Friday, February 13, 2009

"Remember me with smiles and laughter, for that is how I will remember you. If you can only remember with tears, then don't remember me at all"

While I try not to get too personal on here, because the Internet is such a public thing, but today I need to...

Last year, I found out that my blog actually did have regular visitors...including my Uncle Vinny. (Who was not just my uncle, but my Godfather and, ever since my dad died ten years ago, the closest thing I had to a father.)

Uncleness and second/Godfatherness aside, he was also one of my favorite people in the world.

He was getting chemotherapy at the time, and wasn't able to sleep after his treatments.

I learned that he'd stay-up at night and read my blog. He would start to make references to things and I could tell he really was, for some reason, reading everything I wrote.

(He even started listening to and enjoying Peter Cincotti because I was always mentioning him, even though he thought it was absolute blasphemy that I would list Peter Cincotti before Frank Sinatra on my list of favorites...I have since fixed that.)

He told me that he liked reading it...that I wrote well and was funny...and ever since then, I felt like I had an audience that I wanted to keep happy and kept writing because I knew Uncle Vinny was reading.

Uncle Vinny passed two days ago.

Everybody always teases me about what a huge smile I have and that you can count every single one of my teeth when I do so...but, I think Uncle Vinny's smile was bigger, and it was always on his face. (I can't say that about myself. I have my moody days.) It is the one thing everybody seemed to comment about him at his wake...what a beautiful and wonderful thing to be remembered for...for always having a smile.

He was always a favorite uncle among little kids...(my cousin even named one of her dolls "Uncle Vinny" when she was little...she says she still has it. She's 17 now.) When I was little, I remember him coloring with me in my coloring books and being impressed at how well he colored. He loved really old cartoons...which were soon dubbed "Uncle Vinny Cartoons" and he was able to imitate every cartoon character you could name. At his daughter's wedding eight years ago, he invented a funky "leprechaun" dance that we all picked-up and started doing that night.

(Don't worry, it's all caught on video.)

Just days before he died, his 3-year-old granddaughter Mia showed me how her grandpa taught her to put coasters over her head to make "Mickey Mouse Ears."

In the past five years, Uncle Vinny bravely battled his cancer and I can't imagine the emotional and physical toll that it took on him...but, during that time, he also got to meet his granddaughter three years ago...(who loved her grandfather very much. We will make sure she grows-up hearing stories about him)...he saw his son get married this past fall, and even got to dance with my sister at her wedding last year, for the dance reserved for the bride and her father.

Watching my own father succumb to cancer when I was a teenager changed me for life. I have finally got over wondering "what if what if what if"...what if my father hadn't died? It changed everything...and everyone. Living through my father's illness and death didn't make me any stronger or equipped to handle tragedy, like I feel it did for the people around me. In fact, it did just the made me want to run the other way and hide. I know that, after my mom, sister and me, my aunt, uncle and cousins probably felt my dad's death the most...and I couldn't handle the fact that my family was going through this all again.

It took me a long time to come to terms with my uncle's illness, and I definitely held onto the belief that he'd be fine, (I tend to have an immature, naive "Rose Colored Glasses" complex) and that my family was due a break after watching so many people become ill and die long before their time...and then I realized it wasn't going to happen.

When I found enough courage to go visit him two weeks ago, I found that I was able to do it. I even saw him the night before he passed away, and right now, I am glad that I did and feel it's brought me to come to terms with my dad's death. I forgive myself now, and feel that I've been forgiven by both of them as well.

Now, I have to add that, even in the hardest times, my family manages to find things to laugh about. I believe certain things are sent to us in these times to keep us laughing through our tears. ("Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!" Any excuse to quote Truvy from Steel Magnolias. "In a good shoe, I wear a size six...but a seven feels so good, I buy a size eight...")

At funerals and wakes, there will always be a well-meaning person who says something absolutely ridiculous that you remember later and laugh about...if you're really lucky, there will be a great-uncle whose cellphone goes off really loudly in church and he'll go on to have an entire conversation (very very loudly) while the priest is speaking...

And, of course, if you are really really lucky...the person that you are all remembering was somebody that made you all smile very much...and it makes it hard not to smile remembering them, despite how much it hurts to accept that they are gone.

(And at one point during the eulogy today, my mom's cousin grabbed onto my hand to comfort me. Now, I have very very crooked pinkies. I have to be very careful as to how I situate my pinkies...I need to tuck them under most of the time. It's the only way I am comfortable. Whatever, we all have our abnormalities...I kept thinking, "I can't let her think I don't want her holding onto my hand! She's being nice and supportive but MY GOSH MY CROOKED PINKIES I JUST CANNOT KEEP MY HAND LIKE THIS FOR MUCH LONGER!")

There was a DVD running photos of my uncle's life in the funeral parlor. There were several pictures of my uncle and my father together...they had found themselves in the same family by chance thirty-five years ago (they married a pair of sisters), and remained the best of friends for life...and they were very similar. (By the way, "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" from The Phantom of the Opera was playing in the background. What exactly were they trying to do to me?)

The priest who did the mass today, who has known our families for years, even mentioned my dad and remembered the crazy things my uncle and dad would do just to get a laugh...which made us laugh...and cry...a lot. By now, they've met-up again and are joking around, just like old times.

And that's how we have to remember them...the way they were smiling in those old photos, and not how they were towards the end...I feel like when somebody dies after such a long illness, you really do lose who they really were a while before they physically die.

I'm not sure if the following was a Little House on the Prairie original or not, but it was used in an episode, and, if there is anything I love to quote more than Steel Magnolias, it's Michael Landon.

Remember me with smiles and laughter, for that is how I will remember you. If you can only remember with tears, then don't remember me at all.

I like that, and I know that's how my uncle (and my dad) feel about all of us...because as much as we've cried over the past few days, there's always a funny memory and a laugh not far away. I miss them both very much, but I'm starting to realize how fortunate I am to have the family that I do, and to even have people to love and say goodbye to and to miss. Many people aren't so lucky.

I have realized that a lot of people don't "get" my family because they haven't been nearly as blessed.

I have never really received a "sign" from a deceased loved one, and am envious of people who have...and I do watch Crossing Over every week and cry all over the place.

My uncle ALWAYS had Halls cough drops on him, and I remember if I ever coughed around him, he'd whip out a few packets and ask me what flavor I wanted. The day he died, I had it in the back of my head that I would suddenly smell an overwelming scent of Halls out-of-the-blue...I didn't...maybe signs don't happen if you look for them.

We would also always pass our hot peppers from our salads over to my uncle at dinners, since he was the only one who ate them. At dinner Thursday night, I looked down at the hot peppers in my salad and realized I didn't have anybody to pass them over to anymore.

Whenever I see a Halls coughdrop or a hot pepper or a crazy old cartoon...I will remember my uncle, my Godfather, most dedicated blogreader...

...with smiles and laughter...

Diana Rissetto