Marrying into my husband’s family was scary for me. There are SO many of them, and they are all loud and boisterous. They speak their minds, believe in equal-opportunity teasing, and for someone who grew up with a small, subdued family and extended family, very overwhelming.
My first visit to the extended family in Pittsburgh many years ago was nerve-wracking. My natural tendency to withdraw only gets worse in unfamiliar situations, and I really had not had a chance to meet everyone at the wedding. This was all my father-in-law’s side of the family, and since he and I have a fairly rocky relationship, I was all the more concerned that it would be a long, stressful and uncomfortable weekend. Thankfully, it was not, and it is all due to one of Jim’s aunts and uncles.
Jim’s Uncle David and Aunt Barbara took me under their wings and made me feel so welcome. This welcome extended to each and every visit. I was greeted with huge hugs and kisses. They took a genuine interest in my opinions and really tried to find out who I was. The rest of the family was also welcoming, but since I was shy and they are not, it took a while for us to come to an understanding and a level of comfort. David would regale me with stories of flying helicopters during the Vietnam War. Barbara would spoil us rotten with her cooking, cleaning, and general nurturing. When I expressed my doubts about the Catholic faith, he shared some of his own experiences and views and did it without any pressure or sense of obligation. In general, they both made me a part of their family, and for that, they hold a special place in my heart.
Uncle David died Wednesday, May 12 after a year-plus battle with anal cancer. We were fortunate to have seen him last year. He made a special point of coming to visit with us while we were in town. By that time, he had already undergone at least one surgery and did not get out of the house much, so we were profoundly grateful that we were able to see him during that trip. I am going to miss seeing his face whenever we go back to Pittsburgh. He may not have been the most boisterous, but he was certainly the one extended family member with whom I had the best rapport. He was a good, hard-working, honest man who had paid his dues and wanted peace. He is now at peace.
Good bye, Uncle David. Thank you for welcoming me into the Shannon family, for understanding my need for quiet, and for being a great person with whom I could talk about anything. Pittsburgh won’t be the same without you.