It was, I suppose, a coincidence: I chose that photo for my birthday invitation--the one of me leaping off the diving board into Jack & Lynn's swimming pool--two weeks before I got the call from Jack's big sister Mary. Jack, it seems, while recovering at home from heart bypass surgery, had suffered a heart attack and was now in a coma in intensive care. Within a few days, he would be removed from life support and pass quietly, his wife and two daughters by his side.
Quiet is not a word you would usually associate with Uncle Jack. He was boisterous and energetic and a tease. A firefighter and paramedic, he teased us when we watched Emergency, a show we loved but one he found terribly, annoyingly unrealistic. I remember the Christmas Eve he dressed up as Santa Claus to bring presents to we three girls and his nephews, our cousins. I was young enough to be slightly confused--why did Santa's eyes twinkle like Uncle Jack's?
I didn't see Jack all that often once I was an adult. But sometime in the early nineties, when I was visiting the Christmas tree farm he ran with his family, he drew me aside. A little bird had mentioned my alternative lifestyle, he said, and he wanted me to know that that was fine with him.
Grief is rarely a pure emotion. The pain I feel has a lot to do with the fact that Jack was my mother's brother. In a way, losing him is losing one more piece of her.
Thanks, Jack, for being someone who kept changing and growing throughout your life. For being direct and even cantankerous. Your nieces will try to carry on the tradition.