How can you sum up a man’s life in a few words?
My Uncle Tony passed away, unexpectedly, before the new year, and this weekend his children (my cousins) are gathering together to remember him.
I can’t attend, due to some health stuff, so I’ve decided to write down what I would’ve said, if I had attended.
I’ve tried many times to write this blog post, and the resistance is real.
Pain and grief are not great partners to creation and productivity.
So, I am sitting here, going through music that my uncle introduced me to, as a kid – ABBA, Bee Gees, The Cars, Dire Straits - the ABCD’s of my youth, listening to records, dancing in the living room when my uncle would babysit my brother and me.
I have such fond memories of when my Uncle Tony would let us stay up until we heard my parents car pull up into the driveway. We would run and get into bed, pretending to be asleep. My mom would ask my uncle if we had been “good,” and my uncle would always say we were “very good.”
Besides listening to records, we would also play games, like Red Light/Green Light. I recently said to my cousin, David, that he was probably very different as an uncle, than he was as a father. With my brother and me, he was fun, light, and cool …three adjectives that wouldn’t describe my own father. He also looked like Han Solo, and if you know me, you know I love Star Wars!
He always lived life a little fast. He loved motorcycles, fancy imported cars like Porsches, and he even had the Back to the Future car at one time – the one where the doors opened like wings. And he always drove really, really fast.
He owned an auto repair shop on Randall Mill Road in South Arlington, and it was a popular place, where guys could hang out. It was a real guys’ place. When I close my eyes, I can smell that place and see my uncle with his hands black with grease, underneath the hood of a car, sometimes smoking a cigarette. Other guys worked next to him on other cars or if they were customers, they just hung out, drinking beer. I believe there was also a swimsuit calendar hanging up in the small office in the back. When my cousins David and Dennis were a little older, they worked there, selling high end car and motorcycle parts.
I was the oldest grandchild, and so I really bonded with my uncle. He was my mom’s younger brother, but he sometimes acted like the older brother. They were only about two years apart, which was very similar to how my brother and I grew up.
After leaving TX when I was 18, I went back to the Dallas-Ft. Worth-Arlington metroplex in my mid-20s to work for the TX Rangers baseball station - KRLD. While working there, I lived first in Ft. Worth and then in Arlington, close to the ballpark. In that year, I spent a lot of weekends either seeing my grandmother or at my uncle’s house, hanging out with my much younger cousin, Tiffany, or with my uncle Tony. He had a nice two story house with a pool in South Arlington, near Martin High School and the Parks Mall. Sometimes, we would go out to eat, sometimes, I brought over food, but most of the time, my uncle Tony would cook. He had an outdoor kitchen that he set up, with a wok, and he would make really tasty Taiwanese/Szechuan food.
He was someone who always could figure stuff out, whether it was cooking, fixing engines, or later in his life, as a photographer - photographing weddings, community events, portraits, cars and the lake (he loved going to the lake). He always loved taking photos, and he got a chance to make it more than a hobby.
Despite not speaking English well and being an immigrant, my uncle Tony was well liked by his customers and pretty much everyone he met. He even bonded with my husband’s uncle Tommy, at our wedding, in 2012. The picture below is from our wedding -- one with him and me and another photo where he’s talking to my friend Whitney and her husband, Hugh. He got along with people of all races, ages, and genders.
People were all the same to him. He enjoyed getting to know everyone. Love and Laughter were his Love Languages.
However, he wasn’t perfect. He smoked and drank his entire life, until his liver failed about seven or eight years ago.
That was when my Uncle Tony went into a coma.
My husband Michael and I flew to Texas to see him, after my mom was there for a couple of weeks and the doctors told my cousin Tiffany and her mom to prepare for the inevitable.
We went straight to the hospital from the airport and sat with him for a couple of hours.
I played his favorite music (songs from the bands mentioned above) – especially “Staying Alive.” We held his hand, talked to him, and prayed.
The next day, we experienced the first miracle – my uncle woke up from his coma!
We all went to see him in the hospital - my grandmother, my uncle Steve, my cousin Tina and her husband Steven, Michael, me, and a couple who were friends with Uncle Tony. Later my cousin Tiffany and her mom arrived too.
We prayed together and thanked God for this miracle and for all of us being together.
A week later, the second miracle happened.
My uncle was placed on the liver donor’s list. This was a miracle because a very small minority of transplants are given to liver failure due to alcohol.
I also don’t think the doctors thought he was strong enough to accept the transplant. However, after reviving from the coma and doing well (he was making jokes with all of the doctors and nurses), they allowed him to go on the list.
Another week later, another miracle happened. A young, gay man lost his life in an accident, and he was a donor match for my uncle.
What a precious gift.
Whenever I think back on this, I am in awe of these miraculous moments.
If he had not gone into a coma, he wouldn’t have realized the severity of his disease. Obviously, if he had not awakened, then there was that. When he did awaken, he made such a quick recovery, that the doctors felt that his body was strong enough to get the transplant.
Most people wait for years for a donor, but my uncle was matched in such a short amount of time. It saved his life, at that time.
It gave all of us more time with him, and it was a chance for him to make some changes and live a different life. However, it was a challenge for him. What we now know is, he had not been taking his medication for a few months. Physically and mentally, the disease was still there and hard to shake off. I also know that he wasn’t the same after my grandmother’s passing in 2021.
I miss him immensely, and I wish I had spoken to him before he passed. However, I know that it doesn’t bring him back to beat ourselves up for what we should’ve done.
At this time, I want to celebrate my uncle, as someone who told funny stories, who loved his family (his 3 children, his parents, his 4 siblings, his 4 nieces, 3 nephews, daughter-in-law, and his grandson), who’s ability to easily make friends wherever he went, and who was a talented photographer, as well as someone who knew so much about cars, motorcycles and engines.
I love you and you’ll always be in my heart. I'm playing The Ultimate Bee Gees album, and in this moment, "Don't Forget to Remember" just came on. I also love "World" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Here are some parts of that song that gets me...
"Now I know there'll be times like this
When I couldn't reach out to no one
Am I never gonna find someone
Who knows me like you do?
Are you leaving me a helpless child
When it took so long to save me?
Fight the devil and the deep blue sea
I'll follow you anywhere
I promise I'll be there
When a lonely heart breaks
It's the one that forsakes
It's the dream that we stole
And I'm missing you more
Than the fire that will roar
There's a hole in my soul
For you it's goodbye
For me it's to cry
For whom the bell tolls"
With so much Love from your eldest niece ❤️ 💕 ,