After completing two difficult tours in Vietnam, my Uncle Bobby said there were three things, he never wanted to live without again: air conditioning, hot showers and toilet paper. Visit Bobby, you would be warmly welcomed but his house was always and I mean always cold. That’s the way I remember my uncle: In the midst of tough circumstances Bobby could usually find a way to fix it or live with it and then make everyone around him laugh.
Bobby was more like an older brother for me than an uncle. He was the fun relative: good for playing ball or sharing stories. Whenever we came in contact with each other, we had a good time.
Because his family was military, Bobby grew up in Nagasaki, Japan shortly after World War 2 and graduated high school in Nuremberg, Germany. Following in his father’s footsteps, Bobby served in the army most of his working life. Two of Bobby’s more interesting mementos include a section of floor tile from Nagasaki burned by the atomic bomb blast and a piece of the old Berlin Wall.
Bobby was blessed with a wonderful marriage, two sons to be proud of and a beautiful young grandson. Charles and Rob, his sons wrote: “Dad was always there when we fell down. Sometimes he would pick us up, but he also knew when it was better to let us pick ourselves up. He left nothing on the table. Bobby never ended a conversation without saying: ‘I love you.’”
Several years ago, Bobby and his wife Jeanne moved to a retirement community near Wilmington, North Carolina. At that time, they both made a commitment to become more active in a church. They attended Bible studies and volunteered at several of the local ministries. In the midst of Bobby’s commitment to the church, his relationship with God deepened. Volunteering took on new meaning as Bobby became an influence and a mentor to others.
How does one day begin so well and end so sadly?
Bobby and Jeanne were coming home from a cruise to Nova Scotia. That afternoon, I received a text from his son, Rob: “Some sad news. Give me a call when you can.”
I learned that Uncle Bobby was killed in a freakish automobile accident. They had a flat tire on the interstate. When the service truck arrived, the driver began setting traffic cones but somehow a distracted driver hit the truck, slamming that vehicle into Bobby, killing him and injuring Jeanne.
As a pastor, I’ve witnessed similar tragedies and helped many families look for signs of God in the midst of grief. But this tragedy was personal. I didn’t want to say good bye to Uncle Bobby. I wanted to argue with God, get angry, shake my fists and cry. But as a pastor, I began to reflect on the promises of Scripture used many times at multiple funerals. Only now they began to take on a deeper significance.
- “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23
- “I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come?” Psalm 121
- “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1
Over the next few days, I witnessed the Lord at work providing comfort and help when needed most. Church members and friends by the hundreds, visited or wrote letters and sent emails of encouragement. Prayers were lifted up by individuals, groups and churches. People who had been touched deeply by Uncle Bobby came forward and shared their stories.
While preparing to give a eulogy, I asked myself: “What would Bobby want me to say?”
I pictured Bobby standing there with a smile saying: “Larry, I hope you miss me but get over it. Yes, our family experienced a tragedy but step back and look at the big picture. I’ve been richly blessed with a wonderful family, great friends, a loving church and opportunities to love and serve God and make a difference in people’s lives. Don’t let one bad day define my life.”
Here is what knowing and loving Uncle Bobby has taught me:
- Life is a precious gift from God. Enjoy every minute of it.
- Don’t neglect the basics of family and friendships. Say, “I love you” often.
- Don’t neglect your relationship with God. Keep growing.
- Don’t let the tragedies and difficulties win. Remember the big picture.
I am confident that Uncle Bobby is in a place where he no longer needs to worry about air conditioning, hot showers or toilet paper. As much as I will miss having him around, I am deeply grateful for knowing Bobby as a cherished friend and mentor. I will miss him but with God’s help and encouragement, I will get over it. And in honor of Bobby, I will get over it with a smile. Amen.