My Uncle Orie, my dad’s youngest brother, passed away two weeks ago (June 6, 2009) at age 55. I happened to be home in South Carolina for a visit. Uncle Orie had been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in February. He had been sick for a while before that, but they thought it was something else. My uncle was never a big man, and this type of cancer makes it impossible to digest food, so he got smaller and smaller every time I went home. It was so hard to see him suffering and in pain. In spite of my concern for him when I saw him, he had a good attitude even on the last day. I am so thankful that I was able to pray with him on that Friday evening.
To describe my uncle to someone who didn’t know him is an interesting task. Dad and Orie grew up on a farm in Iowa, in a family of six boys and two girls. They worked hard and moved quickly. There was no such thing as slow with them. I don’t like slow much myself, but the way they paced themselves makes me look like a turtle. Possibly as a result of the constant rush they were in, Orie developed a bit of a stutter. He always seemed to be in a hurry to get his words out and unable to slow down long enough to let his brain and mouth work together.
Orie was missing a finger. I’ve heard the story before but don’t exactly recall it. I think it had something to do with accidentally shooting oil into his finger (I can’t explain how that might happen…) and not going to the doctor until a bad infection had set in. Anyway, it was a farming accident and certainly made him unique!
He grew up Mennonite and was good at making things with his hands – especially with wood. He liked to drive cars and run anything with a motor. (By the way, Mennonite is not Amish. They were simple, but drove cars and had modern appliances.) When some of my boy cousins reached age 18, he took them to fill out their “conscientious objector” papers with the government so they would never be forced to fight in a war. (Mennonites are pacifists.) I don’t know how he stood on war in his later years though.
When I was a kid, he fed me fried calf brains for dinner. Mom about died. Not only did I eat them, but I kept telling Mom that it was “the best chicken” I’d ever had. I’ve never had them since then and have no intention of ever trying them again.
When Orie lived in Iowa, he built a cabin out in the woods. Our family went out there often for get-togethers. There are around 100 of us now if you count all the spouses and children. Having all those people at his cabin made him really, really happy. If Orie was anything, it was hospitable. He had such a gift of mercy and compassion, and he loved to have people in his home. The house he built in South Carolina is three stories. On the first floor, there are two apartments – one for Grandma and Grandpa; one for a single mom who needed help. On the second floor is their main living area – master bedroom, big kitchen, living room, office, and bedroom. On the third floor are more bedrooms and bathrooms, a large living area with a pool table and big screen TV, and a kitchenette. If you’re counting, that makes four kitchens, three laundry rooms, and I think six bathrooms. Why in the world would he build such a house? He NEEDED it. That house has been constantly filled with people ever since the day it was built. That was just who he was. There were always more cars at Uncle Orie’s house than parking spaces. I think over the years my brother may have spent more time over there with our cousin who is his age than he did at our own house.
He cared about my ministry and always asked how things at my church in Nashville were going. He had faith until the very end that God would heal his body and he would be a testimony to others of miraculous healing. He was a friend to me when I was struggling to communicate with my dad. He has been a friend to my brother. There are many other things I could write about my uncle here, but these are my main memories of him. It’s hard to imagine the world without him.
On the day before he died, Dad called me and my sister to let us know that he wasn’t doing well. He said we should go over there and see him. My sister and I quickly drove over, uncertain about arriving unannounced or what to say, but sure that we wanted to see him one last time. The man I saw that night was much too thin and suffering, but his heart was turned toward God. He was so glad to see us. He called us by name. Without a conscious thought, my hands reached out to touch him and prayers started out of me. I wanted so badly for God to take away his pain. I prayed that he would have comfort, strength, and healing. I felt so helpless and insignificant in the face of his pain. And I kissed his hand before I left, trying to get out before the tears I knew were coming spilled out.
My grandmother, Aunt Bev, and cousins David, Lydia, and Joseph will miss him the most. They have been by his side through this battle, caring for him and supporting him. My Aunt Bev is truly a woman of God. She ministered to Orie all of his life, but in these past months she cut out all distractions and focused on him and their family. Please pray for them as you read this blog. Their lives have been shockingly altered by his passing and they need our prayers as they grieve and try to figure out how to go on from here.