I often use “farewell” as a way of saying goodbye. I like it more than other expressions, like “Goodbye,” “See ya,” and “So long.” It just feels more aligned with what I am trying to say to those I love when I leave them. But last weekend, the saying helped me find my way through my hundred-year-old uncle’s passing.
My uncle had lived in our family’s ancestral Cape home since 1972 when he and my aunt, my father’s sister, moved in after my grandmother’s death. As a child I took for granted the presence of family in this house, because for as long as I can remember there has been a family member living in my grandparents’ home. I had never known the house, which we fondly call Sand Heap, to be absent of family. But this weekend, as I said farewell to my uncle, there was not only this big hole in my heart in saying goodbye to him; there was also a startling awareness that the house would no longer house a family member.
My uncle was a formidable man, and in my young life when I was still filled with grief from my own father’s death, we didn’t get along all that well. In fact, I remember many interactions with him that made me really mad. Truth is, I was mad at the world, not him, and his boundaries gave me a target for my blame. But as the years granted me maturity, I had the opportunity to share time with my uncle. There were luncheons, kite festivals, fireworks on the 4th of July, cookouts, and birthday celebrations. He never gave up on his life, marrying for the second time when he was 86 years old and living in Sand Heap by himself until he was close to 100, only getting full-time care in the last couple years of his life. He loved visits from family and friends, and always engaged his visitors in provocative conversation. No matter what you felt after a talk with him, you inevitably left him reflecting on the conversation.
My Uncle Gerald was a man that did incredible things throughout his life, but what inspired me most about him was how he related to the aging process. I learned so much from him. He was a brave warrior who always found a way to stay positive, intentional, and good humored as his body broke down. We can all relate to how terrifically frightening it is to see those we love weaken from disease or aging, but when we have the incredible blessing of witnessing someone doing it courageously and honorably, the gifts it bestows on us are life-changing. For me, his gift brought light to the reason I cherish the saying farewell so much. It helped me understand that spirit is forever and that even though I have lost the physical aspects of my beloved uncle, he is with me in his essence and energy, and that is forever.
On Saturday, December 20th, my uncle left his body. As my cousins and I sat in the parlor that he had for so long occupied, reflecting on our time with him, I couldn’t help but think of all I had shared with my uncle, and how grateful I was for having known him.
So as I say farewell to you, Uncle Gerald, my heart fills with gratitude for the example of bravery you offered my life: you never gave up, living fully until your last breath.
May Peace be with you as you travel home. Farewell.
You can learn more about my uncle’s life through his obituary in the Boston Globe.
It’s occurred to me that farewell is filled with hope, and in times of beginnings and endings, hope counts for so much.