My son’s soccer game was just beginning when I felt my phone buzz. My cousin had texted me and asked me to call back as soon as I got a chance. I think I knew then, but I tricked myself into believing he was checking times for his family to make a Cincinnati visit. I put my phone away and figured I’d call after the soccer game.
I still hadn’t called back because I was trying to get our kids into the pool at our ‘stay-cation’ hotel for a pre birthday party swim. Then came the call I knew was going to be bad news. I picked up and braced myself. The voice on the other end said, “Neil passed away yesterday”.
Neil was my uncle. My parents had divorced, and both remarried in the same year. Neil was my Stepmom’s Brother. On one of our first meetings he jokingly held me over the bridge overlooking the Grand Rapids River in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. He loved to joke around and he loved to laugh.
Like so many other people that have such outgoing personalities a demon called depression lurked under that happy exterior. Over the years there had been some scary moments where the demon almost consumed him. The past few years had been particularly full of struggles. When I saw the text from my cousin I think my procrastination in calling back came from a stuffed fear of hearing that the demon had won.
Once I found out the reason for the text the end result was still the same, but it had not been a result of depression. His body just gave out. It gave out way too soon, but it was natural causes.
All the family funerals I’ve attended have been for relatives in their 80’s and 90’s. Neil was only 12 years older than me. After landing my first job out of college I became his family's house guest as I saved to get my own apartment. While we didn’t see him often my kids still knew him well. He danced with them on the sidewalk at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. He donned a red nose at Christmas to play with our youngest, he read books to them, he played games with them, and of course there was the stick in the toe that my boys still talk about that happened a few years ago as we were getting ready to leave their house one Sunday afternoon.
While the trip to Michigan for the memorial was a sad occasion, it was also strangely good as well. It was a beautiful day the day we made the drive. I soaked in the scenery as we crossed the Indiana and Michigan countryside. The fall colors were beautiful. We even found a lunch spot that was new to us that made it seem more like an adventure. The kids swam in the pool, and played with their cousin. Even at the memorial the tears were overwhelmed by the smiles and laughter from stories of good times being shared.