Saturday, January 19, 2008

One Year

It's been one year. One year since Uncle Tellius passed away. One year since I had to watch my cousins bury their father. One year since I experienced an inkling of what it will be like to lose my own father. One year since I saw Daddy come face to face with his own mortality as he saw his younger brother slip away.

But beyond the pain and crushing grief at losing him to cancer when he seemed to have so many more years left to live, was the undeniable beauty of his life. My earliest memories of Uncle Tellius were a strange mixture of love and fear. He was an alcoholic and drug addict, a lifestyle he acquired during his time in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. I remember him breaking the kitchen chairs over the table when he became enraged that Aunt Gail had neglected refused to stock the fridge with beer. Another time, I remember fleeing the house with my cousins and aunt to take refuge at the next door neighbor's house until the pastor's wife could come and pick us up.

But I loved him. When he was relatively sober, he was fun to be with. He had lost his front teeth playing high school football, and he would get on all fours and chase us down the hall with his partials pushed out of his mouth, growling as we squealed in terror. He was so soft-hearted and such a push-over when it came to his daughters, Courtney, Allison and Sunshine.

He and Aunt Gail eventually divorced, but he finally admitted that he had a problem with substance abuse and got help. I was a child, so in my mind it happened overnight, but I'm sure there were times he backslid and fell off the wagon, but he eventually kicked the habit. He built a house on the property that belonged to my great-grandparents and started over fresh. He was the kind of uncle that never forgot a birthday, and I was sure to get a crisp $5 bill inside my birthday card. Somehow, losing him on my birthday seemed strangely fitting. I don't see it as a sad thing...it makes me feel all the more connected to him, in that no matter how many years go by I will always think of him on my birthday.

I don't remember how old I was, but at some point it occurred to me that we celebrate Veteran's Day for a reason, and that I felt that Uncle Tellius had been neglected in some way because of his service in Vietnam. I decided that year to send him a card thanking him for his service, and that was when our relationship changed. That one random act touched him deeply, and he let me know how much my words had meant to him. I vowed from that year on, I would always send a card on Veteran's Day.

Some years it was a card and some years it was flowers, but I always sent something. In 1997 when I announced that I was getting married, he was unable to attend because he was working a shut down at the plant where he worked. I know that it bothered him, but he sent me a letter explaining how much he wanted to be there and how he was flattered that I considered him role model and hero. Then he wrote:




"But you need to know that I also look up to you as a role model--you are my hero.

There are all sorts of heroes in the world, and all kinds of ways and events that turn people into them, but there is one ingredient I feel must be present in all heroic deeds and that ingredient is bravery. Not too many people possess it, understand it or even display it. Brave acts usually occur in a very few minutes or even seconds. The deed is done, the medal awarded and all is over.

But this is not so in your case. The bravery that you displayed over a very long and bitter conflict is to me what real heroes are made of. In most cases for what you did and what you went through, the medal of honor would surely have been issued--your courage and bravery is truly what makes up "The Right Stuff"!

You fought the long battle, and when the enemy laid siege you dug in and held the high ground. And when you were seriously wounded on the field of battle someone in the ranks yelled for a medic. But on this day there was no medic to be found--all had been killed. Then, out of the gun smoke and carnage came a man that no one knew except for you and a few of your comrades. He wore the insignia of a doctor--a Physician, and He tended to your wounds and stopped the bleeding. You recovered from your wounds and returned to the battlefield to see your army win the conflict.

Because of you Xan, I am able to cope with many conflicts in my life. The Bible says that we have been given a gift--you are one of my most treasured gifts. I know Trevor is a good man and that he loves you very much. I wish the both of you all the good things in life and many years together. It is logical. (You've totally got to be a Trekkie to get that reference)

Love,
Uncle Tellius"

I knew when my dad called me with the diagnosis, that it was only a matter of time before we would lose Uncle Tellius. I felt like even more of a kindred spirit because of our shared experience with cancer. Although the treatments devised by man failed him in the end, God did not. He went to his death surrounded by family and with the blessed assurance that he would be free from sin, pain and suffering forever. It was an unimaginable comfort to think of him singing songs of praise at the feet of Jesus, and knowing that I would see him again one day.

Although the years of addiction that tore his family apart could never be undone or forgotten, he was proof that God's sovereign plan for our lives cannot be stopped by our own sin and weakness. Uncle Tellius left behind a legacy of faith and an incredible example of how lives can be changed by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

My grief is still raw even after a year, but I suppose that will heal with time. I find myself in tears at the most inopportune moments, and unable to find the words to even speak to his wife, Jan. If my grief is still fresh, what must it be like to lose a spouse? What must it be like for his son, Zach, to lose his father at the age of 14? Although I am unable to speak, I pray for them daily and I continue to remember the man I loved like a father. He was my hero.

8 comments:

Mocha with Linda said...

Absolutely precious. What a wonderful tribute.

luvmy4sons said...

He would so appreciate your tribute. It was simply touching!

Greatfullivin said...

Xandra, I am so happy to have found your site.(The Daily Dose) You are amazing. Beautifully written. Your Uncle must have been one courageous man. He overcame so much and is now enjoying all the promise of God!Have a great day and thank you so much for the "link love" (((hugs)))

freetofly said...

Xandra, I did not know you are a cancer survivor. I know that must have been a fierce battle.

This is a beautiful tribute to him, and inspiring to us all. Thank you for sharing this. I love the relationship you had with him and how you reached out to him at Veteran's Day...that is a great way to show love!

Blessings of comfort to you & your family!
Maria

Heather C said...

I read your Uncle's letter to you with tears running down my cheeks. Beautiful tributes... both yours to him and his to you. I love you.

Heather

Andrea said...

That was a powerful post. It gave me chills.

ps: Happy Birthday!!

Mike and Barb said...

Hello, I found your blog through Buffi's ~ thank you for sharing your life - I love the way you share your heart: it's touching, inspiring and moving.
I will peek in every so often :-)
A bit teary here in Wyoming...
Barb

The Small Scribbler said...

This is really beautiful. A powerful example of grace, restoration, and honor.

Kate