A Eulogy for my Uncle Vern

uncle-vernToday we buried my dad’s brother, my Uncle Vern.  The family requested that I give a eulogy, and it was an honor to do so.

One of the difficulties I encountered in writing the eulogy, though, is that I don’t share my uncle’s religious beliefs.  But those beliefs were the most important part of his life, so I had to honor him (and his family) by removing my own lack of those beliefs from his eulogy to keep it about him, not about me.

The family and his friends expressed their appreciation for the words I offered, so I know I made the right decision.

Here’s the eulogy:

When I was young, my father’s brother Vern seemed intimidating.  He was tall, stout, and had a commanding voice.  I didn’t see him often as child because we lived 4 hours away.  And it wasn’t until adulthood, when my husband and I lived an hour away, that I really got to know my uncle Vern.

I quickly noticed how similar his eyes were to my own father’s eyes – his gaze, like my Dad’s, was kind and gentle, and his blue eyes lit up when he talked about his loved ones.  They sparkled with joy when he shared entertaining stories and jokes.  And it was this recognition of my dad’s kindness mirrored in my uncle that erased any intimidation I felt, replacing it with a sense of fondness, admiration and enormous respect.

My uncle Vern and I had lovely conversations each time I visited with him, and during those times, I became aware of four extraordinary things that I want to share with you today.

The first was his sense of humor – he was a man who loved to make people laugh.  He told everyone he met the silliest and corniest jokes, and as he got older, he often repeated the same jokes.  But I continued to laugh as hard as the first time I heard them, because his face would light up, his eyes would sparkle, and he’d slap his knee while chuckling so hard at his own joke.

The second extraordinary thing about my uncle was his dedication to service.  He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1957, and did 8 weeks of boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, followed by 8 weeks of advanced training at Fort Carson, Colorado.

After these 4 months of training, he was given a 7-day leave, so he rode a train home to his young bride Shirley, and together they packed up their 1953 Ford Victoria and drove to Fort Bliss, Texas where he received advanced electrical training in missiles designed to attack bomber aircraft.  Uncle Vern bravely served our country during the Suez Crisis, and after completing two years of active-duty with the Army, Uncle Vern and Aunt Shirley returned home to Michigan.

He became a fireman for the City of Taylor, and he worked his way up to the rank of Captain before retiring after 23 years of service.

Uncle Vern’s dedication to service continued well after retirement, providing generously to charities such as the Easter Seals, the March of Dimes, and Boys Town, just to name a few.

And right up until his death, he served as a loyal and loving husband caring for his wife as she struggled with advancing Alzheimer’s Disease.

The third extraordinary quality I witnessed in my Uncle Vern was his love of family.  He grew up adoring his big brother Duane, and in adulthood, Duane continued to be the first person he sought for companionship.

And Uncle Vern loved his sons Curt and Mark more than anything – they remained his priority even after they had grown to adulthood, with the father-son relationship evolving into a beautiful friendship with the men he was most proud of.

I witnessed my uncle’s love of family as I watched him and his siblings organize multiple family reunions over the years.  He loved these reunions, surrounded by those he cared for the most:  his wife, his sons, his grandchildren, his brothers & sister, everyone’s spouses, his nieces & nephews.  Memories of those reunions feel like they were just yesterday:  Uncle Vern playing horseshoes, leading the meetings, manning the grill, and helping the kids dig through sawdust to find buried coins.

My visits with him were never complete until he had shared with me the most recent stories of his sons, his daughter-in-law, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren – stories of their accomplishments, the time they were spending together and the projects they worked on.

He was immensely proud of – and enormously grateful for – the assistance that his grandchildren provided to him and Aunt Shirley.  He puffed up with pride each time he showed me photos of them, and he was so delighted to be a great-grandfather to two incredibly beautiful great-grandchildren.

Family:  never EVER doubt how much he loved you, and how immensely proud he was of each and every one of you.  You were his world.

What I want to close with is Uncle Vern’s extraordinary faith.  I truly believe that this is what he would want to be remembered for more than anything else.

Uncle Vern had an unwavering belief in the certainty that he was saved, that he was a born again child of God, and his deeply personal relationship with Christ sustained him in all things and brought him great comfort.

Every night before bed, Uncle Vern recited the Lord’s Prayer to Aunt Shirley, and I know that she, too, received great comfort in that.

And it wasn’t enough for him to know that HE had been saved – he was profoundly concerned about the spiritual welfare of his family and friends.  He worked tirelessly as a servant of Christ, tasked with insuring that all those he encountered had heard the Good News.

Uncle Vern knew without a doubt that God was his Father almighty, and he knew that the sacrificial death of Christ atoned for his sins.

And because Uncle Vern had been baptized in the name of Jesus, he was assured of the promise of eternal life, where he would be reunited with those who had gone before him.

I would like to imagine that, at the moment of his death this past Wednesday morning, he was immediately greeted by his parents, he was once again at the side of his beloved brother Duane and all of his siblings who’d gone before him, and most importantly, welcomed by Christ with open arms, who patted him on the back, and said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Well done.  Welcome home.”