I don't mind pranks so much. I like jokes even better, but this day is a source of pain for me. A source of loss. You see, twelve years ago my uncle's funeral was on April fool's day. And it hits me like a ton of bricks every year.
I wish I could say it gets easier each time. I wish I could say the sting is less pronounced or the loss is less evident. But it isn't and it's not and I refuse to lie to you....April fool's day to me is dead. It died with my uncle and it will never be fun for me again.
I am not going to write an post about how my uncle was a saint. He wasn't. He had issues and problems like everyone else. He had regrets and accomplishments. I don't want to canonize him and his memory because I think that somehow diminishes the man that he turned out to be. An amazing man. A relatable man. A man with passion and drive and a witty sense of humor. A man with the most beautiful heart.
My uncle was more like a father to me than an uncle. He walked me down the isle in my first marriage. He took me on trips to the carnival when I was a child. Since his name was Woody he bought me a tiny stuffed Woodstock from the Peanuts cartoon when I was around five. He signed his name with the two o's in his name as eyes and the end of the y as the smiley face. He hung out with me and he gave the biggest back breaking bear hugs and slobbery type face kisses. He wore too much cologne and he loved light houses. He used to tuck me in when I would spend the night and tell me to not let the bed bugs bite. He always said I love you. He held my hand when I was nervous. He made me laugh. He scared the crap outta me when we were on the Ferris wheel and he would shake the basket and swear he wasn't the one making it move. He took me on my first roller coaster ride. He was a prankster, a complete unapologetic prankster and he was really good at it. April fool's day has always been his kind of day.
He was loved. Not because he was a tall six foot something, big redheaded man that had a small black poodle as a pet. Not because he would walk that dog with bows in it's hair or bandannas around it's neck down the street and think nothing of how absurd that looked to passers by. Not even because he never met a stranger or someone he didn't like, but because he was a unrelenting force of positivity, of support, of love.
You see my uncle grew up in the same house as my mother, and while he was not sexually abused , he was verbally and sometimes physically abused by his father. He turned to alcohol and drugs early on in his life and he had the same gut wrenching experiences that all addicts go through. Homelessness, prison, loss of family and friends.
I remember visiting him in prison and him bouncing up and down when he saw me. In my child's mind I thought it was because he was so happy to see me. As an adult I realize it was because he was coming down off of the high. There you have it. That was his life. Except it wasn't. My uncle, Uncle Woody, did the most remarkable thing. He got clean and sober and then he payed it forward. He joined NA and he went to the dances, he went to the outings. He went to every meeting he could. He became other people's sponsor and he helped them get clean and stay that way. He became a champion and he had no idea. He only saw it as he was helping those who suffered like he had. He helped my brother get clean. He helped my Aunt. He helped dozens and dozens of people. Each time giving a part of himself to them. Without knowing he was doing it. Whether it was his laughter or his support, Woody gave little bits of his heart to each and every addict he came across. He was so passionate about NA that he got the symbol tattooed on his big toe. I asked if it hurt and he said emphatically yes!
My uncle and I shared more than I ever really thought about. The love of family, loyalty to friends. red hair, and OCD. We liked the same music. He cleaned with a gusto that would make a sterile room jealous. I dubbed his cleaning skills with the moniker "Woody clean". As in, "Well, it's not woody clean but it will do....ect". We even got our divorces in the same year and he helped me through that as well.
To know Woody was to know a man who loved life. Who supported those around him. Who went out of his way to help those in need and to help people stay positive. He gave with all of his heart, every day to every person he came across. A man who forgave his father. Who reached out to everyone regardless of the things they had done in life. (Things I am not sure I would be capable of.)
More than anything he was known for his huge sense of humor and his pranks. Clawing at the window at night to scare my mom and aunt when they were teenagers. Having hidden water guns at parties to take out and squirt someone unawares.
Aside from that he was exceptionally gentle. He made a "pet" of a wild squirrel that lived outside his apartment by hand feeding it until it began to trust him. He loved dogs, especially poodles. He gave donations to many places, his biggest being to the 9/11 museum. When one of the steel pillars came to our city to sign it in support, I went not because I wanted to sign it for myself per say, but because I wanted to write Woody's name on it. He would have wanted that. And so I did. I wrote our names side by side. As did my mother and my grandmother....It was a bittersweet time.
