Monday, November 25, 2013

Uncle Ha Ha

Dear Scarlett,
Your Uncle John, Dad's older brother, passed away yesterday. He was diagnosed with lymphoma a mere 2 months ago, and he had a very rare and aggressive form that acted fast. Uncle John was a strong, healthy guy, someone with seemingly unlimited energy and a constant supply of laughter. You called him Uncle Ha Ha, which began after one of his trips to San Francisco with Aunt Jamie. You and Uncle Ha Ha laughed all the time together. You made him so happy.

Uncle John knew a lot of things. He was a tool and die maker at General Motors, working in both Indiana and Michigan at different times. When Dad and I lived in Manhattan, our oven stopped working, which we only noticed once a very cold dinner had been sitting in there "cooking" for about 30 minutes. Dad called Uncle John, and after hearing a two sentence-description of the problem, Uncle John told us exactly how to fix it. This involved sticking toothpicks into tiny holes at the back of the oven. It worked right away.

When Dad was little, he shared a room with Uncle John. John was 16. Dad was 6. Dad claims that it was this early exposure to very loud Led Zeppelin that both formed him musically and wrecked his hearing. John didn't go directly to college, and it wasn't until his 40s that he went back and got his degree. I remember that Dad was so impressed and proud of him.

Uncle John had two daughters, your dear cousins Jessica and Danielle, and one grandson, Eathan. He and Aunt Jamie were together for more than 10 years, and married for 3. They were a wonderful couple, so well matched, and it was always clear how much they enjoyed their life together. They raised swans in their backyard, in a beautiful, big pond across from a nature reserve. Visiting them was always fun and relaxing, and we would take long walks along nearby trails when you were little. John was an expert at making bonfires. We would sit and roast marshmallows by the pond at night, and he would introduce some crazy new drink (Sambuca and espresso beans, once) that he had either created or discovered.

He and Aunt Jamie had a bird named Cookie, who drank coffee and wine, and ate human food, and hearing Uncle John talk to that bird always made me laugh. You still talk about Cookie Bird.

Your Uncle John was the perfect big brother for me. He welcomed me into the family long before Dad and I got married. He drove me crazy sometimes, as a good big brother should, and we argued about silly little things. But he was also attentive, inclusive and loving. When I got sick, John brought me strength and positivity. I tried to help him in the same way when he got sick.

My friend Ellie said that it's hard to know if a short battle with cancer is a good thing or a bad thing, and I think that's really true. I wouldn't have wanted Uncle John to be in pain any longer, but it is hard to imagine the world without him. I will miss his laugh, miss yelling at him to recycle all those wine bottles we used to go through, and miss the more recent conversations we had about what it is like to suddenly be sick when you used to be so healthy. They weren't depressing talks--we were able, I think, to encourage each other, to get some strength from our similar situations.

I will miss your Uncle Johnny so much. And I wish you'd gotten more time with him, too.