My family gathered this morning, and spent the day together, celebrating the life of my uncle, Rex Lauderdale. Brother to my father, Rex was the eldest of six children, born in a relatively short span of years, to Dennis and Grace Lauderdale.
The family lost the youngest child, Margaret, while she was still a toddler. However, the remaining siblings grew up, married, and had families of their own. Seven years ago this month, my father stepped into eternity, following a battle with cancer. Four years ago, this month, Glenda journeyed to meet her brother and her parents. It was at my aunt’s funeral that my cousins and I came up with a plan.
We decided not to wait for another funeral to gather together. Instead, what if we rejoiced with the living? My Uncle Rex loved the idea. We met at his house that July, to celebrate his birthday and his sisters’ birthdays…and a new tradition was born.
I am so grateful that we took action and made that desire to gather together a reality. Since that first birthday party we’ve lost five more family members on the Lauderdale side, including the life of the party himself, Uncle Rex. He slipped away last Wednesday, at the age of 83.
I’ve thought about my uncle so much in the days since I learned of his passing. Dr. Doug Weiss said, “The mirror of a man’s heart is his actions.” How beautifully Uncle Rex’s actions, throughout his life, have reflected his kind and generous heart.
My childhood memories of my uncle are peppered with his actions…the joy he freely expressed over his family, his infectious laughter, long hours working at the car dealership with his uncle, the kindness he showed to everyone.
Rex was an affectionate man, generous with his hugs and praise. He cared about people, never met a stranger, saw the good in others.
I grew up, along with my cousins, and living our own lives, we all saw less of each other, until that day four years ago when we decided to change that. I was delighted to reconnect with my Lauderdale family. Uncle Rex was as I remembered him, and age had not robbed him of his joy. Rather, it had made him more aware of his blessings.
What his actions reflected to me now was a heart made tender with compassion. He treasured his wife of 60 years, Mary. And he expressed pride in his grown children. While his sense of humor still made us cackle with glee, his tears also flowed freely as he hurt for others, saw the injustices in the world and deeply missed those who had journeyed home.
What my uncle most mirrored was love. I heard others speak highly of him today…how he enjoyed a good visit, helped others, never forgot a name. After my father’s death, he became a substitute dad to my sisters and me. In his actions, we could see our father and hear the echo of our dad’s laughter. Uncle Rex eased our loss, while at the same time, his resemblance to his brother made the ache of missing our father more keenly felt.
I am grateful for connection, and celebrations, and the enduring love of family. I am grateful for my uncle’s laughter and his tears, for his simple enjoyment of peach pie, gardening, fishing and the farming life. I am grateful for his hugs and his soft country drawl, inviting me to come back soon for a visit. I am beyond grateful that I accepted those invitations so often.
My uncle was honored today as we laid his body to rest, with words and tears, with stories and memories, with the playing of taps and the presentation of the US flag to his widow. At his house later, my cousin Michael shared his gratitude as he spoke about his father.
If there were more people like his dad, he said through his tears, the world would be a better place. I agree. And as his niece, as one who saw the heart of the man, I accept that invitation to make a difference. Each of us carries forward a portion of Uncle Rex’s reflection, held dear in our own hearts.
May our actions mirror our hearts, as Rex’s did his. In his name, may we offer compassion and joy and tenderness and peace to each other and to the world. May the warmth of his heart ignite a fire within our own to reach out to others and do good, by being who we are, those who were loved and inspired by Rex Lauderdale.
Enjoy your heavenly reunion, Uncle. Hug my dad for me. And know that this July, we your family will still gather to celebrate life, and Aunt June…and you.