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“Ralph R. was an amazing example of how God wants us to be as human beings,” the priest began, dressed all in white with a gold sash. “Though he was a quiet man, he was very thoughtful of his family, and appriciative of the Creation around him. He never had anything unkind to say about anyone, and he never ever asked for a ‘Thank you’ or a ‘Sorry’ even when it was due. I’ve been told by much of Ralph’s close family that he would randomly leave a wrapped gift on the doorstep of a loved one, or on the table with their name on it. When the person recieved the gift, and went to thank him, he’d often respond by denying he even knew what they were talking about.”
My Aunt Andy, who was sitting in front of me in the ashy pink funeral parlor began to cry. I rubbed her shoulder in an attempt to comfort, and gave her a tissue.
“Ralph loved McDonald’s, 7up, the Mets, potato chips, and animals. He was always there for an animal in need, and nearly every one of the many pets he’s had, were once stray cats or dogs that he found on the street,” the priest went on. “Wow,” he commented, looking impressed.
I inhaled deeply, trying to contain my composure that I’d held on to for so long, but the thick scent of the funeral flowers clouding the room reminded me. This is real. This really happened. You were too late to see him, and he died without you being able to say goodbye. Great. Regret washed over me, and I buried my face in my palms. My dad stroked my hair gently, and pulled me close to him while I cried, as the priest continued his speech.
“And so,” he said, beginning his conclusion, “I’ve no doubt that God will welcome Ralph into his open arms in Heaven. He has lived a good, modest life, and many of us can’t truthfully say the same.” He scanned the room, individually examining each face, as if searching for weakness. “Do not grieve, for your relationships with this man will not be lost,” he said, whispering. The priest turned to my uncle, dressed in a navy blue suit, and tie. To pallid skin that used to be so warm, and frozen limbs that used to work hard, shoot guns, feed animals. Seeing him like this, I remembered so much, and my heart dropped into my stomach. The priest dipped his finger in oil, and placed the sign of the cross on my uncle’s forehead. “Everyone please stand for the last goodbyes.”
I ’said my last goodbye’ and thought about how I didn’t get to say a real goodbye. I wanted to be there for him, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. And it was making me feel disguisting.
I thought about the night that my grandmother called up my house crying, saying that my Uncle Ralph had gone to the hospital again, and was in really bad shape. He probably wouldn’t make it through the night. But he did. My dad told me, “I’ll just be at work for an hour, then I’ll come home and we can go see him.” He didn’t have to go to work until later, but he wanted to go in just to bring something to his boss. Just as he got home from work, my grandma called us to tell us that my uncle had passed away. I was just an hour late to the hospital.
Back in the funeral parlor, the sermon had ended. We all stood up from the large, mismatching chairs that filled the room. My Aunt Andy came over to me, gave me a hug, and asked, “You okay mini-me?” We both smiled slightly, and you could see why she called me that by the way we looked identical. Even our tear-stained cheeks and running mascara. “I love you Steph…” and she cried. She cried like I never even knew she was capable of crying, and I held her through it, feeling like I couldn’t cry or I’d break everyone else down. “I love you too,” I replied flatly.
People began to file out of the parlor, heading towards the cematary where my uncle was to rest forever. My Uncle Joe stayed inside, to see that the gleaming black casket was closed, and my dad helped the men carry it out. It was about a half hour to the cemetary.
Ralph R had a military burial, and a flag was draped over his lacquered coffin. Each of us as guests, recieved a light peach carnation, with a long healthy green stem to throw into the deep hole that my uncle would be lowered into. The priest began to speak again.
“As I said before, our relationships with Ralph have not ended, they’ve just simply become a long distance relationship.” He smiled. “This is not an ending, but a new beginning. We will all be with Ralph once again, and we will meet again in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
And as we walked as if in a daze, over the soft cemetary grass, I glanced back to see my uncle’s casket being lowered into the moist Summer earth, and I realized, my uncle will be remembered for every kind thing, and hardship he has ever done or gone through. Like how he dug out an entire basement alone, for free, for an old woman. How the love of his life left him because at the time, Italians were considered ‘Low Classed’ and she was a beautiful high-classed Irish girl. I wish I’d had more time with him so I could have been told more of his stories.
But unfortunately, I can’t turn back time. Though my feelings toward loosing him were in vain, I’ve learned a lot from this experience. The biggest one however, was that kindness leaves a large impression, no matter how small. He never asked for anything, not even kindness in return for his, but he’s remembered so fondly, so lovingly. I’m inspired to be more like him, and he’s a hero in my own definition. Ralph R, rest in peace, from August 4th, 2008 to forever.