My last blood uncle has died. Uncle John left this world on Sunday, August 23rd. He was 95, frail with Alzheimer’s, and as so often the case, had suffered a debilitating fall from which he did not recover. By blessed grace, his two sons managed to return to Holland from their homes in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to be by his side all through the last days and final hours.
Uncle John was the last of my paternal grandparents’ large family of ten children. Some died young – Egbert at 62; my Dad at 67. Others lived into their late 70s and 80s, and three aunts made it well into their 90s, including Annet, who died at 99 years of age.
Given Uncle John’s advanced age, I had been expecting to hear of his death for months. Even though we weren’t particularly close, the actual news has lodged a heavy stone in my heart. Gone is that family. My mother and her immediate family are all gone too, so these two branches of my ancestral tree have reached their inevitable and yet unbelievable end.
And now, as poet Linda Pastan reminds me, it’s my turn: “We are the elders now/ with our torn scraps / of history.” And yet, these scraps comfort me. Lately, my mother and father keeping showing up in my mind, and their presence is welcoming and tender. I find myself smiling with them at some genetic commonality in look and action that I observe in myself.
I imagine both Dad and Mom among the crowd of siblings and in-laws gathering Uncle John into their arms, celebrating his graduation into their august circle.
The Last Uncle
The last uncle is pushing off
in his funeral skiff (the usual
black limo) having locked
the doors behind him
on a whole generation.
And look, we are the elders now
with our torn scraps
of history, alone
on the mapless shore
of this raw, new century.
~ Linda Pastan