Sunday, September 11, 2016

The obituary I should've written

My uncle died a week ago. I wrote the following because what I wrote for the paper was a bare summary. He deserves to have more of his story told.

For the past two and a half years I have been caretaker of my bachelor uncle. As a child, he was my favorite Frawley uncle because he paid attention to us kids. He listened to our five-year-old ramblings and talked to us as if we had something to contribute. He was full of fascinating facts about history and he lived in faraway New York City. He went to the World's Fair in 1964, taking pictures of the people and structures with his stereo-optic camera that created 3D slides. He loved technology and grew up with the changeover from vacuum tubes to solid state to microchips.

He moved back home because the technology changed, gave my my first touch-typing book and presented me with an album of Patty Duke songs, signed by her when he fixed her Dictaphone. To give his brothers and sisters a break, he would take us kids to the movies - in packs. We saw The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, The Barefoot Executive (yes, that's where I fell in love with Kurt Russell), and Camelot - the first movie I ever cried at. How could I not? When Lancelot brings his opponent back to life? Tears!

He moved away when my grandparents moved to Florida; the house in Rochester was torn down to make way for the expanded bus barns (the expansion destroyed a neighborhood) and most of us kids lost touch with him. Myself included. Even when he was downsized and he moved closer, we didn't see him except for holidays.

You see, as I grew older, I realized my uncle marched to the proverbial different drummer. Many considered him odd because he kept to himself, didn't make friends easily, would blurt out odd historical facts at random silences in the conversation. Only in these last years did I realize, after years of teaching in the classroom, that my uncle, if he were in school today, would be diagnosed as somewhere on the autism spectrum - probably with Asperger's.

Because he lived alone, it was a while before the family realized he was in difficulty. Financially he'd been scammed out of tens of thousands of dollars, his health wasn't good because he didn't remember to take his medicines, and dementia had started its nasty creep. Living alone was no longer an option.

Geographically, I was the logical choice to take over his care. Besides which, I can be pretty bossy when needed (years of classroom management!). My husband and I talked it over and decided together that taking on his care was something we needed to do.

So we did. Uncle Larry told me the same story every time we passed over the Erie Canal - about the Towanda Canal that was built partly in response to Clinton's Ditch. He told me about Stephen Foster living in Towanda on more than one occasion. I didn't mind. Telling these stories helped him focus and were important to him. He was a staunch Republican and had fun goading me (a middle-of-the-road Democrat) with his conservative views. He followed the presidential race right up until the last two months of his life, when the dementia took over more often than not.

That part was hardest. The dementia. My husband and I took a trip to Ireland and Scotland and, the day we were traveling home, Uncle Larry was sent to the hospital with a raging UTI. He never really recovered after that. Thankfully, a nursing home in the next town over had a bed in their dementia ward and could take him in. The locked ward meant he wouldn't ramble away on us and his medical needs would be taken care of since he needed more care than his assisted living place (or I) could give.

The hardest part? Was going to see him there and seeing the blank look on his face when I visited. He didn't know who I was. If I could've appeared to him as the eleven-year-old he took to the movies, I think we would've been okay. But I've gray in my hair now and age has thickened my frame. There was no recognition in his eyes. He would never again tell me about the Towanda Canal or remind me that Stephen Foster spent time there. Our days of baiting each other about politics were done.

The ending of a life lived long is always bittersweet. Bitter because the person is gone from our lives and we are the poorer for it. Sweet because their pain has ended and their soul has moved on. Lawrence Frawley, Jr. died on September 4, 2016 and we buried him this past Friday. May he rest in peace.