The man who taught me a rather important life skill died this weekend. He will be missed. But in many ways, he has been missed for the last few years.
Uncle Joe suffered from Alzheimer’s. He had spent the last few years living not with my awesome Aunt Pat, where he belonged, but in a nursing home. People say “fuck cancer,” but at least many forms of cancer give you a fighting chance. With Alzheimer’s, the diagnosis isn’t good from the get-go, and it’s a slow decline into dementia and eventual organ failure.
So fuck Alzheimer’s. I’m pretty sure a few years ago that Joe would have shared a similar sentiment (and he wouldn’t have been as polite as I am). Not one to mince words, this is the man who helped to coin a family “fuck you” euphemism. So if you ever hear a member of my family use the phrase “get your hat,” you should know you’ve just been told.
Joe had been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I recall his sometimes acerbic attitude. When my cousins and I were younger, he occasionally terrified us. He wasn’t afraid to call “bullshit” and he certainly wasn’t worried about telling us we were out of line or disrespecting our parents.
As I got older, I discovered Joe’s great sense of humour behind the often terse exterior. And that part stayed with him even as he lost his ability to function in normal society. I saw him a couple of times while he was in the nursing home, and he always spoke to people (usually in gibberish) and then grinned like he had just told the dirtiest joke ever. The man smiled like he was getting away with something; and it made me smile in return.
But of all the memories, both good and bad, I have of Uncle Joe, the one that stands out the most was when he taught me how to drink out of a bottle. I couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. I’m pretty sure we were all camping at the time. And there’s Joe explaining to me how to properly drink out of a bottle (not too much pressure, open your mouth just enough, etc.). Of course, I was drinking a Coke and he probably had a beer, but it’s a memory that comes back time and again, especially when I open a bottle of beer and opt out of using a glass.
I’ve spent more than a day considering what I wanted to say about Joe’s passing, and in the end, there’s really one response…
Get your hat, Alzheimer’s.