Today, I sat on pins and needles waiting for the call I knew would come. Uncle Kevin had been in a bad way for a few days now, and the writing was on the walls. He’d be leaving this earthly realm soon, and I was sitting at work, pushing forward through the dread. Knowing I’d eventually get that call, I started thinking back. I ended up getting the call from Tim, my ex-boyfriend. He’s the reason I even knew Uncle Kevin. Six years together, and it was only natural for his family to become mine.
Last time I saw Uncle Kevin was in the spring. We saw each other at the Kankakee County Farm Bureau centennial banquet. His face, which had been bearded while I was with his nephew, was smooth. His hair, which had always been thick and barn with a few stray grays, was peach fuzz. He’d just been declared clean have a very intense fight with leukemia. He’d lost weight, but he’d had an extra bounce in his step. We didn’t talk long, but we were both under social overload. People were popping up to ask me about my plans for after my upcoming graduation, and they were descending upon him with congratulations and well-wishes for a survivor.
I’m not a sciencey-type person. I’ve heard two explanations for why Kevin is no longer with us in this life. Graft-versus-host disease, and pneumonia. The two are somehow attached to each other. I can’t explain how it works or why it happened. I just know the man Kevin was, and the legacy he left.
Kevin was a farm kid at heart. While he spent most of his adult life off the farm in various ag industry roles, the entire time I knew him he was a salesman at a Case IH dealership. He was heavily involved in Kankakee County Farm Bureau, having served on multiple boards and committees over the year. He was an outspoken voice on the Momence School Board, and an advocate for youth programs like 4-H, FFA, and school athletics. He was an active member of his church, and was known to use his deep, rich voice in assist in worship. And I’ll never forget his rendition of the hymn, “His Eye is On the Sparrow” at his grandmother’s funeral.
Uncle Kevin had a huge laugh, and he used it easily. He was rough around the edges, as many good ol’ boys are, and was often a source of frustration for family and friends because of his affinity for smartass responses. But, to know and love Kevin was to expect that sort of treatment. He didn’t pick on anyone he didn’t care about, and to be on his good side meant you had a steady euchre partner and someone to shoot the breeze with anytime. He defended his own from others, but wasn’t shy about telling those close to him what he really thought. (He was mule-headed, stubborn, and opinionated. Yet, any tiffs seemed to work themselves out in the end.)
Every family occasion I joined in on, I was greeted with, “Hey sweetheart!” in his booming Yohnka man voice. When I stop and think about Uncle Kevin, I see twinkling blue eyes. I see big hands dealing a round of cards at a family holiday. I see his white Case IH dealership truck pulling into the field to ask about the progress of harvest. I hear his deep, deep voice asking about how college was. I think of his kids, who he loved fiercely through all the ups and downs of life.
Uncle Kevin, for part of my existence, had a regular and recurring role in my life. One would think after two years of barely seeing him (maybe three or four times?) it would not cut so deep, to hear of his passing. But this family was one I had laughed with, wept with, celebrated with, and grown with. He was a member of a family that took me in and loved me as if I was one of their own, from the first time I met them. Some of my fondest memories of my high school years have involved him. 4-H and FFA functions, county fairs, athletic events, holidays.
It really makes you realize, the mark an individual can make on our lives, even if we took them for granted in life. When Uncle Kevin was a regular fixture in my life, I’m sure I never properly appreciated the role he played in my life. I’m not sure he ever understood how much I loved being his “good luck charm” for euchre. (We won a lot of games together as euchre partners.) But now, he’s in a place where he can look down upon me and know in his heart that that is the case. Kevin’s suffering is done, and he understands the profound impact he has had on those around him.
Now, my heart breaks for those left behind, for the family and friends who so thoroughly enjoyed Kevin’s role in their lives. For his three kids, his brother and sister, his parents, his nieces and nephews, and the many, many friends and acquaintances who met him through his massive degrees of community involvement. As a perpetual fixer of things, I feel like I need to be doing something, I need to be fixing things for those whom I care about. And while my relationship with the Yohnka family is not what it used to be (life changes you, people grow apart, but that doesn’t make them less of a family), I still feel like I should be there, fixing things, helping with things, solving things. That’d be a lot easier to do if I lived a few miles down the road, instead of 500 miles and almost two states away.
So, instead, I pray. In the past, I always got angry with God when things didn’t go according to my plan (which tends to happen often). I’m working, really working, at having faith in His greater plan. Working toward that seems to offer me some sort of inner solace…and I hope that the Lord can bring that sort of understanding and peace to those closest to Uncle Kevin.
And I move forward with a more keen understanding that every person in our life is precious. Every person leaves a mark.