The last few days have been quite the roller coaster. Sunday morning I saw a message from my cousin on Facebook that my dear uncle Ron had suddenly become very sick and that he was on the verge of death. Twenty-four hours, and a chunk of debt later (I hate money!), I had traveled over 2000 miles and was walking into his hospital room.
I had not seen my uncle, or many of the family members who had also scrambled to be with him, in over ten years. Nobody had mentioned to Ron that I was coming to see him and as I walked into the room his eyes filled with tears.
Ron was on his way home Saturday when he made a stop at the grocery store. Suddenly he did not know where he was or what was happening. He was having a stroke. The stroke was brought on by a body full of cancer. He had known that he hadn’t felt right for the last few months but he had no idea about the cancer. Besides the cantaloupe size tumor encompassing his kidney, it was in his lungs, stomach, intestines, heart…and it was aggressively spreading.
Uncle Ronnie, as he is affectionately known to everyone, is not just an uncle, he is special. He has been the one steady male figure in the lives of countless nieces and nephews for as long as any of us kids can remember. Over the last few days endless stories have been swapped about all the camping trips Ron has taken us on, all the funny stories of this nephew or that niece that Ron and his wife Mary (my aunt) took in when we were struggling, all the practical jokes, all the overnight trips, all the time just being close to our uncle. We all grew up at one time or another in his home, on his vacations, riding in the back of his pickup (he still drives the same Toyota that he bought new when I was 5), just being unknowingly influenced by the man.
We are all products of broken families, every one of us, but we’ve always had Ron. He was the rock that we all took for granted, he was just always there with shrugging shoulders, a twinkling eye, and a funny laugh.
He is a mans man. He has been a truck driver his whole life and even while being diagnosed with terminal cancer he was worried about when he could get back to work (with a doctor in the room, Ron was on his phone checking on his CDL to make sure he could still drive). He was the guy who taught us to suck it up when we skinned our knees or got a splinter in our thumbs. He is tough but not insensitive. Every kid, and there are dozens, simply love him and have always know that he loved us. He effortlessly straddles the line between tough as nails man and favorite uncle.
Today he removed his wedding ring to show me how it had become oblong over the years. Ron and Mary have been married for 31 years. Ron told me that just looking at his ring made him weepy. He will not stop apologizing for the tears, his own and ours. I tell him to cry.
The doctors are still running their tests as I sit in the waiting room typing these words. There is blood to be drawn, biopsies to be taken, medication to be administered. It is endless. Ron is scared and so are we. To see our fearless pillar deal with this fear and pain is so hard. It is our Uncle Ron and it doesn’t feel right.
We pray. We weep. We hug. It could be days or months, we are not sure. We impatiently wait for a final word from the doctors. It feels like amateur hour in the cancer ward but I know that is probably only because our loved one is on line. It is hard not to get angry.
We talk late into the night about spiritual things. These times are when we are drawn closest to our Savior. He weeps with us. Even the nonbelievers among us ponder what might be. I remember going with Ron and Mary to their Catholic church when I was young. I remember Ron telling me once that if something happened to Mary he would consider the priesthood. It wasn’t supposed to go this way.
I find myself praying that my wife dies before I do. I don’t want her to see me that way or to feel that loss. I pray I can take care of my wife as she passes. I pray to preach her funeral and take the loss onto myself rather than have her have to deal with something like what is happening with my uncle Ron. I know that Ron would feel the same.
We pray for healing. We pray for comfort. We pray for peace. We just pray.