Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Uncles/Aunts (04/17/08)
TITLE: When Did It Happen? When Did Disdain Turn to Love?
By Helen Dowd
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It was during World War II that I first met him. I was seven. How handsome Uncle Bill looked in his navy uniform, with its shiny gold buttons. If he had had any other place to go on his frequent overnight stop-overs, our home would not have been Uncle Bill's choice. He despised kids. And there were six of us, ranging in age from twelve down to two.
When we saw him coming up the street, we would race each other to greet him. The minute he entered the house all six of us clambered for his attention, wanting to feel his shiny buttons and touch his crisp navy blue uniform. Jumping back in disdain, he would yell: "Get away from me, with your sticky fingers." Taking out his handkerchief, he would brush off his uniform, escaping into the kitchen to where Mom was—he did like Mom--where he knew we children were forbidden to go, unless invited.
I don't remember much more about Uncle Bill during my growing up years. And throughout my teens, whenever I did see him, it was as if I didn't exist, as far as he was concerned. So how then, did I end up being his caregiver?
It was in 1989 at a family wedding that Uncle Bill first met my husband. He had volunteered to drive Uncle home to Calgary. During the trip, out of the blue, Uncle implored us to come and live with him. We were flabbergasted. His health was failing fast, and his care worker had told him, if he were to stay in his own home he needed someone with him. We had no ties, except for our dog and two cats, to which he had no objection. A week later we moved in with him.
That was one of the most difficult periods in my life. But it was also one of the best. I remember looking out the kitchen window while I was doing dishes and thinking: "How did I end up here, at Uncle Bill's? When I was a child he didn't even know I existed, except for my sticky fingers. And now I have become his caregiver."
During the next year and a half we saw Uncle Bill deteriorate quickly. He suffered from a strange ailment, Addison's Bronze disease, which amongst other things, caused sudden mood swings. We were never sure what would cause his next temper flare, or at which of us it would be directed—me for using too much water, or my husband for trimming his raspberry patch too much. After a flare up, though, he would always try to get back into our good books by taking us out for a meal.
I am not sure how we got through that trying time, but I know that God was with us. We were able to have some good talks with Uncle Bill. He liked to discuss Bible doctrines, but the bitterness he fostered in his heart against his brothers during their growing up years would often explode, right in the middle of the discussion. His tirade was always directed at my dad, and that would hurt. However, we found out during our conversations that it was really another brother who had been cruel to him during childhood. That brother had died at the age of twenty, so he took his resentment out at my dad instead.
As time went on we noticed Uncle Bill's bitterness slowly melting. Cuddled up in his blanket, his eyes would fill with tears. "Do you think God can forgive me for my wicked ways, back when I was young?"...I know God helped us show him that forgiveness was for anyone who asked.
The night before Uncle Bill died, December 23rd, 1990, he asked me if I would sit with him and read Psalm 23. He fell asleep while I was reading it. I am sure that God hovered that night over his bed, gently leading him through the valley of death. I went to my bed at two o'clock in the morning, and awoke with a start, much later than I usually get up. I rushed to his bed. He was breathing his last… I will never forget the experience of holding someone in my arms while he passes over the River Jordan.
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