Thursday, December 11, 2008

wednesday weigh in (and my Uncle Bill)

I've hit a bit of a snag in my exercise routine. It seems that I go to bed late, wake up early, chase children throughout the day, work whenever I have a spare moment, clean, cook, shop, and if I'm lucky ... shower. It's dark by 5:00 PM and with these shorter days, I'm usually ready for bed by 8:00.

Here's a fact.

When I was part of an exercise group and had a commitment to go out running every Saturday morning, I was inspired to do it. It's a little more difficult when I don't have someone actually waiting for me, looking for me, physically running alongside me and cheering, "We're amazing! We're running when we could be sleeping!"

Yet whenever I start thinking about how my life is so full and busy and I just don't have time to exercise, I think about my Uncle Bill. And I am inspired to find it in me, to do something. Anything. Even if that "anything" involves doing 10 push-ups or sit-ups for a minute.

My Uncle Bill is married to my Aunt Grace, who is my mother's older sister.

Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill have lived in South Carolina for the past 40 years. They live out in the country on several acres of land and when I was a child growing up, they always had horses. There was a big lake in the back yard, tractors to ride, kittens and dogs to play with and barns to stomp around in. Because there always something for a kid to do, as far as I was concerned, their house was heaven on earth.

In the summer of 1979, my sister Eileen and I flew to South Carolina to visit my Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill. On the day that we were due to fly back to Massachusetts, the call came from my mother that she was leaving my father and she was planning to drive down to South Carolina with my brother, Wally. Instead of us flying back home, we stayed with my Aunt Grace's family and a few days later - were joined by my mother and brother.

Within a few months, my sister decided to fly back to Massachusetts to finish high school. But for the next year, my mother, brother and I lived with my Aunt Grace and my Uncle Bill and four of their five children. In their house. In the country.

Even though this was an extremely tumultuous phase in my life, I have so many warm memories from that time. I have warm memories of my mother moving out and establishing her own home, and the extremely close relationships that I forged with my Aunt's family. I have warm memories of my Uncle Bill, who rarely called me by my name and instead, always called me "Dear."

They became my family - closer to me even than some of my own siblings.

We chose the name William for our first son, largely because that is his father's name, but also, to recognize and honor my Uncle Bill. My father was absent for much of my life - but my Uncle Bill was there. He was a devoted husband and father and a good role model for what a man should be for his family. When my brother Wally had his twin boys, he named one of his sons William, as a direct tribute to my Uncle Bill.

To say he has had a profound impact on our lives, would be an understatement.

Three and a half years ago, late one Friday afternoon in June, I received a call from my mom where she told me that my Uncle Bill had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. It had metastasized and the prognosis was not good. He was given at most, three months to live.

This news rocked my mother and I could only imagine how traumatized his own family must have felt. Here was a man who had never smoked and had lived as healthily of a life as anyone I've ever known. I wanted to call him, but I didn't. I didn't know what I would say and I was so afraid that I would breakdown and he'd be the one to console me.

The following Tuesday he was scheduled for a very risky operation and there were concerns that he might not even survive that. Uncle Bill had always been such a pillar of strength to everyone in his life. And everyone was devastated.

I don't know what came over me.

Probably the Holy Spirit.

But I really wanted for Uncle Bill to meet our children. When he was 10 years old, his mother had given birth to spontaneous triplets (two girls and a boy), so Uncle Bill would fondly recall the "triplet craze" that he himself had experienced. He has told me many a story about people actually lining up to see his siblings, circa 1940.

So I called an airline, booked flights and Charlie and I were on a plane flying to South Carolina three days later with our eight-month old triplets. Nobody knew we were coming. It was a spur of the moment, complete surprise. I called my mother before we boarded our flight and asked if she could pick us up at the airport and maybe rent a pack-n-play or two.

Or three.

When we arrived in South Carolina, we drove straight out to my Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill's house. His surgery was scheduled for the following morning and it was very important for me to see him. The babies were asleep in their carseats, so we lined all three of the carseats up on the front door step and rang the doorbell, before disappearing in to the bushes.

My Aunt Grace opened the door and I remember Uncle Bill was a few steps behind. When they saw the babies on their doorstep, they exclaimed, "What is this? Oh My God. What is THIS?" And I chirped up, "Charlie and I really need to get away for a few days. Would you mind watching them?"

There are a few moments in life that are so epic, so awesome, so great - I wish I had them on video so that I could go back and replay them over and over.

This was one of those moments.

For the first time since Uncle Bill had received his diagnosis - everyone was smiling. There was an impromptu party. Cousins were called. A big dinner was cooked. Although the impending surgery that was scheduled the next day was on everyone's mind ... the infant triplets from California were a happy distraction.

