Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Will to Live

My uncle Kenneth passed away two days ago after complications resulting from his treatment for cancer.  I had not been as close to him in recent years as I should have been.  As happens in all families, we each had our own lives that kept us busy.  We kept up with each other through my father (Kenneth was his brother) and exchanged Christmas cards and occasional phone calls.  But there was a time when I was much closer to him.  When I was growing up I called him "Uncle Kinky".  I really don't even know where the name came from, but it stuck until long after I became an adult.  I have many memories of my uncle - some I can recall on my own and others that are from stories my parents shared with me.  The first story I remember is them telling me that when I was born he asked the doctor to go back and look to see if there wasn't a boy "in there" - apparently he wanted a nephew instead of a niece!  I also remember them telling me that when I was a toddler they went out one time and Kenneth babysat.  When they came back home, they found he had tied me to the leg of a chair with a belt.  When they asked him why, he said because I kept crawling away.  Of course I wasn't hurt, and this became something they never let him forget!  The last story I remember them telling me was about the time Kenneth came home from the service and brought me a doll as a gift.  It wasn't just any doll though - it was about three feet tall and was African American (though he insisted it wasn't).  The funniest part was that he made the trip home by bus and because of the size of the doll had to ride with it sitting in the seat beside him - a white man in the 1960's riding the bus with an African American doll sitting in the seat with him - a priceless image!  These three things show just a little of what my uncle's personality was like.  You couldn't spend much time around him before you were laughing at something he said, something he did, or a story he told.

Unfortunately, my uncles' life wasn't as easy as his personality.  He (and his wife) suffered through more than anyone should ever have to in a lifetime.  After Kenneth married my aunt Brenda, they had a precious little baby boy.  His name was Hugh.  When Hugh was two years old, he and my uncle were in an auto accident.  The accident killed Hugh and almost killed my uncle too.  Kenneth spent a long time in the hospital and underwent multiple surgeries.  Brenda was pregnant at the time and had to be hospitalized herself.  Neither she nor Kenneth was able to attend their own child's funeral.  I was young at the time (less than 10), but I still remember it myself.  I guess the funeral for a child is something you just don't forget. 

As if this wasn't enough, the baby (another boy they named Benji) was born severely mentally handicapped.  He was later diagnosed with profound Autism.  Kenneth and Brenda kept Benji at home with them as long as they possibly could.  They cared for him and loved him just as they would any other child.  However, there came a time as he got older when they were no longer able to care for him at home.  He became too big and too strong for them to handle and required more help than they were able to provide.  So they made an extremely difficult decision to put him in a group home.  It was the best thing they could have done for him, but it was very hard on them.  He still lives there today, and I can't help but wonder if he will even know that his father's gone. 

At some point during all of this Kenneth became an alcoholic.  Considering everything he went through, it's almost understandable.  His drinking went on for many years and very nearly killed him - but not quite.  He apparently had a very strong will to live, despite everything.  He eventually became involved with Alcoholics Anonymous and at the time of his death had been sober for over 25 years.  He and Brenda had another baby - a boy they named Clay who looked very much like Hugh.  Clay was born healthy, grew up happy and safe, and today is married with three girls of his own.  Kenneth bought a farm in northwest Georgia where he loved to spend time relaxing and "piddling" around with his cows.  He also joined a group that does Civil War reenactments and enjoyed traveling all over with them.  Despite some health problems, things finally seemed to be looking up.  Then Kenneth was diagnosed with cancer.  He went through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  He improved for a time but then got worse.  He went from the hospital to a rehabilitation center to hospice.  He lapsed into a coma, his kidneys shut down, and he passed away without ever waking up Thursday evening, October 13, around 6:00 PM. 

Kenneth never gave up on life - he endured and withstood everything it threw at him.  There have been many times over the past few years that I've thought about him when I was having a hard time and felt like giving up.  I always told myself that if he and Brenda could live through everything they had, then I certainly could make it through my difficult times.  Without knowing it, he was an inspiration to me.  I just regret that I never told him so.

The Comfort and Sweetness of Peace
by Helen Steiner Rice

After the clouds, the sunshine,
After the winter, the spring,
After the shower, the rainbow -
For life is a changeable thing.
After the night, the morning,
Bidding all darkness cease,
After life's cares and sorrows,
The comfort and sweetness of peace.

Rest in Peace "Uncle Kinky" 

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