Dale, Sam, and Mike at her high school graduation
It has been eight years to do the day since my Uncle Dale passed away. It was July 2008 and I was stationed in North Dakota. I had only been there for about two months after returning to the states after living in Turkey for two years. Dale had emphysema and when I went home from Turkey in May, we knew that he didn’t have much longer to live. At that point, he was in and out of the hospital on what seemed like a weekly basis. It was difficult for me to leave Texas in May because I knew that it was likely that the next time I went home would be for Dale’s funeral. Yet, for some reason I didn’t want to accept it.
This time every year, I reflect on the day Dale died and the precious time I had with him for 24 years. 24 years seems like a lifetime, yet not enough time. Not long before Dale died, I booked my flight back to Texas. I was to leave North Dakota in the early hours on Sunday morning. I had to drive an hour and a half south to Fargo to catch my flight so I had to wake up at like 2:30 am. When I got up that morning, I had no idea that over night he died. I called my Mom around 3:45 am when I was walking out to my car. I remember she sounded like she had been sleeping, which was really confusing to me. I knew she hadn’t slept much in the previous week or so because she and my sister were with Mike and Dale, around the clock helping with Dale. At this point, he was at home on hospice and it was only a matter of time before he died. I asked her why she was sleeping and she didn’t really say anything. I knew then that Dale had died and I lost it.
In fact, I don’t remember much about driving down to Fargo. I remember talking to my mom, getting in my car, and getting on the highway. And it was raining. It was raining so hard; summer time in North Dakota is notorious for severe storms. However, I don’t remember getting on the plane, or even the flight. Really the only thing I remember after that is my Dad picking me up at the airport, arriving at Mike and Dale’s house and falling into Mike’s arms as we were both sobbing uncontrollably.
But then, the rest of that week is pretty vivid in my memory. I can still see the events as though they are unfurling right in front of my eyes, right now. It was a difficult week like I had never experienced before. Dale was adamant on me reading the eulogy at his funeral. My sister was to write it and I was to deliver it. Anyone who knows Dale knows that if he told you to do something, you did it. So we did. My sister wrote the most beautiful eulogy you could ever imagine. Everything she wrote came straight from the heart and it was the perfect description of Dale. I still do not know how she gathered her thoughts enough in such a trying time for our family to write that coherently, but she did. And I am so proud of her for being able to think clearly enough to write such beautiful words about our beloved Dale.
I have seen a lot of death in my life, but Dale’s death is the one that hit me the hardest. Once I returned back to North Dakota, I had a really hard time adjusting and pushing through my grieving process. Sometimes, I think I still grieve for him. Dale played such a poignant role in my life. He was more like a grandparent to me than an uncle. He loved his family and he loved to garden, cook, and drink coffee. I will never be able to express in words what an amazing person he was; a man with the sweetest, kindest heart. But he would sure put a boot in your ass when it was needed. I went through some pretty tough personal times in Turkey. Through those times I always knew I could call Dale and he would give me his honest, unbiased advice on what I should do in my situation.
It is raining as I write this. I am certain that every year for the last eight years since he has been gone, I have seen rain on his date of death. No matter where I am in the world, on July 19th, I can guarantee that it is going to rain. My heart will forever have a void because of Dale’s death. I will never forget him and how supportive, loving, funny, kind (and so many more adjectives) he was to my family and I. In a way, he was our sounding board. He made us realize that we could get through anything with the love of our family.