That night, I told my Uncle Bill that I loved him. I told him that I was so appreciative of all the things that he had done for me when I was a child, living in his home. I was so appreciative that he took me and my family in and that he made us feel so welcome. I was so appreciative of all the advice and direction he provided me as I grew older. I told him that I thought his children were blessed and lucky to have them as their devoted father. And I was lucky that my Aunt married such a wonderful man - providing me with such a great Uncle. He was a man that always made me feel special - always made me feel like I was one of his own. He was a man that had great class and an enthusiasm for life and family that was contagious.

The following day I prayed and prayed.

And then, the phone rang.

Uncle Bill called immediately after his surgery. When I was talking with him on the phone, his voice was groggy but he was filled with excitement. He wanted to tell me that when they gave him anesthesia, he vividly could see our babies. All three of them. Before he went under they were there, as soon as he came out, they were there. They were with him during his risky operation. The whole time, he could feel their presence.

"Those beautiful babies were with me, Dear. They are my Guardian Angels. Thank you for bringing them to me."

Summer turned to fall.

Fall to winter.

Winter to spring.

Spring to summer.

Another year went past.

And another.

Despite the odds and what the doctors predicted, we have seen Uncle Bill several times since June of 2005. We visited with him in New England once and have seen him twice more in South Carolina. Whenever I call to talk with my Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill answers the phone, I am guaranteed at least two hours of good conversation with a man who I absolutely adore.

When I spoke with him two weeks ago, he told me that when his doctors initially told him that he didn't have much longer, he told them that they have their work cut out for them, because he has a lot of things left to accomplish in his life. He also said that he thinks that perhaps he is too dumb to know any better. He's not paying attention to the statistics or the odds. He's just living his life, the best he can and loving his family as much as possible.

He said that his "secret" to success is that he always has something happening. He always has something to look forward to. He told me that as soon as he completes one thing - he doesn't dwell on that which has been done, but instead, is busy moving on to the next thing.

He does not get hung up on that which has already passed.

His other "secret" to success is that he exercises.

Almost every day, he exercises.

In the past three and a half years, Uncle Bill has undergone more than 100 chemotherapy treatments. He has outlasted his oncologist's wildest predictions. He said that whenever he undergoes chemo, he brings a notebook and pen and will jot down things that he has to do next. He recently finished construction on my cousin Margaret and her husband Reiner's dream house.

Now, he has big plans for planting eight acres of grapes on his property. The revenue that is generated from selling these grapes will be used to fund his grandchildren's college tuition.

He is planning an elaborate 60-year wedding anniversary in Europe. His whole family will be there. He has invited Charlie and I and our brood to come along, too.

He is completely remodeling his garage and exercise room.

Uncle Bill is the happiest and most content person I've ever met in my entire life. He never complains. In his world, the sun is always shining. And so it should be for everyone.

When I told him that I was really undecided where we wanted to live and gosh, where was the best place he has ever lived - or where would he live if he could live anywhere - he smiled and said, "I have really enjoyed every place that I have ever lived and I know I'd be happy if I ever moved. So long as your Aunt Grace is by my side, I would be happy anywhere."

Last week, Uncle Bill went outside to feed his dog and when the dog unexpectedly jumped up and knocked him down, he fell and broke his hip.

My Aunt Grace was in the house on the phone with my mother at the time, and didn't know he had fallen. Instead of calling out for help, Uncle Bill - an extremely proud man - used his cell phone to call my cousin, Bill. He wanted to know if his son had borrowed his crutches. When Bill called back to tell his father he didn't have them, my Uncle Bill didn't mention what had happened, but instead, called my cousin, Lisa.

Eventually, it came out that he had fallen on the ground and couldn't get up. Eventually, my Aunt Grace would find out that her husband of almost 60-years was laying on the ground outside the backdoor and he didn't call for help because he didn't want to create a commotion.

Eventually, paramedics would come to the house and transport him by ambulance to the hospital where he would have a major procedure that involved placing a pin in his hip. The doctors were skeptical to perform such an operation on a man who has Stage 4 cancer, but they did it. Eventually, he will go through intensive rehabilitation so that he can walk again.

But I know he'll do it and he'll do it optimistically and cheerfully.

As he himself would say, "This is a WONDERFUL life and I have a lot to do!"

My cousin Margaret is coming out to California to participate in a triathlon with me next October. When I spoke to my Uncle Bill a few weeks ago, he said that he was planning to come out and watch his daughter compete. And maybe, he might do some bike riding. In fact, he was going to write it down on his notepad as a goal for himself.

