My uncle has passed. The cancer took him.
He left the world at five o’clock this morning. Saturday morning, it is. January 11. As I write this I glance up to a cold rain falling through the fog that rolls down from the mountains. It seems right that death should be greeted by such weather. We know where he is, and we know that place is fine and beautiful and has no cancer in it, but that does not mean there is no grief. There is grief for my family. And there is heartache for my aunt and two cousins.
He was a simple man who lived a simple life. A farmer who spent much of his time tending to land that has been his kin’s for generations. A devout man, a hard worker, a provider for his family. When you are from my part of the country, such qualities lead people to call you Good. He was a Good man.
The cancer had been in his family, felling several. I suppose the thought that he could meet a similar end was in my uncle’s mind. He abhorred doctors. He chose to ignore the pain that began months ago rather than have it investigated. He knew, I think. I think in some way he always knew. By the time there was no choice but to seek help, it was too late. The cancer was everywhere by then.
To the end, he rose each morning to feed the animals with a strength none of us can fully fathom. The land was his life, all he knew. Several days ago, as the cancer spread into his brain, he wandered outside without a shirt in below-zero temperatures. My aunt and cousins let him, too wearied by their long fight against the death that stalked him. He stared out over the hills and fields and came inside when he finally grew too cold. So far as I know, it was the last time he gazed upon his tiny part of the world.
The pain was too great for him last night. No amount of medicine could ease it. Death saved him from more life. That’s how I’m trying to see it.
Upon his death, my cousins washed his body and dressed him in a suit. The simple cherry box he will lie in was handmade by a local Amish man. He will go into the ground today in a family plot that overlooks his home, watched over by a preacher, my aunt, and her children and grandchildren. It is the way my uncle wanted it, and how the country and mountain folk have buried their loved ones for hundreds of years. You may think that strange, backward almost and excruciatingly difficult. That’s fine.
We do not choose how we are born into this world and we do not choose how we leave it. It’s the wide spaces in between that are ours to live and do—to craft something of worth, something that will last, something that will honor the God who blesses us all.
My uncle did that in his own quiet way, and that is why I write of him now. Because on this and every day, there are many more like him in the hills and hollows of our country. They grow the food you eat and the cows that give you milk and beef. They live by the whims of weather and the grace of God. They are the heartbeat of this world, and they should be remembered.