This past week has been a very sad, difficult week for my family.
Two of my uncles on Dad's side of the family have passed away within 5 days of each other.
Uncle Windle had been in poor health for awhile and died last Wednesday at the age of 79. Uncle Fred died following a car accident this past Monday at the age of 86.
But the real story is not about how they died, but how they lived.
These were not desk-sitting, computer-punching, phone-talking kind of men. They were strong, active, on-the-go workers who could do (and did!) anything they set their minds to. "Can't" was never in the vocabulary of either one of them.
Remarkable lives by any standard, yes. But EXTRAORDINARY lives considering that both of them had significant physical handicaps, as we used to say (before political correctness had us tiptoe-ing around such things) both Uncle Windle and Uncle Fred were crippled.
Uncle Windle had to have his entire leg amputated at the tender age of 17 because of cancer. Seventeen!!! Can you even imagine? An active, athletic young teenager who chose to have his leg amputated over enduring rounds and rounds of chemotherapy back in the early 1950s when cancer treatment was in its infancy itself. He courageously chose to have his leg amputated, so for the past 62 years he had lived life with an artificial leg. His most recent prosthetics have been amazingly complex and high-tech, but those early ones were truly "wooden legs." I can remember as a child going to their house and closing the bathroom door only to discover his extra leg behind the door. (My younger sister Maria was terrified to even go in their bathroom...today she is a physical therapist who works with such situations all the time...go figure!)
Uncle Fred was born with a severely deformed hand and arm. Having been an extremely large baby born at home, the firstborn of the family, no one really knows whether it developed abnormally in the womb or there was some sort of injury during the birth. But either way, his entire life Fred lived with one functional hand. Because of his handicap, he was never able to participate in sports but that didn't slow him down one iota. After graduating from high school, he went all the way out to Washington state where he attended college, then came back home to begin his own family and business. Running the gravel pit (which we all affectionately called it) required using huge machinery with complicated controls and manual transmissions...bulldozers, cranes, backhoes, dump trucks, and lots more that I don't even know the names of...all with essentially one good hand. Really amazing when you think about it!
As I was reflecting back upon the lives of these two dear uncles of mine and the many, many good times we shared, it suddenly occurred to me what incredible obstacles they both had to overcome during their lives. To us, they were always just Uncle Windle and Uncle Fred, and we had long ago forgotten about the wooden leg and crippled hand. They have always just been our uncles, whom we all adored.
And it also occurred to me that neither of them would have EVER expected someone else to take care of them. They would have rather died than accept lifelong disability payments, like so many people much less handicapped than they were do without shame today. They took what life presented them and made the very most of it, which turned out to be pretty darn good!
As I sit here typing with tear-filled eyes, I think of the incredible impact both of them had on so very many...their families, friends, and their entire communities. They loved and were loved, and isn't that what life is all about?
They may not have been able-bodied, but both Uncle Windle and Uncle Fred were most certainly able-minded! And these past few days our family and the world has lost the bright lights...
...of two extraordinary able-minded men.