Uncle George - The man with a perpetual smile
This is the story of an elderly gentleman who has played a important and influential role in my life. It all began with my chance encounter in April 2006 which prompted me to write a short story of that meeting. This is the story entitled “Love begins when we grow old” which I wrote which inspired me to write more such stories on many other elderly people who passed through our lives.
In this 91st birthday of this wonderful gentleman I would to pay tribute to him by recalling my dealings with him over the past 5 years which continues on till now.
Love begins when we grow old(April 16 2006)
“On a recent trip back home, I happened to meet an elderly gentlemanI used to know him since I was a schoolboy. We used to fondly call him, Uncle George. I had not met him for many years after I left my little hometown of Batu Gajah in Perak for the university.
As school children and youth members of the Church of St.Joseph in Batu Gajah, we used to accompany him on his visits to the sick in the hospital and also visit the St.Vincent de Paul society adoptees in their homes. In fact it was these hospital visits with him that in a way inspired me to take up medicine as a career.
What strikes us most about him is his perpetual cheerfulness, which washis greatest gift from God. As a matter of fact I have never seen him angry or sad. Because of this gift of his he was well liked by all, especially the children. Even now amidst all his problems he still is cheerful as ever always full of laughter.
He lived alone with his wife,Grace,both in their eighties, and spends all his time taking care of her, who is now handicapped due to an accident. He still cycled out to town, few miles away, several times a day to get food for himself and his wife.
That morning when I met him I greeted him and invited him to join my wife and me for breakfast. His meal cost me just a few dollars. He told us about his family and his wife who happened to be rather sickly of late. He updated us about his son, his late daughter and many other old friends of his who I used to know. After the breakfast,we wished him well and left.
A week later I was surprised to receive a letter from him praising me and my wife with such fantastic words, praises that we don’t really deserve. The following paragraph in his letter really touched us. I quote,
“This year I am 86 and my wife is 82.If we can live till 28.12.06 we will be married for 60 years and we can live to celebrate our diamond jubilee. Yes, you know doctor true love begins when we grow old; I think I love my wife more than I first met her. But soon we will have to part”.
A mere two ringgit, few encouraging words and the willingness to spare a few minutes to listen to him were all that were needed to touch a life in the form of Uncle George. In return his invaluable experience of “TRUE LOVE” managed to touch us deeply. His experience in life is a reminder to us that love, contrary to what we think, never fades, it only grows with time. This reinforces by fervent belief that there are still lot of good things in life that cannot be obtained with money and power and that, is thoseare the greatest gift of God to us, not material wealth.
I was very touched by the love and care the elderly gentleman had for his sickly wife of 60 years that I wrote to our local Catholic Weekly, Herald and the editor decided to publish my story. This brought many old friends and relatives to visit Uncle George and his wife. Uncle George kept on writing letter after letter praising and thanking us for the “great” things we had done for them.
We revisited the elderly couple a few weeks later and were surprised at what we heard from them. Uncle George and auntie Grace, who were living in loneliness, were overjoyed to have visitors who came after seeing the my story in the Herald. They were particularly grateful to Herald for publishing their story. There were also numerous phone calls from long lost friends and relatives. I could virtually see the glow of happiness in their faces. These were the things that they really longed for. We prayed more will continue to visit uncle and his wife.
Their request to us all was simple. This is what he said: “It is not money, gifts or food that we need. All we ask for is the love of fellow humans to spare some time for elderly people like us who are so lonely”.
In my conversation with them I realized they had a great fear of loneliness. They have everything they need – house, food, and clothing – but all they long for is the company of people, children, grandchildren and friends.
This experience with Uncle George and his wife led us to look out for many others who are also in similar situations. We understand that the fear of loneliness is not peculiar to this couple. Many other elderly couples also share similar sentiments. The strange thing is that this fear was also there when we were children, but our parents were always there to console and reassure us, often with just their warm embrace. But when our parents are in the twilight of their lives, we as children are not there to comfort them and allay their fears. We are too busy and preoccupied with our jobs and families.
All couples intending to get married, those having marital problems and want to rejuvenate the fading love in marriage should make a visit to Uncle George and his wife and I’m sure they will be able to touch you as well.”
