This is very little we can do when Death comes calling. Sure, we can stave it off here and there but ultimately when it's time, well it's time.
Time came for my uncle Ron yesterday morning. Despite fighting death many times, Ron couldn't fight anymore.
Ron is a Vietnam vet. He served in the United States Marine Corps as a sniper and then came home to a country that frankly didn't want him. Before enlisting in the Corps. he livd through a rough childhood. Combined, his childhood and the war put him at the bottom of a can of beer or a bottle of liquor.
He was married three times, and several times he tried to quit drinking. But it was the one way that he could deal with his pain. And he had plenty of it.
Few really knew Ron. He kept to himself and, even when he was sober, rarely spoke of his past. Unless it was good times.
I remember one day him and I had driven to Airport Park in Concordia. He had been drinking and was in a very dark state of depression. It was mid-afternoon. We pulled up o a table and he asked if w could sit for a while. I obliged, what else could I do.
We sat for a while, quiet at first, but then a fly landed on him and he quickly flicked i off.
"I hate those god damn things," he said, "when I was a POW they would let the bugs crawl all over us."
Again he twitched his hand, sending a fly scampering away.
Just as quick as he started talking about it, he changed the subject. He told me about a time, many years ago, when I was very young. ABout how I, muddy and unclean, crawled into his lap. He was wearing a white suit. Despite my parents attempts to extract me from him, I, and he refused. He laughed about it. I laughed about it.
This was one of many times that Ron and I drove around Concordia. He would show up at my house, usually in the evening and ask me to ride around with him. Sometimes he drove, mostly I drove. Rarely was he without his beer. But I never said anything to him.
On particularly rough nights Ron would call me and ask me to come over. I would. When I arrived he would be sitting in his chair, drunk, unable to stand. We would talk for a bit and then he would cry. He always started to talk about the war but could never bring himself to give very much detail. Maybe if he did he would be with us today. I don't know.
I would stay with him till as late as I could. Often through his drunken ramblings he would say, "Cowboys never cry." But they do, and he did.
After a bad fall, or as he claims, an attack, Ron stayed with my parents for a bit. He was sober through that time. And I truly believe he wanted to remain that way.
I remember playing dominoes with him and my dad at the table. Two brothers and their son/nephew. It was fun. He often won. I think he took it as a front if he didn't.
Usually he would be laughing and joking. But inevitably a memory would hit him and he would grow quiet. The pain seeping back in.
He moved out my parents house. As soon as he did he found the beer. He hid it for a while, but eventually it didn't matter anymore. He was going to do what he wanted.
When he left Concordia and headed to Wilmington, North Carolina, he found hope. Sandra. But sadly she was sick and within a couple of years she succumbed to lung cancer.
He would call me from N.C., always early in the morning.
"Hello," I would say with a groggy and sleep filled voice.
"Was ya sleeping?" he would ask. his voice strong again and full of life. We would talk for at least an hour. He was fixing lawn mowers. He was getting strength back in his hands. He was living outside of the bottle. He had found happiness.
Sandra died a couple of years ago. I said then that was the end for Ron. I think he tried to fight it. But it was one enemy he could never draw a bead on.
The last time I saw him was right after Sandra died. He was upset. He felt that his family had abandoned him. I think now he was trying to justify to himself why he was drinking again.
I talked to him almost a year ago. It was early in the morning but I could tell he had already started drinking. He was repeating things and his words were somewhat slurred. He had lost the home he and Sandra were sharing and now was in danger of losing his apartment. Another in a long lists of defeats for him. More reasons why it was ok to pop the top on another bottle of beer.
My aunt Kathy called me last week and told me Ron was in the hospital.
"It's bad," she said, " think this is the end."
He held on for a little while, just over a week. The weekend before he died he was surrounded by his brothers and sister. Those who he thought abandoned him were there at his side. Like they always tried to be.
Everyone said their good-byes to him. No one, not even him, held any hope that he would walk out of the hospital this time. Death had finally won the battle against him.
I was at work when my phone vibrated. It was from my youngest brother Shaun, "Ron passed." Two words. I knew it was coming. Ron had slipped into a coma the day before, but still I cried. I cried because this was an amazing person. He was witty, funny, loving and truly wanted to do right by people. He was a cowboy, a Marine, an uncle and a friend.
I want so badly not to be angry with him, I just don't see the point. But if only he had swallowed his damn pride and sought out help maybe, just maybe, I would get a call asking "Was ya sleeping" one more time.
Good-bye Ron, may you walk through the halls of warriors with you head high, may you ride the plains free and may you finally be at peace.