My Uncle Danny has now moved from a hospital to a Hospice. He has been in stage 4 lung disease for several months. It is a progressively terminal illness and his doctors say he is living on sheer will now, as his body is rapidly failing him.
Why does it take the process of dying to realize what is important in life?
My uncle was different from other uncles. He was a confirmed bachelor. A swinging single in the ’60s and ’70s sexual revolution. A gifted lawyer, his clients included notable businessmen, real estate moguls, porn stars and madame’s …yes my uncle was quite unique. An avid skier, yachtsman, hunter, boxer, craftsman, and entrepreneur — that was my Uncle Danny.
My uncle never took me to the zoo or Coney Island. He wasn’t that type of uncle. As a child, he would talk to me as an adult. I understood that he didn’t really know how to relate to children. But I relished his visits. I loved hearing the stories of his ski adventures in the Swiss Alps or his crazy clients, etc. I often fantasized that he would take me to live with him for a while to witness this world that was so different from my sheltered home.
He was also quite the ladies man. Models, actresses, exotic dancers, etc. His hangouts were nightclubs, private parties, and Plato’s Retreat (yes, those of you old enough know what that is). I remember when I was in my twenties, his girlfriends were suddenly my age…ok that was a little weird for me. But Uncle Danny also taught me to believe in love. In his sixties, he met the love of his life and soul-mate, my Aunt Marilyn (about 20 years his junior). Marilyn came with my cousin Heidi, a brilliant and witty pre-teen at the time. This little family gave my uncle (and me) a wonderful gift and the most fulfilling chapter of his life!
Uncle Danny and I bonded over a shared passion for cooking, food, and culinary gadgets. He may not have taken me to the park or the movies, but he did take me to chef supply warehouses and stores. He did buy me my first set of knives. I think I was too young to have them, but Danny always treated me like a little adult. He later gave me a protective glove. He must have thought twice about the knives he had given me. He also gave me a micro-plane when they were still considered a tool for craftsmen, rather than chefs. These early experiences with Uncle Danny may have planted the seed for my future culinary pursuits.
It took Uncle Danny until this final chapter to be able to say “I Love You.” It took him until this final chapter to talk freely about life, love, and emotion. The most important legacy he says he wants to leave is a family that is united in love and respect.
Why did it take until now to get the Uncle Danny I really wanted as a child. The loving, warm, expressive mentor I longed for. But I have it now, in this final moment. He has given me a gift I never thought I would have…
I visit him almost daily at the Hospice. instead of being afraid of these visits, I look forward to them. My time with Uncle Danny gives me so much…even if he is too tired to talk, even if our conversations are about what he ate for breakfast or what he dreamt about the night before. I cherish these visits, these moments. Maybe this is how the circle of life is really supposed to be. That it takes one’s final moments to teach us not to take life, or family, or love, or walking to the bathroom, or going outside, or eating what you want, or dancing, or singing for granted.
This long goodbye is bittersweet, but I cherish every moment of it and my Uncle Danny…
Me and Uncle Danny