Hearing Uncle Roy's story told so fully and lovingly, I could not help but think also about my dad. Both brothers had deep veins of responsibility laid in them by their father, an inspector of schools who was also the teacher, police officer, judge and, come Sunday, the minister in the tiny country village of Wait-a-bit where they were raised. For both brothers, work always came first, but after, they would drink to quell the swirl of excess emotion and anxiety that I believe was their genetic birthright, one I have certainly inherited. The drinking did not derail their lives, because the instinct to take care of loved ones was so much their core. Both men rose to the pinnacle of their careers, Uncle Roy in sports management and later music administration and my dad in law. Their work ethic and character were such that people did not hesitate to put their trust and their business in their hands. But it was painful for family members to watch them destroy themselves slowly with alcohol.
Uncle Roy's children admired him deeply, all the more so for the way he faced the significant challenges of his life: His two wives, both of whom he loved deeply, died of cancer. He was married to each one for exactly 23 years, and each one died on February 1, the first in 1974, the second in 2006. It happened the same way both times. My aunt, the mother of my four cousins, felt particularly unwell one evening, and Uncle Roy offered to make her tea. By the time he returned with the steaming cup, she had quietly expired. Ten years later he wed a second time, another true love whom his children and later his grandchildren fully embraced. Twenty three years later, again the cancer, again the offer to make tea, only to return and find his beloved had slipped away.
But for all the sorrow that touched his life, my uncle was luckier than most. I looked at his four children and their spouses, his nine grandchildren, and four great grandchildren standing together in celebration of him, and I thought, Uncle Roy did well. He had almost died as an infant, his son told the church. His mother had handed him to a neighbor because she could not bear for another of her children to die in her arms. She had already lost twin daughters and another son. Instead Uncle Roy rallied and lived "a full life touched by immeasurable grace," his son Paul said. It is why I think there was less sadness in the church than there usually is at such send-offs. After 85 years on this earth, Uncle Roy chose his time.