The Many Ways to Say Goodbye and Other Lessons to Learn

Yesterday morning, I attended my uncle’s funeral.

Walter D. Long was only 66 years old upon his death, but no one would argue the fact that the years he did live were full of life. A graduate of Pingry School and Wesleyan University, he was intelligent and driven. He served as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1966-73; and as the owner of a travel agency, he had the opportunity to see the world early on in his life. He was an incredibly devoted husband who, together with his wife, raised two loving, kind-hearted, and intelligent sons, sons who went on to give him five beautiful grandchildren with two wonderful daughters-in-law. And perhaps what he is most well-known for, he dedicated eight years to serving as mayor of Summit, New Jersey, a period during which he rebuilt downtown Summit and secured a reputation as an unbelievable leader of the community.

I didn’t really know my Uncle Walt, although I had always wanted to. Family drama, the nature of which I never really understood, caused him to keep his family life separate from ours; and because I had always dreamed of the quintessential loving extended family, I resented him as a teenager for not wanting to be a part of my life. As I grew older, I moved on, choosing to place my focus on those who were present, and we never did get the chance to know one another as adults.

In attending his funeral yesterday and listening to his family and friends describe their loved one, I feel I finally got the opportunity to know him a little, to learn from him, and to see the beauty of his accomplishments, both personal and professional. I have a great deal of respect for the person he was to the people and things he cared about most and I loved hearing their stories… About his handwritten personal letters that he never stopped writing, even after his illness took away the use of his right hand and he had to learn to write with his left… About his close friend subsequently teasing him by calling him “lefty,” a nickname that was especially amusing since my uncle was a Conservative Republican.

My Uncle Walt advised a great many people during the course of his time here on Earth, and yesterday, I heard a few of his choice sayings. It’s obvious that many people will carry his energy with them for the rest of their lives…

“People don’t care how much you know unless, and until, they know how much you care.”

“If you think you can, you will; and if you think you can’t, you’re right.”

“Confidence is the Electricity of Life.”

“Perception is reality.”

And my personal favorite:

“It’s not how high you fly; instead, it’s how high you bounce.”

You couldn’t have known, but I still carry my childhood memories of you. I always have, and I always will love you. And I look forward to the chance to see you again one day. ‘Til we meet again…   Rest in peace.