Goodbye, Uncle Dennis: Lessons Learned from a Life Well Lived

Two Sundays ago, my husband’s Uncle Dennis passed away. The death came suddenly, unannounced by any previous illness or medical condition. A shock.

The 3rd of 10 children, and the eldest boy, Dennis was the first to pass on. That is a different sort of shock, when your own generation starts to die. The remaining siblings look at each other and think, “Who’s next?”

Dennis was a man who never complained at hard work, and who would show up on the doorstep of anyone who needed help. When I heard the phrase “salt of the earth” I thought of him.

He wasn’t a perfect man, as he would readily admit, but strove to be better every day. Religion was his strength. Farming was his passion. Family was his life. His death has left a huge hole in many people’s lives, but left all of us with essential lessons:

Live your truth. Own your mistakes. Make amends as best you can. Work hard. And most of all, in word and deed, love the people you call family.

Because you never know when this time will be the last time.

Saying Goodbye to Charley

This week we said goodbye to my cousin-in-law Charley. He was part of our family for 30 years, yet it is distressing how little I knew about him. But here is what I did know:

I know he was an impeccable judge of character—after all, he married my cousin.

I know he was a little bit crazy—after all, he married my cousin even AFTER meeting the rest of the clan.

I know he was highly athletic, before Huntington’s Disease stole his coordination.

I know he was courageous, braving his disease with dignity and grace.

I know he was determined, fighting the cancer that eventually took him with everything he had.

I know he enjoyed life to the fullest. His father’s early death had made him value life.

I know he was, in my experience, a quiet man—but you know it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.

I know he loved my cousin very, very much—and she him.

I know that he was deeply loved, respected, and admired by his family and friends, and will be as deeply missed by them.

And I know that someone who was so well-loved in turn loved others profoundly, generously, and joyfully.

Charley will be missed by the many, many people who loved him. His life can teach us so many things: courage in the face of unthinkable adversity; living life joyfully and fully every day; and loving those in your life profoundly, among others. But the lesson I have learned from him is to not take people for granted.

To know someone for 30 years and know virtually nothing about them is a much greater loss than knowing them well and losing them to death.

Thank you, Charley. You will be missed.

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