I implore all of you out there in blog-land: please, make a commitment to yourself, and to your family, to take better care of yourself.
I'm off work today, because I'm getting ready to attend yet another family funeral.
The second in two weeks.
Thursday night, we'd gone to my cousin's house for Christmas. His older brother lives next door, and their dad lives with the older brother. Consequently, I was able to see my uncle - my mom's brother who is just older than her, and the same age as my dad - for the first time in many months.
The first thing I said to my mom as we left was, "Mom, Uncle Joel looks really bad."
She said she saw in his eyes that he wasn't doing well. We knew he wouldn't be with us much longer.
Fast-forward to Saturday afternoon. In an odd turn of events, all of my family (well, besides the brother in Montana) was at my mom's house. (Despite the fact that two of my siblings have moved back home, and I live five miles away, that doesn't happen too often.)
My dad, my brother, and Jason were outside working on various vehicles. Amanda, Anna Marie, my mom, and I were inside. My dad walks in, calls my mom's name. When she stands up at the alarmed tone in his voice, he tells her to sit back down.
Her brother was dead.
My cousin had just called my dad to tell him that his older brother had tried to wake their dad up around noon, and he was unresponsive. The ambulance was unable to revive him - he was already gone.
He was 57 years old, but he looked about 77 when I saw him Thursday night. I remember looking at his hands as we sat around the dining room table talking, and the skin had the pale, translucent look of a much older person. He was wheelchair-bound and on oxygen, and he had lost a lot of weight.
The saddest thing about this is that he had told one of his other sisters on Thursday that he realized he had brought his health problems upon himself.
My uncle and my dad were friends in high school, a scheme which I'm sure my dad perpetrated to get closer to my (too-young-to-date) mother. The friendship stuck, though, and they were as close as any two brothers would be. But my uncle spent too many of his years in the proverbial "hard living" stage.
Although he had cleaned up in the past few years, the damage to his body was already done.
One of my cousins, who lives in New England and hadn't been home in several years asked me if he'd had cancer. No, but he had a host of other problems - cirrhosis, emphysema, diabetes, hepatitis - that were directly traceable to his lifestyle choices.
His sons buried their mother (he had since divorced her) two years ago, for much the same reasons. Those boys - we'll, they're 25 and nearly 40, but they're still boys to me - are minus both parents at much too early an age.
My uncle had survived Vietnam, but was done in by what he did after he returned.
So as we approach this new year, and people are evaluating what they've done in the past and what they hope to accomplish in the future, please, if not for your sake, then for the sake of your family - take care of yourself!
You've got a lot of living left to do.