So with that segue ... how are you doing with your goals?


  1. I have a tear in my eye.

    Truly inspirational. My mother is bravely and optimistically battling Pancreatic cancer and it is wonderful to here of a miracle.

    He is a hero. You deserve to be proud to have spent some time of your life with him.

  2. I had a goal of running 200 miles in four months, in an attempt to get back in the routine of running. I did pretty well the first two and half months, then Thanksgiving and Christmas hit, along with college finals and two preschoolers' Christmas activities, and well.....not so good.

    However, your post is extremely inspiring, as is your Uncle Bill. I think I may get out a notebook and pen and jot down a goal of completing a half marathon in February. It's always good to have something on the horizon to keep you going.

    Thanks for the post. It was one of my favorites.

  3. how crazy i think it is, that on the very day i think of you and come here to check, it seems you've written the very things i need to hear.

    exercise, and hope. exercise, and for heaven's sake, BE HAPPY. don't dwell in the past or future, yet make sure you don't just sit there on your heiney.

    ok...i'm off to check out how huge henry and gang is...

  4. That was so moving and inspiring. Thanks for sharing that. I needed the motivation for my own exercise program, too.

    God bless!

  5. Susan in Missouri12/11/08, 9:06 AM

    I lost 3 more lbs this week! I only have 4 lbs to go! Your post for Wednesday made me smile while tears were pouring out of my eyes! My daughter and I are both home today with bad chest colds and she said "Mommy, why are you smiling with tears?" lol! Thanks for brightening my day and showing me that no matter how bad life is...there is always something to look forward to!

  6. Your uncle sounds like a truly amazing man....what an inspiring story. I wish him well as he continues on with his goals...

    Right now we are waiting on biopsy results to find out if the cancer they removed from my father's leg the other day is benign or malignant...the waiting kills me.

    As for my fitness goals...i'm moving more. I got my hubby to carry our bike up from the basement and put it in our bedroom so that i'll use it more. Kids have been sick and so have i, so i haven't used it as much as i want to...but i KNOW i will

  7. Thanks for sharing the story of a wonderful man. the ONGOING story. I'll keep him in my prayers as he recouperates from the hip surgery - and we'll all want to hear about his trip to California next year. I'm having a crummy day - and this was just what i needed.

    Barb - Peoria AZ

  8. Tears jen - I am in tears. And right before I have to leave for work. I love this story. What an amazing man!


  9. Not as much as Uncle Bill!

    I did freeze half the cookie dough instead of making them all, does that count?!

    My ankles have been acting up since I got back home from Thanksgiving, I can barely make it up and down the stairs, muchless exercise. I suck! Ugh.

  10. Oh boy Jenny, what a tribute. You have told us so many times how you feel, but to see it in print is just beautiful, and all true. He really is a remarkable guy. He is doing very well, the theripists are very happy with his progress, and he will be home on the 18th. Thank you so much, we all love y'all too. Aunt Grace

  11. Thank you for the reminder that no matter what, With a lot of prayer and a lot of hard work there it is possible to live longer then what any doctor predicts.

    I'm 8 months pregnant, I prayed for almost five years to get pregnant with my ex husband. The doctor said..Nope it will never happen. My husband said..Goodbye. I married a man with two children that I love and adore as my own....two years after we married, I am now expecting...after a lot of prayer, and NO fertility treatments this time...I am pregnant. By the grace of God~! A lot of things happen when we place our faith in God.

    God Bless your uncle. And once I can clearly see (Come on I'm pregnant!! You can't possibly think I don't have a million tears running down my face right now!) I will say a prayer for him.



  12. Your Uncle and my Grandma are the kind of people to look up too. My Grandma has pushed back cancer for over three and a half years now, when they had given her three to six months. Determination and a beautiful kind spirit...that's what they both seem too have.

    On the other subject, I know they are pricey (and a bit hard to come by), but do you have a Wii? Because the Wii Fit is awesome and more fun than you'd expect. It's great for Winter. At least here, because it's just too cold to be outside.

  13. WoW thanks for sharing that story. I needed it today. I really think it is that strength and positive attitude that keeps the cancer at bay. What a beautiful person. I loved that you distracted the darkness with three perfect little babies! So beautiful.

  14. Uncle Bill is an inspiration!

  15. Thanks for sharing such a heart-warming, uplifiing story. What a wonderful man, this uncle of yours is! You were indeed, blessed, as a child to have been part of his household.

    The message of the exercising is not lost on me. It spurs me on to get on my bike and rev it up daily. I figure if your uncle has been married almost 60 years, he is in my ago bracket. I am inspired!

