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in loving memory

September 3, 2010

For the first seven years of my life, September 3rd was just another random day on the calendar.  Year Eight changed that when September 3rd marked the most tragic event of my young life: the death of my beloved uncle and godfather, Jeffrey Charles Schwartz.  Every year since has brought a painful reminder of the sorrow that devastated my entire family.

I haven’t written about my uncle mostly because I was so young when he passed away.  My memories are faded and hazy, and as much as I’d like to trust them, sometimes I wonder if he really was the great man I remember him to be or if I’ve romanticized my youthful perception.

Uncle Jeff was thirty when the brain tumor returned and finally took his life, after being in remission for five years.  He had been sick for the bulk of my short life, but I don’t remember him as being frail.  Uncle Jeff always seemed larger than life to me.  Perhaps that’s because he was rather tall, but mostly it was because of his charisma and passion for life.  I don’t remember specific reasons or instances that proved it, but I knew that he was a good man.  He was kind and loving to everyone (his younger sisters may not agree, but all that teasing was his way of loving them).  He had a love of music and nature, and his joy and laughter were infectious.  Even when he was weak from chemo, he always had a smile for his nieces and nephews; a smile which showed us the depth of his strength.  In my young adoring eyes, he could do anything.  And he did.  He fought to the very end.

I haven’t found any reasonable explanation as to why, but some years the anniversary of Uncle Jeff’s passing is more difficult than others.  This happens to be one of those years.  Perhaps it is because I am six months older than my uncle was when he died and I find myself wanting to know him as an adult.  Or maybe it is because I am at an interesting place in my life and would like some godfatherly advice.  I ask for his prayers all the time, but I wish I had some sort of tangible consolation that he is looking out for me from heaven.

Whatever the possible reasons, today has been a bittersweet day.  My mind has been filled with beautiful memories: plodding around in Uncle Jeff’s shoes pretending to be little clowns; hiking with him and Grandma at the cabin; watching Michigan State football and basketball games with Uncle Jeff and Dad; sitting on the piano bench with my siblings tapping keys while Uncle Jeff played a beautiful melody around our noise; listening to him strum the guitar or play an array of instruments… But those cherished memories make me miss Uncle Jeff all the more.  I miss the man that my eight-year-old self adored and the man my present self wishes she knew.  Twenty-three years is not enough time to diminish the love I have for Uncle Jeff or to fill the void that was left when he passed away.

The following is a song written by a friend to honor her brother who also died of cancer.  Today, on the anniversary of Uncle Jeff’s passing, I offer her words as a tribute to him who will forever be in my heart:

In loving memory of Jeffrey Charles Schwartz

January 8, 1957 – September 3, 1987

Farewell Soldier

Your fight’s been long and full of pain
yet you were strong through your suffering
you appeared so frail and yet your faith
was that of a lion, fearless and brave

Farewell soldier your battle’s done
you fought real hard, and so you’ve won
Farewell soldier you’re not alone
God is with you, You’re going home

You got through the dark days by keeping your light
constantly burning strong and bright
and now you’re a light and the shadows hide
because triumphs yours you are Gods child! (refrain)

You’re a conqueror; you did not fear
because you knew that God was near
You’ve reached the high place and the angels sing
Oh death where’s your victory?! Oh death where’s your sting?! (refrain)

Lyrics by Autumn Irlbeck (used with permission)

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