A full size life

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With sandy hair, big brown eyes and the biggest smile I have ever seen, he was definitely one of the brightest little boys I ever had the pleasure to know. He was also without a doubt one of the most mischievous. High energy, without brakes, and sometimes too smart for his own good in that way of little boys who get into big trouble. He exuded confidence with big ideas matched by an even bigger heart.

The first grandson in the family, he was a group project. The whole family embraced him. Mr. Wonderful was 15 when his nephew was born. That nephew was 15 when our own son was born. When we moved to the country, said nephew came and stayed with us a time or two. An urban street kid who routinely roamed streets as a child that scared me as an adult, he said visiting us in the country was scary because it was “just too dark without street lights.”

To this day when I walk outside late at night and moonlight is scarce I cannot say I disagree. He was bold, (almost) fearless and backed down from nothing — except shots. He laughed uproariously at the legendary stories of the team of medical professionals it took to hold him down as a toddler.

He was 9 years old when his uncle and I met. When we married he became my nephew too. We don’t do yours and mine in our extended family. The nieces and nephews are all loved as “ours.”

Like any young person finding their way in the world he made some choices as a teen that left us scratching our heads. Then again, don’t we all? We shook our heads and hugged him anyway because always there was that smile.

Then he had a daughter. He was 19 years old when he was handed a little baby girl. She, and two subsequent children, a son and a daughter, were his absolute pride and joy.

As time went on, he went from an impulsive young man to a settled adult who loved his kids beyond all else. He sat with me at family parties and discussed child-rearing practices. I had to smile when the person who delighted in riding his own bike in traffic discussed at great length whether or not his children should be allowed to drink soda pop?

He called himself “Super Roofer” and built a business he could be proud of. He sought out my advice on building his brand and I marveled that the impulsive little boy had grown into an astute businessman. He worked hard and succeeded in implementing his dream into a business that supported his family — and others as well.

He worked hard and played hard. He was the life of the party always. Although it sounds almost trite, he really did have the biggest heart. He really would do anything for anybody, and he absolutely would give you the shirt off his back. He was the cousin/uncle who lit up a room at family gatherings.

He was the source of fun and crazy antics at birthdays, parties, and Christmas. He camped with his family and they rode ATVs and jet skis. He was living in his own home in the country (lit up like an airport runway, we would tease him). There were kids, and pets, and even a mini horse, I think. He provided for his family and embodied, always, the idea of living a “full-size life.”

This past Christmas he put on a crazy holiday hat and chased the littlest cousins around the spacious hall the extended family now rents for holidays (so we can all fit). He laughed, always that booming, infectious laugh, and hugged me and said “love ya!” We said we definitely should get together at the lake this summer. We said that every Christmas. Then we never did.

Last week as I sat at a restaurant trying to decide if I felt like eating chicken or steak my phone rang. I answered and Mr. Wonderful said, flat and stunned “Darrell died.” In that moment the entire world slid sideways.

He was 37 years old — and also 10, and 15 and 27 in my mind. It did not and does not seem real. I am numb every day since. We are not supposed to outlive the younger generation. They are supposed to grow up and grow old and say goodbye to us. This cannot be right.

I have spent a week trying to come up with magical, healing words that make this loss make sense. A way to explain to three young kids why their father is gone. To explain to my own kids how one of the most “fun” cousins is gone. To explain to my husband how that first grandson/nephew can just cease to be. I have come to realize there are no words and it cannot be done.

To my first nephew with that booming laugh and beaming smile. We will love you always, Bunkie, and we will leave a light on for ya.


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