My uncle passed away 9 days ago, on the 22nd Dec. He died comfortably in his sleep in hospital. He was born on the 22nd April 1916. So he lived to 93. That's coming and going on the 'master' number. He wasn't my blood-uncle, he was my mum's sister's husband. They were married for 63 years. My auntie's still going at 89. The funeral was two days ago, on the 29th. I gave a reading at the funeral, of which I was most honoured to do, from the book of Ecclesiastes.
We went around to my auntie's apartment in Bondi Beach a few times during that week after his passing. I've rarely visited them over my adulthood years, but going back to that apartment four times within the space of a week flooded me with that sense of utter familiarity, that this was once my second home, a place I'd come to every Sunday from childhood to early-teens.
Auntie & Uncle lived on the top floor. The kids - my cousins (all of them at least a generation older than me) - lived in the apartments below. One by one they moved away, except for Lisa who stayed in the apartment directly below. This was fortuitous because Lisa has helped her dad & mum so much over the last few years and being in such close proximity is very advantageous as far as care's concerned.
I used to play with my cousin's kids, all of whom were only a few years younger than me (still are, of course). Denny & I used to play with all the time; I rarely if ever see him now. But in coming together during that last week I felt closer to my family than ever before, especially my four cousins. I am close and distant to varying degrees with the four of them, but that feeling of familiarity and a shared bond, that of blood relations, was palpable this week. It felt good to acknowledge my family, and to be in close proximity to them.
During my younger years I was resistant to family. I felt they were too traditional and bound up in old ways for me. It's only when you live a bit and experience lots of different people and different groups that you discover that everyone's the same. Every group of people take on the dynamic of a family, and that one group is merely the substitute or displacement of what has gone before. As within, so without. The family never leaves you.
I wasn't close to uncle. We never truly bonded. That's partly due to us not being blood-related. But I respected him. His was an incredible life. He's lived two full lives in the space of one, not surprising given that he's lived to 93. He's survived torpedoes, bombs, capsizing boats and near starvation during the hideous adventure that was World War II. And when he finally married my auntie after the war, made it to Australia in the late 40s, and had the first of his four children, he succumbed to crippling tuberculosis that almost killed him. Yet uncle was made of immense fortitude and iron will, and used his time in hospital to study books on building while hoping that a cure for the disease would be found. The cure was found in the nick of time, and despite a collapsed lung, my uncle recovered and began his building career in his town of Griffith in western NSW. He moved the family to Bondi during the 50s, and finally, in 1970, he built a block of 6 apartments for he and his family. I've only ever have known uncle to live at those flats, and being retired as far back as I could remember, I recall him walking down to Bondi Pavilion every day to play chess on the chessboards that were strewn over the seating on the western side of the block.
It was weird being back in Bondi during the past week. The beach is so close to me yet it's only seldom that I venture down in that direction. I was looking out of my uncle's balcony up toward the cul-de-sac end of Roscoe Street that meets onto Campbell Parade and Bondi Beach. There were streams of people walking up and down everytime I looked, even during inclement weather. I didn't go to the beach during this period; funnily it seemed like another country from my Roscoe Street vantage point, yet it was only less that 100 metres up the road. Bondi always gives me a feeling of childhood-memory heaviness that I can't put my finger on, so I tend to avoid the beach or visit it at night when the energy is much lighter though no less alluring.
My uncle was the sharpest man I've ever known. He was in charge of his faculties and decisions at all times, his sense of self-determination was peerless. He possessed an immense inner-strength and sense of authority. On the surface he could appear jocular and jovial but he was essentially an incredibly tough man, very mentally tough. Needless to say he was known to be very strict, and I didn't warm to him because I found him to be a little hard. I sensed he could "see" right through me. And his socio-political views were tending on the side of the right, to put it tentatively. Yet I respect and admire him greatly, moreso now that I've come to know of the life he led. He was the sort of man who naturally commanded respect. His was a most natural, rather than forced, authoritarianism. He was a very likable man too. He turned out to have a good old life, and he died on his own terms. He even danced on his 90th birthday!
My father affected a sense of toughness and strength but essentially was a fallible man. My uncle would never carouse or drink at bars or smoke cigarettes. There will be no-one to take my uncle's place. He is without question a man of an era that's now long-gone.
To me, my uncle's passing constitutes an end of an era. What 2010 and beyond shall bring is anyone's guess, but my awareness suggests that some of it won't be too pretty.
I've never liked authoritarianism or authority figures. Yet in some way or another I've tended to have had some shadow of authority closing over me during various stages of my life. Here's a dream I had some 10-11 years ago, one of those "prescient" dreams that is suggestive of my life's journey current to the time:
"It was the car-park at work. There was only one car parked, on old beat-up 60's or 70's car that was parked in my manager car-space. My manager wasn't in the dream. There were three men in the dream. My uncle, his brother, and my dad. My uncle and his brother were busily working away on the car, the tyres, the panels etc. I was impatient. I wanted the job finished so I could drive out of there. My dad said to me in his gruff, authoritative voice, 'It's not ready yet'."
My dad had already passed on some 7-8 years previous when I had this dream. And now, in 2009, I'm the manager and my uncle has passed on. The reign of authority is handed down to me. And I'm beginning to sense that I like it...