March 23, 2012 by Marj Hatzell
Back to back they faced each other, drew their swords and shot each other. Two deaf policemen heard the noise and came to kill those two dead boys.
One night, during the day, I was all alone with ten men, in an empty truck full of bricks and I ran over a dead cat and killed it.
Last weekend, as my husband prepared to go out of town for the week, I got word my Dad’s brother passed suddenly on Saturday.
His brother was ten years his junior. He had flaming red hair and a red beard and was a jolly guy. Sure, he was a grumpy pants like my pop sometimes but honestly? The two of them were like giant teddy bears. Big, tough, bearded guy on the outside that intimidated people with their booming voices and wild eyes. Gooey, marshmallowy, sweet, loving men on the inside.
If there’s one thing I can say about my Dad’s family is that they love. And they are loved. They know what true love is. They have it unconditionally. It’s one of the things I like most about my Dad’s family. No matter how long it’s been since I’ve seen my aunts, uncles, cousins it’s like we were never apart when I do see them. We may not be fancy folk but we sure do love one another. Really and truly.
I’m fortunate to have that, I know. Not everyone grows up with an open-door policy and a family that would drop everything in a second to be there for you. I know it is rare. And while it isn’t Ozzy and Harriet and we all have our moments of “fun” and conflict, it’s an amazing group of people.
I last saw my uncle Bill at my Dad’s funeral and at his bedside the day before he died. It had been a few years, I’m ashamed to say. He bolted in the door of the ICU, rushing in from the night shift he was supposed to work, I gathered by the fact that he was in his work shirt. I know he and my Dad had their moments and I think they were in the midst of a “not exactly but sorta-kinda speaking” moment. But they loved one another. And when we contacted everyone and told them my Dad wasn’t expected to make it through the night (and that we were surprised he was still hanging on) they all rushed to be there. And while my Dad passed, his children and siblings and wife and a few sons-in-law and a few sisters-in-law sat by his bedside, kept vigil and refused to leave.
It was a tiny room. There were probably twenty-five of us crammed in there. Uh huh.
I’m glad we had those moments with my Dad. Because we came together as a family, it allowed us to lean on one another and we were able to grieve together. I was able to hug my Uncle Bill and console him when his big, burly face was tear-stained. I was able to hug his wife and thank them for coming.
My Uncle Bill wasn’t fortunate enough to have that.
He wasn’t feeling well Saturday, told his wife he was going back to take a nap and she couldn’t wake him later. It was sudden. Probably a heart attack. We don’t know yet.
He didn’t have children. Well, technically. He and his first wife split and there were no children but then he remarried and his beloved wife had four children when they married. And then grandchildren and recently great grandchildren. And they adopted him as their Pop Pop. And they loved him and cared for him. He told them the same jokes he told us growing up. And he rough-housed and teased just like he did with us. And he dressed as Santa for the babies, just like he did when we were wee ones. At his service the other night I listened as his stepsons, step daughters, step grandchildren all got up to talk about what a tough nut he was to crack. But they were his family. His true family. His children and grandchildren. He loved them dearly.
It was the funnest funeral ever (no, really, it’s a word, look it up). No really. We giggled as we cried as person after person told their stories. and shared memories. They told his jokes(which were my Pop Pop and Nana’s jokes). They shared memories we also shared. They placed his Santa suit on his coffin, the very same one he wore when we were babes. He was laid out in his trademark plaid flannel shit and suspenders. And had we had a viewing for my Dad, we would have buried him in his trademark plaid flannel shirt and overalls. They were two peas in a pod, those two. Walking in there and see the casket brought back a flood of memories. It was like seeing my Dad there. I never realized how much they looked alike. I never realized how much they were alike until everyone stood to speak of his gruff teddy bear-ness.
It was really hard to get through.
Two funerals. Two brothers. In such a very short amount of time. And my remaining uncle and two aunts looked weary, sad and tired. So unexpected. So painful.
And here I have sat all week. Missing my husband’s comfort because he’s out of the country, staring blankly at this computer screen wondering what to write. As you can see, the words kinda flowed out finally, disorganized but truthful. I’m a mess (0f course, the massive sleep deprivation isn’t doing me any favors). It’s like living through my Dad’s all over again. Without the cramped, smelly room part. And more food (because we Pikes no how to eat, yo). But the same family, the same pain and sadness in their eyes, clinging to each other to try to heal.