It’s amazing how disconnected this life is from loss. Whenever someone important to me dies, it’s like I expect the ground to shake, the sky to darken, or strangers to mourn with me. I anticipate some kind of drastic reaction to the void now imprinted on the earth, and I am always a little stunned when nothing happens outside to match what is going on within.
He was ninety-two years old … this man – his heart and his mind were sharp as the day of this photograph in his twenties, but complications in the body at ninety-two don’t care about the rest of you. In his life he was a soldier, a surviving child of the Great Depression, a WWII veteran, a brother, a husband, a friend. He was one of the last of the Greatest Generation, and knowing him for even a day would tell you why. He matched wit with humor, war stories with a pocket full of jokes, and never let two weeks pass without a forty-minute drive to visit his ninety-four-year-old sister. I just don’t think men are made like that anymore.
What hurts is that most will never know, and soon time will wear out even the nearest memories to him. The closest thing he got to welcome in this life was a worn out, tattered version of hospitality. And yet – his life mattered. He was the closest thing my mother had to a father … and his stories became her tales to tell. Two years ago, she took him on the Honor Flight to Washington, where for just one day, he was treated like the hero he’d always been to her. From that day on, there wasn’t a moment he could be seen without his Honor Flight hat sitting proudly atop his head. Besides his ready smile, it was truly his only adorning accessory.
I wish the world had made a little more room for this man … and for all the men and women like him. For the forgotten ones who lived lives of the truest forms of sacrifice, and the purest forms of humility. But it doesn’t. Without the digital proof of a life that social media trails throughout society, many “lives” are lost to the world far before they are truly gone, and that may be the saddest reality of all.
I’m thankful for those of us who did know this man … I’m grateful for how much he gave, regardless of how very little he had. I appreciate the love he lavished on my mother, my grandmother, my children … and how whenever we’d send him a card, he’d call with thanks as if I’d given him the moon and the stars.
J.K. Rowling said, “To have been loved so deeply … will give us some protection forever.” But I think those of us left in this world need to take a real look at this man, and anyone like him we have the honor to know. If we don’t hear their stories, and carry them on, if we don’t try to understand the lives they lived, and the mentalities that made them so strong … we will become the lost ones. Because there is a far greater loss to us who are living if we don’t embrace the lessons from individuals such as him.
Love you always Uncle Sylvester,