And so it goes.
My uncle Billy died yesterday. My mother's little brother, the youngest of six North Carolina-born children. The second sibling to die.
Emphysema became his final partner; he welcomed her into his life along with his cigarettes, his comfortably unhealthy eating habits, his laborious struggle to breathe. She hobbled with him to the end of his life on earth.
Mom and Dad were in North Carolina. They headed to the beach as soon as the opthamologist released Dad to travel while he waited for his new 'fake eye' (so deliberately and delicately put by the doctors), never anticipating that it would be for a funeral. After talking with Billy Saturday, his siblings agreed that he needed to go to the hospital. He had trouble breathing. He was not well.
Mom went to see him Sunday. She called afterwards and said, "He keeps talking about dying. I just remember when Mama was sick and I didn't go to see her. I went to see him."
I know she's glad she did. He died last night.
A career Navy man, Billy wasn't married. He lived alone, surrounded by his sisters and brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews. He loved to fish and to walk the beach looking for treasure with his metal detector. He was a great cook; I have rich memories of our summer vacations when he would show up with piles of shrimp and crab, or spicy ribs, all for a familial feast.
I didn't know him well; I didn't know his heart, his soul, his deepest desires, his sorrows and joys. He was just my uncle, a constant presence in my life since my earliest memories of trips to North Carolina. He was my mom's little brother.
I will travel Thursday, taking appropriate clothes for the service to Mom and Dad, reuniting with my cousins to celebrate this life. It will serve as another marker to the fragility of life, to the solidity of family, to the imprint one soul has on the world he inhabits, however briefly.