As daily readers know, my uncle, Sam Burrell died yesterday.
There was a time that I told my wife, Brenda, “Be prepared, because when Uncle Sam dies I will be inconsolable. I will need you to be with me, but there won’t be a single thing you can do to make me feel better. Still, I will need you to be there with me.”
When my cousin Judy called me Wednesday to tell me he was breathing with difficulty and that this might be the end, I was able to get away to come here (to central Mississippi, near Kosciusko) to visit him. We rotated watches through the night and I stayed up until 2 AM with him.
When I got up Thursday morning his breathing had changed. In less than an hour he was breathing more slowly and soon he had stopped breathing altogether.
Of course, Judy, cousin Bev and I cried, but it wasn’t long before we began to rejoice. We thought about all of the people who needed to be called and were reminded of all of the people who loved him. We were reminded of all of the people whose lives he influenced.
Inevitably, we began to tell stories and recite memories of individual events that flooded our minds.
Uncle Sam was 97 years old when he died yesterday. However, we all agreed that he has been “gone” for about three years. We have all grieved for his “passing” for those three years. It has been that long since he was able to speak to us or walk or care for himself.
His older brother, Bee, was often called “MinuteMan,” because he was always in a hurry and everything had to be done “this minute.” Uncle Sam was cut from the same mold. In recent years, though, we called him the Energizer Bunny, because it seemed that no setback could get the best of him. He had prostate cancer, he beat it. He would develop pneumonia, and beat it. He had repeated strokes, but he survived all of them. When he could no longer feed himself he continued to eat, he just needed a loving hand to shovel it in for him. He would drink coffee or iced tea. And, at the end of every meal, for as far back as I can remember, he wanted “just a bite” of something sweet.
Many, many times in the last year and a half I have asked myself, “Is my Uncle Sam ‘alive?’” Sure, I knew that his heart was beating and that he was breathing, but I couldn’t help thinking, “This isn’t much of a life.” His youngest daughter, Judy, said yesterday, “He would have hated being like this.”
For the rest of us, life goes on.
We are celebrating now, a lifetime of memories, a life of hard work spent as a dairy farmer (Uncle Sam said it was like being in prison, but with no warden), a lifetime of five children loving him, a nephew who adored him and tried to take every step he took, and more friends than you can imagine. Ten grandchildren. Seventeen great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
And a lifetime of witness for Jesus Christ. I will begin Uncle Sam’s eulogy with a Bible reading from 1st Samuel, in which young Samuel replies to his calling from God, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” That’s the way my Uncle Sam lived, obedient to God’s calling.
A memorial service will be held at Jordan Funeral Home in Kosciusko, MS, at 2 PM Sunday. Visitation will be from 4-7 PM Saturday. Burial will be in Harmonia Church Cemetery next to his beloved wife, Julia Pauline Randolph Burrell.