Monday, June 20, 2011

The Meltingpot in Mourning

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

There has been a death in my family. My uncle died on Saturday. Yes, the day before Father's Day, leaving behind four children, one grandchild and a wife. I have been overwhelmed with sadness these last few days because I was not able to return home to say goodbye, to attend the funeral, nor to be there for my family members who I know are hurting even more than I. I couldn't go home because my doctor forbade such a long trip given my big ol' pregnant belly.

I cursed the fact that we live 14 hours from my family by car. I wondered why we choose to live away from our roots. I mourned alone. But instead of focusing on the negative, I decided I'd like to use this post to tell you about my uncle and his impact on my Meltingpot life.

First off, my uncle wasn't related to me by blood. In fact, he was one of those adults who adopted himself into our family. I think I was eight when we first met. My uncle was a friend of a friend, an architect who was going to help my parents restore the house they'd recently bought. He was White as was his wife and son, but he also had a Black daughter and he desperately wanted her to have Black friends. So this man quickly became more than an architect, and became our family friend. His daughter and I, being the same age, also quickly bonded. Turns out, his daughter wasn't just Black, she was an Alaskan Native and Black. So, thanks to my uncle, in my tiny Midwestern, monochromatic world, I now had an adopted friend, a mixed friend, a friend with a complicated past, and I began to see first hand the challenges of transracial adoption.

Then came divorce. My uncle divorced his wife. It was ugly and sad. As most divorces are. My uncle was hurting and he turned to my mother for help and counseling. (My mom is a therapist). My uncle and his daughter often ate dinner with us as he unburdened his soul. His daughter and I grew closer. At the end of his grieving period, my uncle officially declared himself my mother's 'other' brother. He adopted himself in and nobody challenged the notion. It was as if with his divorce, he shed his former life and became determined to start anew. He took his role as brother and uncle into this family very seriously as well. Almost like the destruction of his nuclear family made him more dedicated to preserving his position in his new family.

After awhile, my uncle married again. This time to a Colombian woman. She barely spoke English and they were passionately in love. (I don't know if I mentioned that my uncle was born in Holland and spoke several languages, including Spanish.) As a teenager at their wedding, a very Latin dominated wedding, I remember being thrilled at the idea of this cross-cultural pairing. When their children were born a few years later, a boy and then a girl, I was even more excited to watch them grow up bilingual and bicultural. Those children were taught to call my mother and all her sisters Auntie and we were their cousins. No questions asked. It cracks me up because they were so convinced we were all related by blood, they told people that they were half Black!

My uncle showed me how to live life to its fullest. He was a college professor who announced one day that he was taking a one-year position in Paris and taking his whole family with him! Oh the jealousy. His kids came home fluent in French. He married a second time, to a woman almost 20 years his junior, but for love. He traveled around the world several times, usually with his family in tow and taught his children to embrace diversity and new experiences. They are the greatest teenagers you'll ever meet. But I think, most importantly, he always, always, always had a smile and a funny story to share. Or a practical joke to play. Like the time when el esposo had only been in the country for only a few months and he called our house pretending to be Immigration and threatening my poor husband (who wasn't my husband at the time) with deportation. At the time, el esposo was freaked out, but now it's our funniest memory.

So, dear readers, thank you for listening. Now you know a little bit more about my Dutch uncle with the Black/Native Alaskan daughter and the Colombian wife and the mixie kids who inspired my own Meltingpot life. May he rest in peace.

Do you have a family member who inspires you? If you feel like sharing, I'm listening.



Anonymous said...

My prayers go out to you and the family.

Anonymous said...

What an honor to have known such a wonderful person. I am sorry for you loss.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

He sounds wonderful. He reminds me a bit of Uncle Raleigh in Tayari Jones's Silver Sparrow. Many sympathies for your loss!

The Golden Papaya said...

Sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing the story about his inspiring life.

Jay said...

he sounded liek a great man .. thank you for sharing his story . Sorry for your loss

Jade @ Tasting Grace said...

I'm sorry for your loss. He sounds like a lovely man.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for your loss.


LT said...

Meltingpot Readers,

You are the best. Thank you very much.