    Thanks for sharing your Uncle Bill with us!

  16. Thanks for making me cry, Jenna! All I want to do now is eat an entire box of peppermint Joes! But, on the other hand, if I wasn't so sick, I'd probably be exercising!

  17. Wow. Thanks Jen. A beautifully written dedication to a wonderful man indeed & the picture of the kids -- Priceless!

    You know you mean the world to all of us. Thanks again for your kind words, a wonderful gift.

    All my love, Marg.

    (Sorry Charlie for waking you this morning! Forgot your 3 hours behind.)

    I'm looking forward to October since I haven't done anything in all week -- better get busy - it's only 10 months away!!!! (looking forward to it)

  18. Jen, that is an amazing story and great to have "documented" for future generations. LOVE IT!

    Saturday, I ran my 2nd 5k. It's a step in my goal. One of my running partners needed a time so we could register for a 1/2 marathon in May. That being said, it was 30 degrees out on Saturday morning. I couldn't feel my toes until mile 2. =)

    I shaved over 3 minutes off my time since Memorial Day. I beat my 30 minute goal. =)

    29.38!!!! And there were HILLS!!!!

  19. PS Didn't you know his initials WW stand for... Wonderful Willy and WWG...Wonderful Willy's Girl. (that's my mother) ;-) Love, Marg.

  20. A truly lovely and loving tribute to a man who has made a difference not maybe by being another Donald Trump of business; but by being a nice man, a good Father and a great Uncle. When life was tumultuous for you he gave you the gift of peace. What a blessing he is/was to you . What a great tribute to him to be have children named after him... is there a better legacy for others than the gift of love and time?
    Christmas Hugs all the way around!

  21. What a wonderful tribute to Uncle Bill. Thank you for doing this and showing your love and concern.

  22. I had been walking on my lunch hour every day, but then it got cold and I wasn't very good about it. But this post inspired me to go out and walk again today, even though it's only 11 degrees out and I had to walk through the wind tunnels of downtown Minneapolis. So thanks to you and to Uncle Bill!

    Also, I know your kids aren't this old yet, but I'm looking for a physical activity for my 11-year-old son who is NOT into sports. I was wondering if any of your readers have any ideas?

  23. I thought you were going to say you were going to move out there with your Uncle Bill. I am sure you guys would love it there.

  24. awful and i am certain i gained all my weight back that I just lost the past 90 days. but now i am motivated again

  25. Thank you for this post. It's like you were supposed to write this so I could read it.
    Your inspirational post will be with me for a very long time. Thanks again for sharing your Uncle Bill with us!

    PS (I'm still hitting the gym 3 times a week and walking on the weekends but lately I've noticed my positive attitude towards it all is flagging. I really needed this today!)

  26. Wow, your Uncle bill is amazing and you are so lucky to have such a positive person in your life. Its lovely to read how much he means to you. Best wishes to your Uncle Bill and his poor hip.

  27. Wow, Jen! Besides being such an amazing writer, you also have an incredible family. Thanks for sharing them with us and prayers to your Uncle Bill for a speedy recovery.

  28. My goals?? Not looking so good this week. I have not eaten as well as I had hoped. What can I say, when there are Christmas cookies I just can't help myself. I have done a little working out...but not at the gym. It takes a lot of work walking around the mall shopping for your loved ones, right?? Add to that, I took five kids to sit on Santa's lap and tried to get everyone to pay attention at the same that's a workout! I probably burned more calories at the mall that day than I have this past month!

    I am still not doing horrible and I have lost 12 pounds so at least I'm getting somewhere...I just hope I don't gain it back with all these Christmas cookies...yum!

  29. Hi Jen,

    What a wonderful portrayal of Uncle Bill. You have truly captured his spirit and determination. He is a remarkable man.

    Love your blog and the picture at the family reunion. The yellow shirts look great.

    Your Orange shirted cuzzin'

  30. One of many cuzzins!12/11/08, 10:34 PM

    Hi Jen!

    You are so eloquent! What a beautiful tribute to a very deserving man. Uncle Bill is such a great guy. I always love to see Aunt Grace and him together...after 60 years they're still like newlyweds. Love the picture of them sunbathing!!

    We all know that he'll get through this and will make it out to cheer you & Marg at the triathalon.

    Your sentiments are touching and no doubt very much appreciated by him and his family.


  31. Jen,
    Beautifully written and I totally agree....our Uncle Bill is a miracle.

    XOXO Anne Marie

  32. Margaret just had me read this post and thought I'd leave a comment.
    I always enjoy my time and one-on- one conversations w/my father-in-law. He is amazing.
    Thanks for writing this. Tell Charlie and the kids I said Hi. Reiner.

