Back in 2010, I wrote a blog post about cheesecake, love and death. When I wrote it, my beloved uncle, Paul, had recently lost his wife (a cheesecake lover); they had only been together/married a short time when his wife died, although they had reunited after initially falling in love as teenagers who were separated and not in contact for most of their entire adult lives. I think maybe they managed to be together for all of five years. The loss was huge, but they fit a lot of living into those few years they had. And Paul was there caring for her until the very end and had gained adult stepdaughters, grandkids and family through this relationship.
Never have I met a more generous and giving man than Paul with his inimitable and irrepressible sense of humor, his boundless capacity for love and acceptance (the man collected everyone who came into his life, from “stray” people, to new friends, to ex-wives and ex-wives’ future families to new loves and their families and friends). No one who met Paul was untouched by his humor or sense of giving. This is certainly truest of his son, for whom Paul has fought fiercely since the beginning, and his grandson, whom I hope will remember how much Paul loved him, did for him and taught him.
For me, Paul has been influential since my very earliest days. My dear Teddy, the teddy bear who has accompanied me through life since I was just six months old, was given to me by Paul.
In my shy, early childhood, Paul taught me one of life’s most valuable lessons: Be yourself and don’t worry about what other people think. Don’t let other people dictate how you feel (i.e., I sometimes felt embarrassed when he drew attention to himself, which he very often did – he was an outgoing, gregarious, magnetic and funny guy). But I learned very early on: there is nothing to be embarrassed about and nothing so serious that it can’t be laughed about. Just be. And laugh.
He has always been there – my first Mariners game, all the Thanksgivings at my mom’s house (Paul being her brother), Christmases at his when he invited anyone and everyone he knew who did not have another place to go, whenever you needed help moving or had a Sunday dinner. A period when my brother had to live with Paul, when Paul took him in; a period when Paul had to move in with my family while waiting for his house purchase to close. Always compassionate when others might not be, which often led to convoluted relationships, the simplicity of his good and giving nature erased the convolutions and made every connection seem natural and inclusive (you know – remaining friends with exes and their entire families and including them in the extended family he continued to build throughout life).
But eventually, even the most ubiquitous people are no longer with us. Sadly, Paul died on November 16. After his aforementioned wife passed, he met a wonderful woman with whom he spent the remainder of his life. They too did not have the chance to spend a long time together, but Paul’s entire life is a testament to the fact that it is not about the amount of time as much as how you spend it, how much you pack into it. His girlfriend inspired him to live his travel dreams and adventures and to explore the world, even when he faced his own battles with cancer. He never let it stop him for a moment. His humor and lighthearted, social nature belied the tough interior and resilience he displayed time and again in life, particularly in the last few years.
In so many ways I can never begin to recount, Paul was an extraordinary man and human. He led with his heart and lived with compassion, patience and perseverance. Many memories and words to describe them – and him – cycle through my mind, but nothing can really capture the essence of who he was. I know when people die, we tend to exaggerate, saying they were “larger than life”, but not being prone to hyperbole myself, I think Paul is one of the only people I’ve ever known to whom this expression could truly apply: larger than life.
I struggled earlier in the week to tell him what he meant to me – and what I suspected he meant to everyone – but could never quite find the perfect words. But I think he must have known because, in living a loving, open, generous, if imperfect, life, he lived the perfect life. Perhaps it was too short, as those of us left behind will all agree, but it was certainly beautiful, painful and well-lived all the way.