzu and carrying her for walks around the neighborhood, since she didn’t like to walk herself. (It seems the bratty gene is prevalent in my family’s dogs…)

His depression began when his son died in a tragic accidental suicide at the age of 13. Understandably, that is something which one never truly recovers. But as time went on, he tried, day by day. After a while, he had more good days than bad ones, more music and less muttering.

My favorite memory with Uncle David was when a traveling opera group came to our town, playing Carmen. My music teacher hooked me up with tickets. I was so excited; I love opera but had never seen one live! The four of us got dressed up, went out to dinner and then headed to the local high school for the show. The whole time my Uncle David kept nudging me, sticking his nose comically in the air, saying “Marella, we’ve made it now, we’re off to the OP-era!” It made me giggle all night.

Eventually, Uncle David was doing fantastically-he had held the same job for over a year, bought a little red Ford Ranger and a small house. But he had never stopped chain smoking. My step dad tried to talk him out of cigarettes, but Uncle David joked that he could never quit his “cancer sticks.” As you can figure, he contracted lung cancer. A bad, but short, bout with pneumonia, and he was gone.

Uncle David was part Native American, on his mother’s side, and held a lot of belief in what he called “the Great Spirit of the Land.” He told me he believed that when a person dies they join their ancestors and become one with nature. It was not until years later, upon talking to my mother, that I realized Uncle David did not fight his cancer. He not only let it happen, he actively invited it with his years of chain smoking. When I asked her why, she replied that he had never been truly happy since his son had died, and that he wanted to be with him again.

I know he did not die of breast cancer, but I want to take today to remind everyone that all cancers are they same. And when they claim someone you love, the pain is the same for all those left behind. Even more, though, I want to highlight an important fact: not all cancers are physical-some are of the soul. Just like malignant cells, cancer of the soul can eat away at a person for years until it is no longer strong enough to fight it.

What helped me deal with Uncle David’s death was the same thing that helped him through the darkest parts of his life: his faith. His faith was practically palpable; he did not believe, he knew. He was so sure, it made me sure. The less believing of his family placed a tombstone for him in the ‘family cemetery,’ but I have never been to visit it-that’s not what he wanted. He said, “you can place a stone if you like, but that’s not where I’ll be.” I like to believe that his spirit soars over the Pacific Northwest; whenever a Chinook wind blows up the gorge, in my heart, that’s my Uncle David.

In honor of my Uncle David and his strong faith, I present this breast cancer awareness pin with the word “faith.” Faith in whatever you believe, you simply must have it! I also present for featuration the Fairie Awareness pin, simply because he would have liked it!

I thank you for allowing me to tell the cancer story that touched my life most, and forgiving that it is a bit off this week’s topic. It simply felt right to honor my Uncle David during this week. Thank you again. Now go hug your family members!

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