I didn’t know Uncle Johnny very well. He had a stroke before I was born, and lost his capacity to speak. He lived in the garage apartment on his sister’s property, and she lovingly cared for him.
To my sisters and me he was a curiosity, and we used to sit on the garage steps and watch him roll tobacco into white papers, making his own cigarettes, and sometimes his eyes would smile kindly at us. That, and the fact that he dragged his right leg when he walked are really all I remember about him….except for his funeral.
I was about ten when he died, and his funeral was the first one I had ever attended. I can still remember that it was a bright sunny day with clear blue skies. I was struck by the contrast of nature’s beauty and the sorrow of my aunt . I gathered with my family, and the few others in attendance and stood around the grave, covered with a green tarp, while the priest said prayers and sprinkled holy water.
My mind wandered off, trying to grasp that Uncle Johnny was gone forever from the earth. I thought of how the rest of us would go on with our lives, but he wouldn’t be there anymore. It seemed so impossible to my young mind. How could someone I had always known really be gone?
It was my first encounter with the reality of death, and I have never forgotten it. People die; life goes on. Then, most people forget about you, and sooner or later, everyone does.
The year after Uncle Johnny died, Aunt Anna died of leukemia at age twenty-seven. She left behind a husband and two babies. They buried her in her wedding dress, and everyone cried. But life went on. Her husband remarried a few years later; her children couldn’t even remember her.
I often return to these thoughts when someone “important” dies. Celebrity, accomplishments, power, wealth, all remain behind. Death is the great equalizer.
God tells us as much: What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14