My month is starting off sadly, as my uncle with Down's Syndrome, who (I explained somewhere but can't find the post for) has been quite sick, was removed from life support last Friday, because his organs had been shutting down. He's been largely unconscious for the past 2 months, so it's not a tremendous surprise, but it is a tremendous loss. I went to see him on Friday, and watching my eldest uncle hold his hand and put his head close to Uncle Mark's in the way they always have, well it was tough. And this is my Grandmother's third child to die in the past 9 years: None of them was over 55 when they died; my father was 39, my uncle was 51, and Uncle Mark is 45. He's lived a lot longer than they told her he would when he was born - his life expectancy then was 3, then 8, then 18 - but it's never enough. It's never long enough.
I think his life has been happier than not - he spent most of it surrounded by & cared for by his family - he worked at a local center for adults with disabilities during the day, and spent his evenings in his chair rocking and watching television with the rest of us. His vocabulary was rough, and grew more and more limited in the past few years, as he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's and had seizures that made things even more difficult, but he knew most of our names (there were 9 kids, 16 grandkids, and 5 great-grandkids, so keeping track is not easy for anybody), the name of what show was supposed to come on next:"Jeopardy!" or "Judge Judy", most likely; and he gave crushing, killer hugs.
In the past few years, he'd been getting sicker - developed mini-seizures, and ultimately, this year, major seizures - and had to be moved into a residential program, with most of his friends from work and a lot of wonderful caregivers. (My 91 year old grandmother and 67 year old uncle just couldn't manage to do things like give him showers once the threat of the seizures became constant.) When I visited, 3 of the caregivers came by to see him & one was in tears in the hallway when we left... he was, they assure me a "well loved man."
Judging by the friends, caretakers, and administrative people who showed up for the two night wake and yesterday's funeral, I have no doubt... A teacher he had over 30 years ago came. All of the clients that worked with him. A nurse from the hospital. One of his friends, a woman in her 30's with Down's, cried through the entire funeral mass, all the while saying "I'm not crying for Mark. He's my best friend" and "I miss him." Another client blew a kiss at his casket as he walked by. I was holding up ok (ish), but that slayed me.
Of course, then the fact that the priest brought up all of the family members who would be greeting Uncle Mark in heaven - my favorite uncle, my father, my grandfather - and reminded me that I'd met him before: "at one of these - your dad's?" didn't help. And watching my grandmother deal with this is one of those things I just don't have the words to explain today.
So, I'm going to rest, and know that he was well loved, and, for today, I'm going to just let myself believe what my Grandmother believes - He's in a happier, better, pain-free place.