Let’s go out to look for more Uncles George
Follwing my story “Love grows when we grow old” in Herald April 16, 2006,there was another contribution by another old friend,Peter Wong who wrote a wonderful piece about the goodness of Uncle George entitled “Uncle George is the best!” (Herald May 7). As a follow up of my story I wrote another letter “Let’s go out to look for more Uncles George” which was as follows:
“Uncle George and auntie Grace were overjoyed to have visitors who came after seeing the above letters in the Herald. They were particularly grateful to Herald for publishing those letters. There were also numerous phone calls from long lost friends and relatives. I could virtually see the glow of happiness in their faces. These were the things that he really longed for.
I hope more will continue to visit uncle and his wife. Their request to us all is simple,“It is not money, gifts or food that we need. All we ask for is the love of fellow humans to spare some time for elderly people like us who are so lonely”.
There are hundreds, may be thousands, of uncles George scattered all over in our parishes, living in loneliness and fear of imminent death not of themselves but of their spouse. They are desperately yearning for our love. All we need is to spare some time for them. As Christians are we on the look out for such people who yearn for our love and affection? Some of us may be too busy with our work that we do not recognize them although they are in our midst.
Our priests must take the lead. They must lead us, the laity, to search and reach out to the hundreds of such people in our parish. These days the priests are increasingly seen as mere administrators of church rituals which by them serve no purpose without any substance. As people of God let’s rally behind our pastors in search of those in need and extend the love that Christ has bestowed upon us.
Very often we are quick to anoint the sick and dying when in coma and subsequently give them a grand funeral, rather than being supportive and be with him when they were alive earlier. Let’s be more willing to share our love with the living rather than the dead.”
With this second letter to Herald the issue of Uncle George came to a close as far as Herald was concerned but it was the beginning of our lasting relationship with Uncle George.He started to address my wife as his “God ma” although she was the age of his late daughter. He started to write letters to us almost every 2 weeks and in return we used to call him and whenever were down in Batu gajah make it a point to visit him and take him home for some food and chit chat.
Fear comes real
Saturday,November 25 2006, must have been the most dreadful day for the 87year old we used to call Uncle George. That evening I got a call from him and over the phone between sobs he said “Doctor, Aunty Grace is dead. I’m scared, don’t know what to do. I’m all alone now ….”
He was not able to continue further.All I could do was to console him over the phone and headed back home to visit him the following morning.
When I arrived at his place he came forward, hugged me and cried. That was the first time I had ever seen tears in his eyes. As I had said earlier, God’s greatest gift to him was his perpetual cheerfulness. Even between sobs I could see him trying to laugh.
He kept on repeating that he is all alone and there is no one to keep him company. After the funeral was over, he insisted to stay in his house all alone so that he could continue to live with all the fond memories of his wife of sixty long years. In fact he had made arrangements to celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary on 28 December 2006 but the Lord had other plans for him instead.
I still remember what he told me a year ago,“This year I am 86 and my wife is 82.If we can live till 28.12.06 we will be married for 60 years and we can live to celebrate our diamond jubilee. Yes, you know doctor true love begins when we grow old; I think I love my wife more than I first met her. But soon we will have to part”.
Yes, now the time he dreaded most had come. The dearest love and the better half of his for sixty years had parted and he is all-alone in this world. This is how he described his nightmare in the days following the loss of his wife: “The thoughts of her haunt me all the time. I have no appetite and have sleepless nights since she left me. I start crying all the time.”
He kept writing to me week after week narrating how he was finding it hard to forget his wife, which I think he has no reason to do so. He prayed and prayed every night that God will unite him soon with his wife. “ I pray the good Lord will take me soon as I feel lost now living alone,” he wrote in one of his letters.
He even went to the extent in saying how he wished he could embalm the body of his wife and place it in a glass coffin so that he can keep seeing her all the time. I was really touched by depth of his love for his wife.
