This afternoon I got a sad email from my mother. Her brother, my Uncle Pat, died today. He was a chemist (not a pharmacist, but a Ph.D. in chemistry), and quite a good one. He was single, and my mother and her younger brother (my Uncle Mike) were his only family. Uncle Pat lived (and taught) in California, so we did not see so much of him, as we were in Maine. But he remembered birthdays and Christmas. I think Uncle Pat knew better how to handle us as adults, and I remember fondly his visits and trips we took together.
This is what I loved about Uncle Pat: he was full of surprises. Surprises that I understood better as an adult. As a kid, all I knew about Uncle Pat was that he was a smart man, a chemistry professor who won awards. But as I got older, I got to know him as a chemist who loved Jane Austen! Who read literature, not just science journals. Who enjoyed good jokes, and football, and sometimes couldn’t figure out math problems. He made me realize that adults are so much more than their jobs. That behind the profession, behind the work, there is also passion for other things, like, in Uncle Pat’s case, Jane Austen. When The Jane Austen Book Club novel came out, I immediately thought of Uncle Pat, and sent him a copy. I still have his thank-you note. That’s the kind of man my Uncle Pat was, a chemist who loves Jane Austen and sends thank-you cards.
2012 has been a hard year for my family. We’ve lost Uncle Pat, my mother-in-law, my cousin, and my grandmother (all since June). When I called the Mister today in tears (to tell him about Uncle Pat), he said, “We’re at that age. we’re growing up.” Yes, we’ve moved beyond our peers’ engagement announcements and weddings and baby showers and now we’ve segued into divorces and deaths.
And since we’re in the season of giving and receiving, I feel the need to recount the countless gifts I’ve gotten from my family that’s no longer with me. From my Grandma Margaret–a fierce independent streak! From my cousin Derek–unending kindness. From my mother-in-law Sueko–pure selflessness. And from Uncle Pat–the ability to see the world broadly, beyond the trappings of profession and training. I’m so lucky to have had these people and their influences in my life. And while I’m so sorry to say good-bye to them, I know their attitudes, their memories will brighten my life for many days to come.