My mother’s older brother lives in Cleveland. He is a Catholic priest, a missionary, a recovering alcoholic, an athlete, an audiophile, and friend. Growing up, his family called him Buddy. He is 84 now, people call him as Fr. Bolan, or Fr. John, or John I still call him Uncle Buddy.
When I was a child, Uncle Buddy would visit for a week in the summer and at Christmas time. Every time he would leave, we would hug and kiss him goodbye; then he would bless my siblings and me. He held his left hand over his heart and with his right hand, fingers pointing to heaven he would make the sign of the cross. It started with him softly saying ‘in the name of the father’ –hand moved up ‘and of the son’ –hand back down ‘and of the holy’ –hand left ‘spirit’ –hand quick right and center for ’Amen’ and then to the top of our heads. Now we were safe until the next visit.
In addition to his semi-annual blessings, he also officiated at many religious services. He baptized my siblings, my children, and me; he married my mother and father and he married my first husband and me. Thirty years ago, he stopped drinking and left his role as a parish to become a Chaplin for the VA. Informed by his own experience he led hundreds of addicted veterans to sobriety through spirituality.
He is also an athlete and we had lots of fun riding waves on Long Beach Island. He was a member of the National Ski Patrol. He brought me to Great Gorge when I was 15 and taught me to snow ski. Later, he taught me how to play golf.
Up until recently, he played golf weekly, but he was asked to leave the league because he couldn’t keep up, He is still sharp, still loves life, and always loved God. He has a cat named Shelly and many friends. He loves listening to music and watching Netflix movies.
I visited him last year and we talked about what would be next for him. Where does he want to be and how he feels about dying. He told me then that he likes living alone because he likes his sound system, he likes it loud, and he doesn’t want to turn the music down. He is not afraid to die.
He seems to have declined over past few months; he has been in the hospital twice. He gets Meals on Wheels now. He had to stop driving his car and, as I mentioned, he no longer swings his golf clubs.
Last Wednesday my brother was in Ohio and he visited Uncle Buddy and took him to lunch. Afterwards, he reported to me that the Uncle Buddy didn’t seem to keeping up with laundry but the litter box was clean. He also mentioned that the rest of the family thought I might be the one to inform the superior of his religious order. I thought, ‘How about, I check this out with Uncle Buddy’.
On Saturday night, I called my good friend, Uncle Buddy. He told me that even though his laundry is “no one’s business” and, “Sometimes men just don’t make their beds” he was open to the idea of getting some help at home. I asked him if he thought he was ready for home hospice. He said, “I am on hospice, I have been on Hospice for two weeks.”
I am really proud of Uncle Buddy and I am really proud of myself, too. Putting my need to be needed aside, I respect his decision - his choice- to live his end of life the way he wants to in his own home where he is comfortable.
I love you, Uncle Buddy. I am not able to be there now, but its okay.
Then I think, "If only I could fly"....