Just Love

He sat in his wheelchair outside for most of our recent Easter visit, chain smoking and singing to himself loud and off key.

My uncle. My dad’s older brother.

He’s paranoid schizophrenic and has been institutionalized for the better part of 50 years. 50 years, y’all! He was sixteen when his father died. Then he had a breakdown and has never been the same since.

I remember watching him when I was young. A handsome Italian man with a loud laugh. Whenever we visited my dad’s family, Uncle Larry would have a weekend out of the hospital to be with us, drinking cartons of chocolate milk in one sitting and watching old horror movies on his tiny black and white tv upstairs in his room. I remember watching his hands shake and hearing his heavy breathing. I remember watching his personality shift and being fearful of his moods.

I remember phone calls he would make to my father and delusions he would have, and I remember hearing the frustration in my dad’s voice, the heartbreak. I remember visits to the hospitals on holidays when Uncle Larry wasn’t allowed to leave, and I remember hearing words slice through the air. Words I had never heard before that found me asking those awkward questions of my parents on the drive home.

Now I watch my children watch Uncle Larry, and I marvel at their resiliance. I see Asher’s dark eyes search Uncle Larry’s face, and I can read the questions behind those eyes, but he doesn’t ask them. Bear just sits quietly and gently interacts with him, answering questions that often don’t make much sense.

But Bella. Oh, my Bella.

She spent the whole afternoon outside with him, telling us she was fine with Uncle Larry because he was a grown up and was watching her (which found us hiding our smiles and sending another adult outside anyway). She sang and danced and gathered pine cones in her pink bucket and showed Uncle Larry her treasures. There he sat, grayed and no longer handsome, pills having taken what little life he had away from him in order to give him a “normal life”. And every time she skipped up the ramp, he’d laugh and say, “There’s that beautiful girl.” And she’d dance away to a find a new treasure.

Once we got back to our hotel, as I was getting her fresh and clean and jammied, Bella clapped her hands and said to me, “The next time I see Uncle Larry, I’m gonna run right up to him and hug him and help him laugh again, even if he smells bad.”

Oh, how I bundled that girl in my arms and held her!

She didn’t care if he was different. She noticed, but didn’t care that he reeked of cigarette smoke and greasy hair. She didn’t wrinkle up her nose or distance herself.

She. just. loved.

Oh, that we could all be like her!

5 responses to “Just Love”

  1. Oh, to love like a child. What a beautiful picture to emulate – that childlike freedom to love…
    Continually praying for you and your fam, Angie…

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  2. Children teach me so much…

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  3. She is a treasure and I agree – we should all be that open and accepting.

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  4. And that is why I spend my days working with children. They love first. Thank-you (and your sweet Bella) for this reminder.

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  5. oh angie, how i hope we get to meet this sweet girl one day! her heart reflects the unconditional love you and brian have shown all of your precious kids. thanks for sharing this picture of christ’s ways with all of us broken people 🙂

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