It was ironic that the so full of life, prankster would have his funeral on April fool's day. Poetic, sad, appropriate...
He died of a massive heart attack on March 26. He was forty five. He never got to see my children. I think he would have been just as fantastic with them as he was with me. In fact, I don't think, I know he would have been.
He died because he had no insurance and had been just out of the hospital with MRSA which he got from work. He was diagnosed as diabetic. He was self employed and although he was doing well, the hospital bills from the last visit worried him. He thought the chest pain was nothing to worry about and that he would just see his doctor later in the week. He didn't make it....We only know this because he wrote down the times and how bad the pain was on a piece of paper so he could tell his doctor.
Written hauntings of a passed loved one. It still seemed he was standing right next to us as we read it. Heartbreaking. And infuriating as well. If only he had gone to the hospital. If only....
We are left with memories, pain, loss, and if only's, true, but we are also left with his ideals and his passions. His legacy. I don't know if he realized how much he helped change people's lives or just how many people he affected but we found out. At his funeral there were literally dozen's upon dozens of strangers. They all knew our Woody. They all had stories to tell. Beautiful heart warming stories of a man who was sometimes selfish but always selfless. A man who was so wonderful because he was imperfect and accepted that fact. Because he laughed at his faults and he acknowledged his past. Woody was successful not just because he was wonderful but also because he was relatable. He never forgot who he was when he was using and he never judged anyone that was using. He would just stand by them and offer them help and support. And if they let him in their life, he would do everything possible to keep them clean and sober.
And he touched more people than the people where he lived last...We know how many people's lives he changed in other places because of all the cards we received, the NA flyers they made in Texas for a makeshift memorial so they could say goodbye to him where he had first started, and from the mass amount of flowers. People we had never heard of. People we had never seen before. It was astounding and it was moving. This silly goofy and amazing man was magnificent and he never even knew just how magnificent.
A few months before his death he told me a story. A story that I will never forget. Something he had read somewhere or heard and I would like to share it with you.
One day a young man was standing in the middle
of the town proclaiming that he had the most
beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large
crowd gathered and they all admired his heart
for it was perfect.
There was not a mark or a flaw in it.
Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most
beautiful heart they had ever seen.
The young man was very proud and boasted
more loudly about his beautiful heart.
Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of
the crowd and said, "Why your heart is not
nearly as beautiful as mine."
The crowd and the young man looked at the
old man's heart. It was beating strongly,
but full of scars, it had places where pieces
had been removed and other pieces put in, but
they didn't fit quite right and there were
several jagged edges. In fact, in some places
there were deep gouges where whole pieces
were missing.The people stared.
How can he say his heart is more beautiful, they thought?
The young man looked at the old man's heart
and saw its state and laughed.
"You must be joking," he said.
"Compare your heart with mine, mine is perfect
and yours is a mess of scars and tears."
"Yes," said the old man, "Yours is perfect
looking but I would never trade with you.
You see, every scar represents a person to
whom I have given my love - I tear out a piece
of my heart and give it to them, and often
they give me a piece of their heart which fits
into the empty place in my heart, but because
the pieces aren't exact, I have some rough edges,
which I cherish, because they remind me of the
love we shared. "Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart
away, and the other person hasn't returned
a piece of his heart to me. These are the
empty gouges -- giving love is taking a chance.
Although these gouges are painful, they stay open,
reminding me of the love I have for these people too,
and I hope someday they may return and fill the
space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?"
The young man stood silently with tears running
down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man,
reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart,
and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old
man with trembling hands
The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart
and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and
placed it in the wound in the young man's heart.
It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges.
The young man looked at his heart, not perfect
anymore but more beautiful than ever,
since love from the old man's heart flowed into his.
They embraced and walked away side by side.
That was my uncle Woody, a man with the most beautiful heart. I do not just not celebrate April Fool's day because of the pain and loss it reminds me of, I don't celebrate it because for me, it was his day and I refuse to celebrate his day without him. So instead of jokes and pranks, I reserve April fool's day for remembrance. The remembrance of a great man who changed not only my life but so many others as well. Rest in peace Uncle Woody.