Thanksgiving is a time for family gatherings. And this year, the week around Thanksgiving was a busy one. Early in the week, the same day I was returning from a trip overseas, my mother, who recently turned 96, went into surgery after a fall. My plans to join my wife and immediate family in Wyoming for Thanksgiving changed so I could stay in Great Falls with my mother and sister. Then I received the call that my Uncle Joe had passed away.
Years ago when my sister and I were growing up, our family made the 500-mile drive from Big Sandy, Montana to Spokane, Washington for several years to celebrate Thanksgiving with our Uncle Joe and his family. These were the days before the interstates and travelling through the mountains between Montana and Washington was not the quick trip it is today. But this year I found myself returning to Spokane for Thanksgiving once again.
Joe M. Quinn was just short of his 94th birthday and his 70th wedding anniversary—same as my dad when he passed away a few years back. Joe was my father’s only brother and they were the best of friends all through their lives. Uncle Joe was an amazing man of many talents, incredible energy, and admirable dedication and integrity.
My mother’s surgery went well and I stayed with her and my sister in Great Falls until Thanksgiving morning before hopping in my car to make the familiar drive over the mountains and through the woods to Spokane. I arrived in time to join my uncle’s family for the very end of Thanksgiving dinner. It was a bittersweet reunion, as all funerals tend to be.
The following day we bid a final farewell to my Uncle Joe at his graveside service. I had brought the flag that had covered my grandfather’s casket in 1993 as well as my father’s over two decades later and now we used it to honor my Uncle Joe—all three men were veterans of the first and second World Wars. We concluded the service with a red rose on the casket (a favorite of my Uncle Joe and Aunt Doris) as a token of our love and appreciation for a man who had been a brother, son, soldier, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle and friend. And we are all blessed with countless wonderful memories of a long life well-lived.
The following evening we gathered at the Davenport Hotel in downtown Spokane, as part of my Uncle Joe’s request, where we reminisced and enjoyed time together.
It is always hard to say goodbye—I prefer the German term of parting “auf wiedersehen”—which, when literally translated, means “until we see each other again.” But it is always a blessing to be surrounded by the love and support of family to ease the sorrow by sharing that burden with those who care. So as we press forward into another Christmas season and the joy and happiness that brings, I hope we all will also remember the One who shares all our burdens and that without Easter there would be no Christmas. Because of these two great events we commemorate now and in the springtime, the hope and promise of “auf wiedersehen” has been giving to all of us.