It’s said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. While it’s hard to deny this truism, it doesn’t ease the blow of either. Recently I was shocked and sad to learn of the passing of a dear uncle, my Uncle Ed, who lived in Hong Kong with his family. He has been married to my dad’s sister, Kat, for decades and was a beloved friend of my father’s since childhood.
Before I reflect on life’s ultimate destination, I want to pay homage to my lovely Uncle. Ed was, without doubt, one of the kindest, most generous-spirited men you could ever meet. Always ready to meet you with a boyish grin, he had a wicked sense of humor and radiated great warmth. Although we lived thousands of miles away from each other, he was someone who made a great impression on me. You could readily get a sense of him and his values after spending just a few minutes together.
Ed was a steady and seemingly patient man, and it was clear to anyone who met them as a couple, that he was utterly devoted to my Aunt Kat. There is an irrefutable strength that comes with being a Chan woman—it’s a legacy none of us can deny—and if you married one of my dad’s sisters, you essentially married the other three sisters too, but Ed took all this in his stride.
In recent years he became a grandfather of three, thanks to my cousins, Ian and Justin, and their wives. I didn’t have the pleasure of spending time with him in this role, but I’m sure it brought him great joy.
You might ask how I came to hold someone so far away with such fondness and remembrance. Back in the late seventies, Ed and Kat, and their two young boys, came to live in England for a year. And what a great year it was. Although they lived in London, and we lived 100 miles north in Leicester, they brought an energy and passion for making the most of their stay in the UK. These were joyful times. I remember us spending great weekends together, the adults cooking and eating and drinking together, the kids wrestling and playing in the next room.
We went to London shows together, and most memorable of all, an extended two-family holiday in Tuscany where we stayed in a medieval village. It was the best vacation I ever had as a child. In fact, Monkey and I went back to stay in Gargonza a few years ago.
Uncle Ed had a great appetite, and one of the running jokes of this holiday (I was 10 at the time) was the size of the Fiorentine steaks that he could consume at the local taverna. I can picture them now, almost larger than the plate, juicy, grilled and demolished by Ed with no problem at all.
During our holiday, the two sets of parents would sometimes trade-off – one set would take all six kids, while the other couple would go off somewhere for some kid-free fun, say a day in Roma. The local Italians just loved to see this giant band of kids – and because we all looked similar, assumed it was one big family, slapping my dad on the back to congratulate him on his blessed abundance!
It was Uncle Ed who taught us that if we pretended to pick up a stone, stray dogs would stop bothering us at our numerous picnics in the town parks of Tuscany.
My dad turned 40 during our time in Italy. We all went somewhere during the day, and returning late to our holiday ‘village’ we planned to eat in the on-site restaurant. Unfortunately, there was a big wedding going on and it seemed that we weren’t going to get dinner after all. Taking pity on the tired parents with six hungry kids, the staff and guests, kindly made room for us. Wedding crashers, Italian-style!
Well before you know it, the wine was freely flowing, my dad was dancing with the bride and even pinching her on the butt (faceplant emoji), and my dear Uncle Ed was having the time of his life. I recall that the Italian grandmothers just couldn’t help heartily pinching our cheeks —they just loved all these Chinese and 1/2 Chinese kids—but it hurt!
Inevitably the night had to draw to a close. As our parents staggered up the dark cobbled streets of Gargonza, it was clear that my dad and Ed were pretty much legless. Us kids were all hopped up on the sugar from the wedding favors: sugar-coated almonds, and we just thought it was hilarious to hear them slur, and see them stumble. I even remember putting a toy pink elephant in my aunt and uncle’s bed!
All this happened forty years ago, but it seems so crystal clear in my memory. A different time in the world, and my life, for sure. To me, Ed will always be playful and young, and someone who brought light to my dad, and levity to family get-togethers. Perhaps the only benefit of not seeing someone often is that they remain forever young in your heart.
So, while the end of life comes, and we can’t do a thing to stop it, we get to keep our treasured memories and shared experiences forever. I am thinking of his immediate family and wishing I could be there with them.
I know that life is crazy right now for so many of us, and the world political scene is heavy, and frankly scary. But as Fall draws in, turn in and let your mind rest on a joyous memory with a loved one. While it may bring tears to your eyes as much as a smile to your lips, you can feel blessed that you ever had the experience.
As I once heard at a memorial service: “We aren’t gathered together because (s)he died, we are gathered together because (s)he lived.” It brought me a little comfort.