11 March, 2016

Good-Bye Uncle Mel

As I sit here waiting for the shuttle to pick me up from my hotel to take me to the airport I reflect on this last week, actually the last couple of weeks... since I received the text from my dad that my uncle (my dad's oldest brother) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Since receiving the news, so many emotions have gone through me; sadness, brokenhearted, worry, stress... My heart ached for my family, especially my cousins, my aunts and uncles and especially my dad.  My dad is so amazing, once he heard news that my uncle would not have long to live he booked the next flight out to MN to be with him, and he did not leave his bedside for 2 weeks.  The hospice house that my uncle was at was amazing as well and took such great care of my uncle and all the family.  They even let my parents stay in one of the guest rooms and fed them around the clock (and fed them well!).  It was hard for me to be so far away from my dad, I just wanted to comfort him, but through all this he met my Aunt Heeyon's (Uncle Mel's wife) niece and she stepped in to that role beautifully, being there for my father the entire time, and I will be forever grateful for her kindness and love! 
My dad was the last one to see him alive on Monday morning, shortly after he left his room and exchanged a message that I know he will never forget, Uncle Mel passed away. 
I knew I needed to be in MN and Chris stepped in and found air for me and set up a hotel for my parents and I.  I reached out to friends to help with things while I would be away and arrange my pick up when I return.  I took care of what loose ends I could Monday so I could leave Tuesday morning knowing things would be OK while I was away.  Of course Chris stepped up and filled my shoes this week... maybe he will appreciate all I do to get those kids where they need to be better, LOL!!  I can not thank Chris enough for his love and understanding how important it was for me to be in MN with my family.
I left very early Tuesday and arrived in Minneapolis around 10am which was great because the viewing would be at 1pm.  I was not prepared emotionally for the viewing, it was one of the toughest things to go through.  Seeing your family mourn is difficult and heart-wrenching. Chris had given me his Officer Crest from his uniform that he has had since he was commissioned in hopes we would be allowed to give to my uncle to be buried with (My uncle retired as a Commander in the Naval Reserves).  My aunt was touched and allowed it, but I could not do it, my dad and my aunt with her niece placed it on him.  It was time for my parents to go up to see my uncle and I did not think I would be able to do it, but my mom urged me to, and I did.  It was so strange seeing him, he was not the man I remembered.  He was frail and very yellow, but I knew it was him and he looked so peaceful in his white tallit (Jewish prayer shawl). I saw the officer crest and was so very happy to leave him something so special. Later that evening the family met at our old temple, Temple Israel, and met with the rabbi, we thought we were just going to go over the details for the service the next day, but instead we all shared stories of my uncle.  For me it was so very special since I am the youngest of the cousins, and by MANY years, so to learn so much more about my uncle than I already knew was so wonderful.  I loved learning that so many things about his life paralleled so many in my own life.  He loved musicals and his favorite was Sound of Music, a favorite of mine as well. He was very intelligent and a hard worker, he took pride in everything he did.  He loved his country and the fact that he was in the Navy.  
It had been a long, emotional day but I was so fortunate to be able to be there.
The funeral was the next morning, we had to be to the Temple around 9:30.  All the family gathered in Jacob's Room and waited instruction.  Both Norman and I, along with other cousins, were pallbearers so we were told how we would need to gather at the end of the service.  It was then time to go in, I was apart of the last group, my Aunt Heeyon and her family along with Uncle Mel's children and his brother's and sisters would go in, then the spouses of all of them and then the rest of the family members still there (including my brother and I).   The service was beautiful, I had never been to a funeral at a temple before.  The rabbi said the most perfect things and chose the most perfect poems to share.  One of the most touching moments was during silent prayer, my Aunt Heeyon's niece played the piano, she played Uncle Mel's favorite songs, Swan Lake and Edelweiss.  I don't think there were many dry eyes during her playing. When it was over the pallbearers followed the casket down the sanctuary to outside where we all lifted Uncle Mel down the stairs in to the hearse. We all then proceeded in the processional to Ft. Snelling where Uncle Mel would be saluted with full military honors and a 21 gun salute.  Again, the pallbearers gathered by the hearse and raised him out and brought him to the platform where he laid with the American Flag draping his casket as he received his honors.  The guns saluted him and Taps was played. After the honor guard was dismissed the rabbi proceeded in Jewish tradition with the mourners kaddish.  After that, again in Jewish tradition, those who wished to place soil on top of the casket did so. 
After the services we went to a luncheon for the family at another Temple and spent time there catching up and just being together.  Later that evening we would come back to the same Temple for the Shiva service.  That service was another beautiful moment for us all to come together to say our last good byes.  Again, it was a very long and emotional day but I am so grateful that I was able to be there, especially for my dad.
My family is quite special, my dad has 6 siblings, all with different personalities and ideas.  They don't always agree on everything and may not see each other as much as they would like to (or should).  My hope is that they will keep my Uncle Mel's spirit with them and remember just how much love is shared between them.
As I fly back to Norfolk today I know Uncle Mel is soaring right next to me keeping me safe.

OK, I think that about sums everything up.  I know this is long and maybe a little of a run on at times, but I wanted to get this down before I forget any important details. Thank you all for the support during this difficult time.

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