Saying Goodbye

I found this old picture of me and Herb. I'm guessing it's from about 15 years ago.

Last week I had to say goodbye to my favorite Uncle. Herb wasn’t just any uncle; he was bigger than life – the kind of uncle they make movies about. He loved a lot of different things: family, friends, flying, food, politics, sports, travel, gambling (in no particular order). He lived in Las Vegas part of his life. He was a kind of a legend there, known as Speedy, and made the papers more than once.

He was always generous and entertaining. I’ve never been much of a gambler, but loved to shoot craps with him. I had no clue how, but that didn’t stop him. He’d tell me exactly what to do, and somehow I’d always walk away with a big stack of chips. Every time I called, he wanted to know how I was, even though sometimes his attention could stray if I went on too long. He sometimes sent me my favorite candy on my birthday, and told everyone who’d listen that I was his favorite niece.

I try to hold on to a few lessons from Herb’s book of living large. I think of him when I talk to strangers, when I travel, when I live as if no one else is watching me too closely, unless I’m making them laugh.

He didn’t linger long once he was diagnosed with acute leukemia, only about three weeks. I was able to spend his last week with him, my Aunt Irene, his daughter Jan and other friends and family members. It was a horrible time and a wonderful time. We shared stories about Herb, we cried in anticipation of his death, we worried about how he was feeling as his body declined.

It didn’t take long for me to realize the toughest times during those few weeks were when I let myself think too far into the future. When I, as clichéd as it sounds, stayed in the moment, it was easier. It didn’t change my grief or sadness, it simply allowed me to do whatever needed to be done in a loving, kind way. I could reminisce, talk to him openly about death, what we each thought happened when you die (he promised to send a telegram if there was anything interesting to report) and whether or not he was scared (he wasn’t). It was comforting to have those conversations with him.

I wrote his obituary with help from family and friends. And then I said goodbye.

2 comments to Saying Goodbye

  • Mary Beth McDonald

    I worked for Speedy from 1972 until 1974, in Albuquerque. I can’t believe a man with as much vitality as he had is gone. He sent out waves of energy and luck was almost always with him. Good-bye Herb.

  • LaVerne Keith

    Thanks for the info, am passing it on to my Mom, Virginia. My Dad passed on this last year and we miss him very much. Say hi to Aunt Irene for us if you call her, OK? I only stopped by her house once and Herb was away at the time so I didn’t get to meet him, but I like to think that we are all in communication whether or not we have a physical body. Is there something about softball and Herb and you? I was thinking of him and that seemed to come through. For you? In any case, your remembrance of him is very nice.

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