I’ll remember him dancing

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My Uncle Bob died recently. His memorial service was this morning, and I’ve been struggling for weeks to figure out just what to say about it all.

I hesitate to say that his death was a shock – he had been living with the aftermath of an aneurysm that probably should have killed him for about a decade, now – but I’m having a hard time believing that he’s really gone. My heart hurts for my Aunt Barbara, for my cousins and their children, for all of us who knew and loved him. I’m especially sad that we hadn’t visited in so long, that he never met my kids, and that we couldn’t be there today to say goodbye.

My mom and her big sister Barbara have always been close. They both married guys named Bob, and as it turned out, the six kids born of those two marriages were pretty close growing up, too. The Bourbeaus settled in Toledo, Ohio, and we stayed in Detroit, but I was lucky to spend lots of time at my Aunt and Uncle’s house in the summer, riding my cousins’ bikes, hanging out with their friends, splashing around in their pool, and monopolizing their basement television set to watch MTV at all hours of the day and night (Detroit still didn’t have cable back then, and I had already fallen hard for the new wave and punk sounds being broadcast over the radio. My Aunt and Uncle totally indulged me). It was a nice dose of suburbia, a chance for this painfully shy and anxious city kid to relax, to try on some new wings in a safe place.

My Uncle Bob and Aunt Barb were – have always been – unfailingly generous people. Even as I grew to adulthood, when my problems led me to make some really bad decisions, to do some just plain stupid things, I always felt loved and accepted by them. Never judged, only welcomed.

All people are flawed, of course, and the fuzzy memories of childhood have a way of coming into focus as you get older. The less attractive aspects of a person’s character, their vices or bad habits seem obvious in hindsight. But as a grown-up, you also have empathy, and the knowledge that no person is ever just one thing. How boring would that be? And how impossible.

I choose to remember the great things about my Uncle Bob: his generous heart, his twinkling blue eyes, the way he never missed an opportunity to twirl my Aunt Barbara or my cousins or me around a dance floor. He was so light on his feet, and so joyful. When I think of him, first and foremost, I will remember him dancing.

Robert A. Bourbeau, 1942-2014

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