Dear Rollin,

I remember when I was a child and you would visit our house with your wife, Aunt Sandy, and sometimes your son, Andrew. I came to associate Thanksgiving holiday with you and your family. Although I can’t say I looked forward to the mysterious “pink stuff” that Sandy would prepare for our Thanksgiving dinner, it was all part of the holiday event.

What does one remember when a friend or family member passes? You can never expect what memories will pop up first, or what sort of images will run through your brain. The human heart and memory are unpredictable. In my mind you are wearing slightly tinted glasses, your hair is soft and grey, your bulbous nose is reflecting the light of the lamp in the living room. I always thought that lamp was interesting as it uses a remodelled fire extinguisher as the base of the lamp. Your sweatshirt is maroon, and you’re wearing slippers. There’s a football game on the tv. I don’t know who it is that’s playing, but I want to say that it’s the Army/Navy game. This is something I associate with my father’s side of the family. There’s a small bowl of cashews on the table next to the lamp and a cheese plate with brie cheese and olives. You reach for the cashews.

I remember your laugh, not so much for the sound that it made, but for the reaction that it prompted in my own father. There was a shared sense of brotherly intuitiveness in that laughter. My dad has a loud laugh that wheezes at its peak, but I think the loudest laughter I’ve ever heard from my father came from when the two of you together. There’s a kind of shared inside-ness that comes from laughter spread amongst siblings. No one else but the two of you will fully understand that laugh, and no one needs to. I think my father’s laugh will be ever-so-slightly toned down now that you are gone.

We weren’t close towards the end of your life. In fact, since moving down to Florida you went further and further off to the conservative right and we were unable to hold conversations that weren’t accusatory or attacking one another’s political views in some way. Facebook was your medium, and it seemed a destructive space for a conversation. You were “that” uncle in the family — the one that I couldn’t seem to agree with and wondered, “how did his views go so far astray?” I thought about the laughter shared by you and my father as you recounted funny stories of your youth with language that may have been inappropriate for my young ears year before. You were the same Rollin, weren’t you?

Perhaps social media wasn’t the best place for us to connect. I stopped our conversations on Facebook entirely. I would write you a letter or a postcard, wishing you well, sending you the love of a nephew from afar. In a handwritten letter, there’s more time and patience involved. Nothing is impulsive in a letter, and it seemed the right medium to correspond. When the coronavirus pandemic struck I remember sending you a care package with face masks from Taiwan to which you responded with an e-mail of gratitude. I read the e-mail and thought, “this is my uncle, Rollin.”

You were proud and believed in honour, in heroes. You stood by hospice patients and held their hands through their dying days. I wasn’t able to be there during those times, but I know this was also a side of you I had never been able to see — and yet, “this is my uncle, Rollin.” You were crass, you had a sense of humour, you were stubborn, you stuck to your ideals.

This is my uncle, Rollin.

Love, Your Nephew

American residing in Asia since 2004. Blogs focusing on life observations, improv, food, creating a learning organisation, management, and stretching time.