My parents grew up in a small town in southern Indiana. My dad lived in town, while to get to where my mother grew up, you drove out of town. Past the high school, the baseball field and the church. Past the cornfields and the cemetary where my grandparents and aunts and uncles were to be buried. And you took a windy country road to the farm.
That road cut between two hills, and up on those hills were two houses that my uncles built. Every day, they drove their farm trucks down to my grandparent's house, the one they each grew up in with my mother, and met my grandfather to discuss the tasks at hand for the day for the farm.
When I was little and we would go to the farm to visit my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, I would drag my butt out of bed at what seemed like the crack of dawn to go to the morning meeting. I loved hearing the squeaky door open as each of my uncles and several of my cousins would come in to sit at the table or on the couches underneath the picture window that overlooked the buildings that housed hogs and hay.
I was THAT little kid, the one who wanted to tag along but not actually help do anything. And you know what? They let me. I was the baby, the youngest of the 27 grandchildren, and while the oldest of the 27 were made to help harvest corn and pick melons, as the baby I was allowed to ride in the truck and watch as they fed the cows. They let me ride the tractor, and talked to me about whatever it was I wanted to talk about. As far as I knew, they never thought twice about it.
When my first uncle passed away a couple of years ago, I vividly remember sitting a couple of rows behind his only son during the funeral Mass. And during the Sign of Peace, my cousin turned to our uncle, the one who he had worked side-by-side with most of his life, and hugged him and they both cried. In that moment of time, in that church, they alone knew what the other was feeling. Each of them knew the sense of loss the other felt from losing a loved one. Not just a brother and a father, but one that they worked next to every. single. day. They all poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the farm, and now they had to continue without him being there with them every. single. day.
My second uncle passed away last week.
As I thought about his life I couldn't help but think past my childhood. The more recent years, when he spent a lot of time with his 11 grandchildren, both on and off the farm. The vacations they took, the countless hours he sat on bleachers cheering them on in their respective sports. The absolute love he poured into his family.
Looking at the pictures displayed at the funeral home, I saw the love he had for my aunt, and the adoration she had for him. You could see it in their eyes in every picture. Whether she was gazing up at him or genuinely smiling like she was laughing, after 48 years of marriage, her smile remained the same...that of a teenage girl in love. He had an impish smile, and rarely looked directly at the camera, but usually off to the side, probably at someone who had just cracked a joke at him right before the camera flashed.
What sucks the most about death, and what struck me when I saw my cousin hugging his uncle 2 years ago, is that you don't worry about the person who has passed. You know that they are in a great place, smiling down at you and out of pain. What sucks the most about death are those who are left behind. Those who never get to feel the physical presence of their father, husband, uncle, grandpa, or brother ever again. All they have are memories, and you always wish you had had more time to make more memories.
They were taken from us too soon. Any one of my relatives will tell you that. They may have led full lives, but they are gone too soon. And now, I can't help but think of that windy country road. And those two houses, built up on hills across from each other. And the women who now live in them alone, without the loves of their lives. And that is what saddens me the most.
These two men, the men who took over the farm that my grandfather began, were great men. They led by example, much like my uncle and aunt who have also passed on to Heaven. They showed their family and friends how to behave and act like true Christians, simply by living their lives. I will never forget them, and I know that no one else will either.