The fear of loneliness
The greatest fear of man is his loneliness, more so when it comes at the twilight of his life when he is drained out of all his physical strength. Uncle George keeps on harping on this fear factor that is taking a great toll on his health at the twilight of his life. He was so grateful and appreciative of those who visit or even telephoned him. “Thank you for your telephone calls, it really cheers me up to hear you and your dear lady’s voice when I feel so lonely and sad.” he says.
I began to appreciate this fear of loneliness, which Uncle George kept harping. It made me aware that many in our midst are suffering from such loneliness and I must look out for them and do whatever I can to allay that fear. Yes, It was this experiences with Uncle George inspired my wife and I to go out to look for lonely elderly people around us.
Uncle George is just one fine example. There are hundreds, probably thousands of such lonely people around us - in our neighborhood, in our place of work and even in our own families. Many of us may be too busy with our work that we do not recognize them although they are in our midst yearning for our company.
In a world where marriage is not sacred anymore and couples resort to divorce for the smallest problem, sometimes very trivial, the love of Uncle George for his wife of sixty years should touch us in many ways. We should be resolved to emulate him in our lives as well. It further strengthens my firm belief that our spouse is God’s specially selected gift to us and we must treasure them till deaths do us apart.
I hope many, especially married couples, would visit Uncle George not just to console him but to learn from his experiences of sixty years of happily married life. We ask God to bless Uncle George with many more years of healthy life so that he can continue to be a shining example for us all.
Uncle George’s 90th.BirthdayOn 3 June 2010,Uncle George celebrated his 90th birthday. His son organized a grand celebration in his house that was attended by over a hundred people. He was very happy to be in the midst of so many people after a very long time.
I had known you since I was schoolboy, following you on hospital visitation as a young legionary. You were a God sent guide, as it were these visits to sick that inspired me to become a doctor. I salute you for that uncle.
Your perpetual smile and cheerfulness is God’s greatest gift, which many are denied. I have never seen you angry or sad under whatever circumstances. God took away your only daughter and then your most beloved wife but still you remain cheerful to this day, a sign of your unshakable faith in Him.
Your great sense of gratitude touched me as today even our own children whom we love so much fail us when we need them most. Your gratitude for the little attention we gave you was revealed in the numerous letters, which you sent us.
Your relationship with your late wife taught us an important lesson in life about true love. We still remember what you said a few years ago when she was still with you, “true love begins when we grow old; I think I love my wife more than I first met her”. These words reminds us that love, contrary to what we think, never fades, it only grows with time.
In a world where marriage is not sacred anymore and divorce so rampant, your endless love for your wife even after she had left you is indeed a wonder.
Some people make the world a better place by just being in it and undeniably you are one of them. On this 90th birthday we wish that the Lord gives you many more years of healthy and memorable life.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY UNCLE GEORGE
Uncle George turns 91This J 3, Uncle George turns 91; he is still in great health, moving around on his bicycle. Although his physical strength and vitality may be slowly failing him so are some of his of his senses but he insists in staying independently all by himself. Despite the loss his only daughter and his most beloved wife of 60 years which have taken a great toll on his happiness and all the setbacks caused by his advancing age, he is still as cheerful as ever. He still appears to me as the same old Uncle George whom I used to know when I was a schoolboy over forty years ago.
His cheerfulness is so contagious that every time we meet him we go back with great joy and satisfaction in my heart. We hope and pray that God will grant us that cheerfulness to be shared with those we meet.
Since 2006 he had written over 75 letters to us which we have all treasured and kept safely filed. In We continue to maintain our relationship by phone and regular meetings with him. He is a regular guest at all our family functions.
On this 91st birthday, we would like to wish him the very best in his life. We pray that God will continue to bless him good health and great courage to meet the many difficulties that may come his way at this stage in his life. We pray that the Lord continue to bless him with abundant peace and happiness forever.
In conclusion let’s recall the words of Uncle George which offers a great lesson for us who may soon be in his shoes,
“It is not money, gifts or food that we need. All we ask for is the love of fellow humans to spare some time for elderly people like us who are so lonely”.
These words reflect not just his but the predicament of many other elderly men and women in our midst. Let’s do the little within our means to allay such fears in those at the twilight of their lives..
Happy 91st. Birthday Uncle George