I heard today that my Uncle Jack has died. He was 87. I had a letter from his widow to tell me that he simply went to bed one night and didn’t wake up. It was a perfect way to go, and typical of the man to pass away quietly, without any fuss or drama.
I say it was typical but in truth I didn’t know him at all well. He wasn’t even my uncle. He was a distant cousin of my Dad and they went to University together. A few years later when I came along Mum and Dad asked him to be one of my godparents. After that I would guess I only met him maybe half a dozen times. The most recent was at the funeral of a (real) uncle around three years ago. Before that may have been as long ago as our wedding thirty years ago when he and his wife travelled to join us.
But though I hardly met him, every year, right through my life, I heard from him twice, at Christmas and on my birthday, when I received a card from him. It was always accompanied by a short handwritten letter, asking after me and my family, and telling me his news, about his or his wife’s health, or what family members they had seen recently. It was always fairly inconsequential, but it was always touching to receive it, and I always replied in kind. And it wasn’t just me – I know he did exactly the same with his many nieces and nephews.
The older I have got the more I have valued these little tokens of thought and good wishes. I’m so sad he’s gone, and I know I will shed more tears on my birthday in a couple of months when that envelope with the familiar scratchy handwriting is conspicuous by its absence.
The role of a Godparent is to exercise moral guidance. I have done that with my one Godchild by buying him a pile of Dylan and Beatles CDs for his eighteenth birthday, something for which I have no doubt he thanks me daily. Jack was rather more effective. Every time I got one of those letters it made me want to emulate him and be that little bit kinder and more considerate of others, just as he so naturally and unthinkingly was.
These last couple of weeks, the world has seemed a particularly nasty, vicious and shitty place. but Jack reminds me that there are also people like him, who go through their ostensibly unremarkable lives, constantly touching those around them with small, un-noted acts of kindness and consideration. I’m sorry if that sounds pious; I don’t mean it to. But my heart is full and I just wanted to pay tribute to him somewhere, and to raise a glass to a good man. Thank you Jack. Rest in peace.