An enlarged heart

Turns out, a big heart can be a bad thing.  My uncle Mike passed away on Friday, July 4th, suddenly and wholly unexpectedly.  He was 64 years old.

My mom and Severa and I went up to Rhinelander on Saturday morning, taking Friday to try to process what had happened and get things in order, not knowing how long we’d be gone.  What this really meant, of course, was staring blankly into space and looking through old pictures.  I don’t know that there is a way to process the death of a loved one who has left you without saying goodbye.  Spending the last five days in Rhinelander was necessary, painful, comforting and strange.  I’ve never been to Rhinelander before when Mike wasn’t there.  At times, time went so slowly.  Maggie and I counted down fifteen minute blocks at the three-plus-hour open casket visitation (three down, nine to go).  The mass though, while two hours, felt like the shortest time I’d ever been in church.  I thought maybe I’d find some comfort in the rules and order of the mass, maybe trying to see the church through Mike’s faithful eyes would help me, but it really didn’t.  The church was packed with friends and family.   There were pews reserved for lawyers and boy scouts, more pews than Maggie and I thought could possibly be necessary (“How many lawyers could this town have?” asked Mags), but we were very wrong.  The eulogies — except mine (a Yeats poem that was probably left better unread) — were inspired and inspiring.  The classic stories of Mike’s tardiness, his love of the Cubs (I still don’t understand where this comes from), his appreciation of a good stout and his ability to make any event into a story worthy of publication are things we all knew too well, yet thirsted to hear from as many mouths as possible.  No one could ever be heard to say that my uncle lacked personality.

What he did lack, though, was some common sense.  For an incredibly bright and curious man, I will never understand his complete distrust of doctors and modern medicine.  I remember him once saying to me something about how because I have my law school diploma on the wall, I am to be trusted more than doctors whose diplomas may not hang in every patient’s room.  I was incredulous that this was a piece of asserted logic coming from the mind of my dear uncle.  For a man of supreme faith, I will never understand his total derth of trust in doctors. 

We will never know, of course, whether more regular — or any — trips to the doctor could have saved us from having to bury my uncle while we thought he was still in his prime.  Look at Tim Russert.  But, from the medical report, we now know that he had had a previous heart attack and that his heart was enlarged and that he was suffering from narrowed arteries, which caused his great fatigue. 

I know that the survivors need to ask these questions — could he have been treated, could he have stayed with us longer, can we be angry with him — but I hope my family and I don’t dwell on these queries too long.  I want us to remember Mike with love and affection and, occasionally, remembering how damn stubborn and bull-headed he could be.  I don’t think it’ll be possible to remember Mike as any other way than he was: loving, loyal, passionate, bullying, gregarious, bright, frustrating, and always late.

Except when he was too early, which he certainly was last Friday.

I thought coming home again would be good for me.  I thought getting back into a routine would be soothing, finding all the familiar things around me comforting, not having to look at any more green bean casserole.  But I miss Rhinelander and being surrounded by family who felt just as I felt.  I find it kinda scary being home again — everything is the same, except it just isn’t.  And I have friends around me who know I’m in pain, but can’t possibly feel it.  It was so nice to be up north because we could all laugh together, knowing that laughing wasn’t forgetting our sadness, but coping with it.  Here, I’m scared to laugh because I don’t want to forget.

As my aunt called it, this re-entry isn’t easy.

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9 Responses to “An enlarged heart”


  1. 1 Sara H July 11, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Kate, I’m so sorry to hear about your uncle.

    Isn’t that rearview mirror feeling awful? Like you’re watching the person in the rearview mirror, but you have no control over the gas pedal and driving forward. No brakes!

  2. 2 Mary July 13, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    He was my brother. And he was my hero. He was not perfect but nor am I. I shall miss him forever. The sadness is overwhelming. I can not believe he is gone. I keep thinking someone will call and say it is not true. I know we loved each other and shared a childhood. I so wish it could have been longer. But maybe thay’s how you feel whenever someone you love dies. Sigh. I loved him so.

  3. 3 kateandgracie July 14, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Thanks, Sara. It is an awful feeling — it’s that feeling that things can be just totally out of our control and that no matter how much we want them to be different, we just are not getting what we want.

    On a much lighter note, isn’t this weather we’re having amazing? I know we revert to talking about the weather when there is little else to talk about, or when we’re in the company of folks we’re scared to offend, but really, it must be said: this weather is truly lovely. But my office is a complete mess.

  4. 4 kateandgracie July 14, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Also, on the note of this whole blogging thing is still kinda beyond me, have you noticed that a “possibly related post” is one of my old posts? Um, brilliant WordPress.

  5. 5 G July 16, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    I hope the bosses don’t walk in as I am crying at your thoughtful and heartfelt eulogy to your uncle. Although we (your friends) cannot feel your pain, we’ve been there before and are here for you now. And sometimes its nice to talk about the weather, because I guarantee you won’t forget.

  6. 6 Stacy July 16, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    Kate, this is really beautiful. I too have had many of the same questions that you have had. Mike and I had a special type of father-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship; basically, drop the in-law part. I loved the man but what really is hard is to think of Kyle growing up without grandpa. Mike loved that kid more than anything and I have to believe that if he had any indication of how serous what he was feeling was he would have taken action. Memories and each other are what we have left and we need to hold on to both.

  7. 7 kateandgracie July 17, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Thanks, Stacy. And I do agree completely that if he had really known what was going on inside of him, he would have done something about it. There was no way he would have knowingly missed out on a minute of time with that little munchkin of yours.

    And thanks, Gwen. You’re right: talking about the banal can be only helpful and comforting. Same with friends. Not that they’re banal; they’re of great comfort and I’m very lucky.

  8. 8 Heather Certain July 21, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Beautiful post, Kate. Sorry to be so late in commenting.

    And my heart goes out to you, Mary, and you, Stacy, and all the roe lund lloyds.

    I didn’t know Mike too well, but what i do remember is a pontoon boat captain and a fisherman for the family presque isle fish fry, and this makes me both smile and tear up.


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