young Uncle Dennis in 1978, tuckered after horseplaying with his toddler kids
Back during the blackest of my dark days, when my adopted son had embarked upon a permanent unauthorized field trip, my adopted daughter was but inches away from rehab and I'd tragically lost my brother, heartbreak struck once again.
My Uncle Dennis, the only brother of my dad, suffered a demoralizing stroke, which left him like a small child. He'd been the health nut of the family. He worked out every day. He was vegetarian. He was extremely cautious about what he put into his body.
He had to learn to talk and walk again. He wasn't able to work. My aunt was forced to become head of the household.
Four years later, Dennis' youngest daughter began planning her wedding. Dennis vowed to walk her down the aisle. He'd been trying, without much success, to walk unassisted again for a long time. That wedding was just what the doctor ordered. My uncle had to use a cane, but he walked my cousin down the aisle.
For the last several months, his health began deteriorating. I recently received news from my dad that my uncle's kidneys had failed. One week later, my aunt was instructed to gather the family.
Thirty-six hours later, my uncle was gone. All five of his children and my aunt had gathered at his bedside. A series of mini strokes the day before had left him unable to talk and disfigured his face. He wasn't responsive. He was in tremendous pain and heavily medicated.
At 10:35 mountain time, he turned his head toward his children, smiled one last time and went home.
My Grandpa and Me
My uncle was a teenager when my dad became a single parent of me and my two younger brothers. We moved in with my grandparents and uncle for five years, until my dad remarried and made us The Braided Bunch, and later our very own version of Yours, Mine and Ours.
I was four years old when we moved in with Uncle Denny. He and my grandma introduced us to Lucky Charms, which we kids thought was magic. Marshmallows in our cereal?!? Who came up with that brilliant idea?!? Grandma had no trouble getting us out of bed each morning and getting us to eat our breakfast!
I got my first camera for Christmas that year. Uncle Denny had a darkroom in the detached garage my grandpa had set up for him. Denny processed my first roll of film, then took me in the darkroom to show me how to print photos. We printed pictures I'd taken of my youngest brother holding Denny's hamsters. Denny had a kiddie pool full of sawdust and hamsters in the basement, and we kids LOVED holding Denny's cute little fuzzy critters!
My love of photography was born, and I've never let go.
I lost my grandfather in 1976.
I moved in with my grandmother after I graduated from high school to help her take care of her house and garden. Later, the two of us went to Salt Lake to visit Uncle Dennis, who no longer went by Denny and who now had a wife and children of his own. Uncle Dennis offered me my first job that wasn't working for my dad or in a fast food joint, and I secured a small scholarship to start college at the University of Utah. My aunt and uncle put me up while I studied French and political science, and I gained valuable child care skills babysitting my adorable cousins.
My uncle also taught me that year. "There is some truth to The Seven-year Itch theory. It's infatuation the first seven years, and then you find out what real love is."
A generation later, my aunt and uncle would entertain my adopted son during brief vacations, and I'd take in their youngest son for a week-long summer vacation in Colorado with my adopted son. The two of them were such buddies!
While I was single-parenting in Denver a few years later, my Uncle Dennis would accompany us to whatever sports activities my kids or I were involved in during his frequent business trips. He'd bring his co-workers, and they'd all sit in the stands and cheer for whichever one of us was playing. My brother also worked extended stints in Denver, and he'd help me drive my kids to see Uncle Dennis and family on weekends. Then, of course, I lost my brother. My sweet uncle spoke at my brother's funeral.
After my uncle was released from the hospital following his stroke, my dad called him every night. Every. Single. Night. It was an amazing bond to behold, and I hope to emulate it.
Now my brother, my uncle and my grandpa are together again, and I imagine there's quite the party going on in heaven.