My Uncle Al passed away today. I wish you could have known him.
Al loved gadgets and technology. He was an early adopter for his entire life. He helped me set up my first stereo (complete with 8 Track player). He had his own email domain. And he loved Facebook. If we posted a picture of our kids, or ourselves – or pretty much anything – he always left the same comment….
Now, a lot of people use the word awesome. Like many words, it’s power has become diluted through over usage and misuse. But if anyone knew the true meaning of the word awesome, it was my Uncle Al.
The true definition of awesome, the one not corrupted by popular usage, is this:
When my Uncle Al used the word “awesome” I think that is how he meant it.
For instance – “awesome” as in “awesome responsibility” – a responsibility so great that it can crush some people. A responsibility that is so heavy that you may be tempted to just set it down now and again. But Al never did.
I know Al because of my father (he’s not a biological uncle – he’s an honourary one). They became friends about 55 years ago. They met at the church where my father was volunteering as a faith instructor. Al was looking to join the congregation. They soon became inseparable friends.
At the age of 27, my father had to have back surgery. Uncle Al visited him in his hospital room and made a promise – “Bill, I will always look after your family if anything happens.” Of course, at 27 neither of them expected anything to really happen. But it did. Dad developed a blood clot and passed away, leaving behind my Mom and I. I was one.
Now, the promise Al made could easily have been forgotten. Al would have been in his early 20’s at the time. No one would have expected him shoulder the “awesome” responsibility of looking after a grief-stricken widow and her young son. But Al did. For 53 years. Through all the ups and downs of our subsequent lives. Al was always there – helping, supporting, guiding. He was our rock. Not once did he put down the weight of the promise he had made. Just last fall, he was there, lifting appliances and loading furniture on a truck to help me move my Mom and Step-dad into a new home. Now, I know he was already suffering from the condition that would ultimately take his life, but he never slowed down. Not once. Not ever. Al had made an promise and he was going to keep it.
Al had an “awesome” sense of family. He revered family. His love of family knew no boundaries. It extended to his children, his wife, his siblings and to an extended family of which I was honoured to become part of. He and my Auntie Yvonne raised many, many foster children. He adopted dozens of honorary nephews and nieces, including my sisters and – eventually – my wife and children. For Al, there was no division between blood and love. We were all his children, whether or not we shared DNA.
Al worshiped family. He was never happier than in the buzz and give-and-take energy of a family gathering. Just yesterday, as Al lay in his hospital bed, edging nearer to the threshold between this world and the next, we surrounded him and shared stories and a few minutes of welcome laughter. I had a slight twinge of guilt, wondering if our behavior was appropriate given the gravity of the situation. Then I realized that Al would have loved the fact that he was in the center of all this. He would have thought it was “awesome.”
Even if you never met Al, by now you know he was an “awesome” father and husband. He was, in the words of his son Gregg, “the best man I have ever known.” And much as we all grieve as we were forced to say goodbye far too soon, I cannot imagine the loss that is being shouldered by his soulmate – my Aunt Yvonne.
“Soulmate” – there’s another of those words that has had it’s meaning muddied because of overuse. But, if ever there were soulmates, it was my Uncle Al and Aunt Yvonne. To all of us, it was as if they were fused into one soul-entwined incredibly caring entity – known as “Al and Yvonne.” In my life, they were my constant – my polestar – my compass bearing. They were a source of unconditional love and comfort. To me, although the physical composition has been forced to change, they will always be “Al and Yvonne” – because Al will live on in the most real of senses through Yvonne. She will remain the caretaker of his soul, because they have been spiritually attached for almost 6 decades now.
So, when my Uncle Al used the word “awesome” – it was with a full appreciation of the word’s power. It captured the reverence, the admiration and sometimes, the fear that comes with awe. He lived his life in an “awesome” manner, whether it be with his responsibilities, his faith, his love or his appreciation. He never slowed down. He gave everything he had to give. He infused all of us with his sense of “awe.”
When things became dark early this week, I took a picture of my dad to watch over Al. The picture reflected the spirit they both shared – full of life, love and laughter. For my dad, he got to share this with Al for far too short a time. But Al also carried the spirit of my father and through him, I got to know my dad a little better. Late last night, my father was there as a guide when Al slipped from this world.
I know how Al will describe his new adventure. It will be “awesome.”