Wide Awake: Final Words
After a simple life, a moving message

If you had met my Uncle Wes, the first thing he would have told you was that many years ago, he converted to Catholicism so he could be my godfather. I heard him repeat that again and again, throughout my whole life. He said it as if he was so proud.

Obviously, I wasn’t around when he made this life-changing decision. It was an act of kindness for my parents and my uncle’s wife, who was my mom’s sister. But as I grew up and he started telling everyone we met, it was like he had gotten to know me and decided he had made a good move. I felt that every time I heard him recount his story.

My Uncle Wes was a no-frills guy. If he had his way, he would have worn sweatpants everywhere. It was fitting that when he died at the beginning of this year, there was no traditional funeral – no ceremony, no wearing black and no long lines to offer condolences. He requested a short memorial service in an American Legion Hall near his Wildwood home. No one dressed up. People brought homemade food that was served on paper plates. Plenty of beer. And lots of fun talking about the memorable man my uncle was.

No one was surprised – well, ok, maybe at first, but then we remembered this was Uncle Wes – when my aunt began reading a letter he wrote for this service. He was speaking to us from the grave. I’m sure he got a kick out of that when he was writing, which was in 2004.

He explained the reasons why he didn’t want a big funeral. He didn’t understand why everyone spoke softly when someone died, and he thought it was cruel that the family had to struggle through so many “I’m sorry’s.” And he really didn’t get kneeling at the casket:

Then you walk over to the wife/husband/mother/father and say, she/he looks good. Personally I never saw a dead person who looked anything other than dead – and that ain’t good at all.

He suggested we play The Beach Boys, and he asked that someone take special care of my aunt that day. He didn’t want anyone to speak about him if they really didn’t know him. And he wanted the whole thing over quickly.

I’d hope that people would shed at least one tear, but then get on with their lives and maybe think of something nice or funny about me to share with others. And for my sake, make sure I’m dead before that lid goes down.

I appreciated that my uncle had this idea to speak to us when we would be grieving his loss. He wrote about his marriage, his daughters and grandchildren, and how he tried to live his life. He had our full attention, and he used that time wisely. I was grateful he wanted to tell me something. I took in every word.

I love you all very much and hope you will think of me at times…happy thoughts.

If there’s a heaven, I’ll be waiting for you all one day, but don’t rush your life. Enjoy every day and make it count for something at day’s end. If you are tired, you had a great day.

In the end, my Uncle Wes – a man of little ceremony and fuss – stopped us all by writing such poignant words. He was telling us good things so we could move on. “Good Vibrations” was playing, and there was plenty of baked ziti and macaroni salad. I never experienced a service like that before, which is fitting; I never met anyone like Uncle Wes either. We came to say goodbye to him, but he bid us farewell. It was a wonderful end to a wonderful life.

April 2014
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