My father’s brother, my Uncle Andy, passed away last week. Our entire family is devastated and struggling to find peace with the news. This weekend, those who live close by gathered at my Aunt Isabel’s house to mourn the loss together. While we began arrangements and sorted through photos, something bittersweet and beautiful began to transpire. My father, the youngest of the family of fourteen (Irish Catholics, God love ’em!), and his sisters started to share stories from their childhood. Most I had never heard before. Some sad, some funny. Like when my twin uncles were born and the family had no room in their home, so they slept in bureau drawers. Or how another uncle used to keep a pet squirrel in his pocket. Or the story about my grandma delivering my aunt by herself in an elevator. Or my grandpa who had to keep his helmet on at all times during the war because his fire-engine red hair would have tipped off snipers.
Despite our sadness, we laughed and sighed together, amazed how they all survived and were honored by their hardworking parents, who “put up with a lot of s#$%,” as Uncle Andy would have put it. For the ten remaining Johnston siblings – six women, four men – their lives have changed forever, but the stories that bind us as a family have come to be our silver lining.