  33. Peanut Butter and Jelly12/12/08, 6:34 AM

    Jen ~

    Uncle Bill was my first crush ~~

    When I was seven-years-old we went to Florida and spent Christmas week with the F's. I thought Uncle Bill was "dreamy" and I remember telling my mother so! I was so happy to share that story with Uncle Bill at our family picnic a few years back near Cape Cod. I am broken hearted about the hip, but warmed to hear your memories and how you feel about this wonderful man. He is such a Peach!!

    We love you too, Uncle Bill!! Get well soon~

    Kathy and crew

  34. What a blessing to have someone like Uncle Bill in your life.

  35. What an amazing man!

    My goals - well, ready or not, my 10yo (who can now proudly do a 12min. mile) and I are doing a 5K this Sunday.

  36. Hey Jen,

    Here is a little up date on "your" Uncle Bill. He is "in training" as he puts it, and is very excited about all that is going on the 9th floor at St. Francis Hospital. He loves the people that he has to "work with” and says his "coach" and his “team” are all "very good at their jobs and a joy to ‘train with’.” On his off times, he is thinking, planning and revamping all our lives..........So watch out!! You just might get the next call.

    Reading about your time with us and the day before my dad’s “big” surgery, I have to say…… it is all true. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, words and wonderful family.

    While I read over your blog, I see a lot of love and warm thoughts poured out towards my father and I can’t help but swell with pride. I know my dad will be honored and humbled by all of this love.
    Much Love, Lisa

  37. Hey Jenny, I wanted to personally thank you, this year has truly been an amazing year filled with so much love and emotion. You almost forget so much time has past when you talk about grandpa. He truly is an amazing man and I have found myself more and more using his "life quotes". One thing that he has been saying is that he has a wonderful family. and me in my younger more selfish years I thought "ya ya there great...whatever". Not anymore. I remember getting off the phone with Marg. and calling my mother in tears and saying "I was just talking to Marg and...and...She made me cry so hard!!" I think my mom was going to get a little mad at her, but as I finished, I said I just realize that Grandpas right...he’s always been right. We are amazing. There are strength in numbers, and we have the numbers. The proof is my Grandfather, and my brother. They both are my heroes , and I have been so blessed to have the both of them in my again...thank you for honoring such a great man.

    Kristen Lopez
    (Karen’s daughter)

  38. What an amazing legacy this man will leave behind. He may not receive the Nobel Prize or other accolade, but what does that REALLY matter in the grand scheme of things? This is an awesome reminder of the impact we have on our children and our children's children. Even if a relative is able to document (as nicely as you have) a loved one's life, it isn't as powerful as the life they led.

    How blessed you are to have a man like that model for your family what a real man is! Keep up the fighting, Uncle Bill.

  39. I am bawling! Thank you for that. What an inspiration he is. Now I feel really lame for my pitiful goals and how I struggle with those. I'm running regularly now, but I'm not really pushing myself as hard as I should. I think I will now. Maybe I'll go get my own notebook... ;)

  40. Your Uncle Bill is truly an amazing, inspirational man. Thank you for sharing his story.

  41. Wow ... so what's MY excuse?

    Yeah ... I do walk for ten minutes a day and I (barely) drink my eight glasses of water ... but I could do so much more.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    And as per usual, EXCELLENTLY written.

    You can really tell a story, girl!

  42. Wow. Late as usual, but I have to comment to say that this post is such an amazing tribute to a person who is clearly so very special to you.

    I struggle often with simply being content, and I struggle with not complaining (as I think you once witnessed via a rant on my blog regarding google reader!). It has been one of my goals over the last few years to step back and simply be pleased and thankful for what I have far more often than I am. And when I encounter people like your Uncle Bill (I, too, have an Uncle Bill, only he passed away in 2005 from lung cancer- of course, his cancer was decidedly caused by his near 60 year tobacco habit...), I am always reminded to take that step back.

    WIth that in mind, my current goal is to train for and run (hopefully in May) a 10K event back home in Texas where my family is. I have surgery tentatively scheduled for January that may put a damper on things, not to mention holidays intervening that will assuredly mess with my training schedule, but in the spirit of being pleased with where I'm at, I'll simply say that I ran farther today than I ever have before (just over 7k). And I probably would have kept going had I not had another obligation on my schedule. It was a good asthma day. It was a good running day. I will make 10K someday soon. I will have more good days, period.

    Thank your uncle for the reminder of how we should all act, for the inspiration, for the love he clearly has for family and for life in general.