Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This Post Is Not About Simon Doonan

This post is not about
Simon Doonan.
I was working on a light, breezy piece on Simon Doonan – who I can only DREAM of writing like... He says stuff like “Red is wild. She is unsettling. She intrigues. Wear red and other women will assume that you are a predatory vixen who is out to steal their husbands and suck the blood of their children.” and “I loathe the idea of growing old gracefully. I fully intend to grow old eccentrically and dramatically. Brace yourselves! ...The most important thing is to stay fit. My fave exercises are tap dancing and runway modeling.” He’s my writing twin... well, if I were a fabulous gay man with a great sense of style and could write like that. Okay, so I’m nothing like Simon Doonan...

So I had banged out a few breezy graphs on that fun, frivolous topic when I had to put it on hold. You see, we had a death in our family. And let me tell you, there is nothing like losing a loved one to bring a little perspective to ... well, to everything. I mean, Simon who?

My uncle Bill – my father’s brother – passed away at 75 after a long, brave struggle with heart disease – the bane of our family. It was heart disease that stole my dad from us at the tender age of 49... and THAT’S HOW OLD I AM NOW!!! I can’t think about that or I’ll just feel too crazy.

Anyway, on Saturday I went with my mother, my brother, and his wife down to Greenville, NC for the funeral, where we met up with my sister and her husband, who live there. While I was so happy to be with my family – these five, and the people we would meet up with later... but the rest... it was just heartbreaking. 

We went to the church’s small chapel for the service, and apparently my uncle had a legion of loved ones, because the people in charge ended up shuffling the whole crowd into the main sanctuary of the beautifully appointed Episcopal church. As we were being herded across the courtyard into the larger venue, I whispered to my sister, “See? If we had snuck out for a smoke in the courtyard we’d be first in line!” I’m not sure why this strange thing popped out of my mouth... None of us smoke... I can only guess it was the nervousness that sometimes accompanies tragedy. Laughter to prevent crying, or something like that.

Back to the funeral: Uncle Bill was a staunch Episcopalian, so they had a full Episcopal service with hymns, scripture readings... the works, and it was so good to be reminded what awaits us... nothing less than eternal life. But the part that turned my insides out was when my cousins spoke of life with their father. Such brave boys... Oh, I know they’re in their 40s, but to me they’ll always be the young boys who used to visit us when we were kids!
Uncle Bill and his wife,
Anne – lovely people!

One son told of advice and comfort his father gave him as he struck out to start his own business. Uncle Bill told him, “Your wife loves you, so it’s going to be fine.” I understand that completely - having once been at the fearful precipice of starting my own business. And I cried because I was grateful for my husband during that time, and also sad that my father had not been around to advise me. That son mentioned the poignant song, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” which of course, prompted copious tears...

The other son spoke of my uncle’s misery due to painful gout. He said that when he put his feet on the floor every morning, it felt like he was walking on broken glass. But, my cousin said, “This morning, he’s running on streets of gold.” And that’s the kind of thing I love to hear. It fills me with joy and relief and ... longing. 

By this time, I was sobbing, even though I didn’t know my uncle that well... I know I was mourning the loss of my own father, his brother, all over again. As my cousins told story of their father’s youth, their growing up years, and the full roles he played as adviser in their adulthood, and grandfather to their children and I cried. Because when my father died, I was just 17 years old, so I only knew the man as father of children. I did not realize until yesterday how much I had missed out on – knowing him as a fellow adult and a grandfather. He never met my husband, or my child - or any of our husbands, wives, children... Uncle Bill was a devoted grandfather and filled the seat at many a ballgame and recital... 

Another aspect of my grief was the regret that I have all this wonderful family and I rarely see them... My own brothers and sisters – I love them in a crazy way. No one gets me like they do. Every family has it’s own lore, and ours is rich. 

The "other Sneeds"... When will I see you
again? (I don't have a photo, but I'm referring
my aunt's family too – the Seates!)
But also, the rest of my dad’s side of the family... I barely know them. I hadn’t seen any of them since a family reunion 7 years ago! That is just so wrong! They are fabulous people! Simon Doonan has nothing on them. They are sweet, smart, fun, loving, brimming with integrity... and full of stories of where we came from, people we love and miss... After the funeral, my dad’s sister regaled us with memories from her childhood on the tobacco farm with her brothers: my dad driving home from college in a homemade car... how he was the county “ladies man”... the time revenuers kept them up all night chasing folks across the farm and busting up stills in the woods nearby... I could have listened to that stuff all day!

Fortunately, this regret can be remedied. Facebook has helped... I am pleased to keep up with several “other Sneeds” that way... But it’s not enough. Not by a long shot. How will I make good on my resolve to fix this? I mean, we all have jobs, families, busy lives... Well, I don’t know... but I’m open to ideas...! Maybe if we all work together...?

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