His death was not unexpected, but was a shock none-the-less. Partly because my Uncle Eddie spent eighty eight years bending life to his will and there was no reason to expect no less of his treatment of death. Indeed, though terminally ill for the last part of his life, he faced it head on, lasting far longer than anyone thought he could. Classic Eddie, he would only die when he was ready… doctors and hospice professionals be damned. Until then, he would continue to live life on his terms.
What does that even mean? Living life on your own terms could mean any number of things to many people. To Eddie, that often meant being irritating, impatient, and outspoken. He could be a complete jackass.
On the flip side, Eddie could be incredibly generous and thoughtful. He loved art, music, good food, and intelligent conversation. He was fearless and full of adventure. Eddie was driven. He was creative. He was human. He could listen and he could think. He was honest and a straight shooter. He loved his family. He loved his sister dearly and in turn, he loved her family.
For most of my life, he was my crazy uncle, to be tolerated with as much patience as I could muster. My family loved him and there was no doubt that he belonged to us. You see, my family loves characters and Uncle Eddie had character in spades. For many of us, he was the only relative that we really knew. He drove up from Florida to attend every family function and we looked forward to seeing him and learning of his latest adventures and antics.
Eddie could have remained my crazy uncle, but our relationship evolved a few years ago. During a long bout of unemployment, Eddie changed our relationship. I didn’t do it, he did. At a time when I was struggling with the problems of my own life, Eddie used photography, a passion we both shared, to reach out to me. He mentored me. He criticized my work and helped me to become my own photographer. He was generous of his time and of himself. He lent me equipment and we discussed technique and style.
It wasn’t long before we moved beyond photography. We had long conversations about family and politics. We talked about art. I don’t know how many hours we spent in art museums from Ohio to Florida. We grew closer and found that we liked and respected each other in a way we hadn’t before. In the last year, we ended each phone call and each visit with a heartfelt “I love you”. Yeah…I loved that irritating, impatient, crazy, wonderful old man.
Last year, I visited him at his home in Florida and on my last evening with him, he got out the good bottle of rum and made two very strong Cuba Libres. While we drank and the sun set, we swapped stories and told lies for hours. We watched the cars making long trails of light on the street below us and listened to a band playing in a band shell near the beach. I knew that he was dying and I knew to cherish the moment with him. I did then and I do now.
I started by stating the world’s smallest giant had passed. Eddie was a short slim man. It was the man he was and the memories he’s left us that make him a giant. Good bye Eddie. I miss you terribly, but I am comforted in the thought that you are finding new adventures with the giants that have passed before you. You will have them whipped into shape in no time. Try not to drive them crazy. I love you.