Uncle Chris

Towards the beginning of the service Friday, the priest said, "Today let's tell a story. A story about Jesus. And a story about Chris."

Here's my story about Chris and Jesus. But it starts with Chris.

Chris is the youngest of eleven kids, a part of a large Catholic Wisconsin family with deep roots in a few small towns in the same area north of Milwaukee. (Josh's mom is the third-youngest of the siblings) His parents raised the kids on a farm on the shore of Lake Michigan, and Chris' oldest niece was born just months after him! Chris never lived outside of that area, in his whole 52 years. He started working construction in high school, and married at 18, to his lovely wife Barbara. Within 3 years of being married, they had two children, Amy & Andy.

In the early 1980's, Chris started his own construction company. Starting any company is a lot of work, and the labor-intensive construction business was no exception. Chris' business became well-known in the area for specializing in luxury homes on the lake, many built on plots that were once part of his parents' farm. He loved his work and threw himself into it- Josh remembers as a child going to visit Wisconsin, staying at Grandma's, and seeing Uncle Chris for only a few minutes in each visit, even though he lived right next door, because he worked from dawn to dusk, and they saw him for those few minutes because he stored much of his equipment in his parents' barn next to the house. And they were successful! Chris built his family a beautiful house right next door to the one he grew up in, very open and airy and full of a lot of wood. Beautiful.

As hard as he worked, Chris also played the hardest of the bunch. He was the typical goofy youngest child. He'd put bunny-ears in family pictures, he reportedly played a mean hand of Sheepshead, and he loved to golf and hunt and do other social things.

This is the part of the story where Jesus comes in.

In December of 1998, Chris' wife Barb had a stroke. When it happened, he was frantic. He drove her to the hospital, who wrote her off and said there was nothing they could do. With that news, he promptly drove her to another hospital, needing a better prognosis. And he got it! I don't know the details of the following months, but Barb did recover from her stroke. Today, she still has very limited use of her right side, and has only a few words in her vocabulary, but Barb is still there. (With those few words, she can communicate a lot with voice inflection and hand motions!) Even with her recovery, Chris struggled with the stroke, and called family in the wee hours of the morning just to talk and deal with the changes. During the months and years after the stroke, Chris did a 180. His wife needed him, and he was there for her. He cooked for her, drove her to doctor's appointments, helped her with daily tasks, and even learned to do her hair and make-up! Most of all, this crisis point in his life made his faith real to him. He has said, it is at this point, during this time, that he knew he believed.

He worked less. His 14-hour days turned into 8 hour days. He accepted fewer houses at a time to work on. He was around more at family gatherings. And most of all, he was obviously, deeply in love with his wife. It was so much for to see them together. They had a way of communicating- and, although Barb couldn't speak many words, she could sing- and her and Chris would go back and forth singing special songs. They even made it down for our wedding two years ago, and Chris allowed us to use his lakehouse in northern Wisconsin as our honeymoon destination- a huge blessing to us!

Less than a year ago, the mother of the eleven siblings passed away. Chris seemed to take it harder than any of them, being the youngest and living so close to her his whole life. A week ago Saturday, Chris had a massive heart attack and joined his mother in heaven.

It was all very unexpected. The oldest of the siblings are in their 70's, and, as one said at the showing Thursday, "Some of us are ready to go!" Chris was only 52. He had just finished modifying their house so Barb could get around easily in the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and other areas. Just 3 weeks ago, he & Barb were vacationing with friends in Washington DC, seeing the sights. The friends said he was tireless when he pushed Barb around in a wheelchair at the different sites, and somehow managed to take luggage along as well!

No one in the family will forget his joy and playfulness, nor the devotion to his family. With other deaths, they were "expected"- after a long life and long illness. People had prepared themselves. With Chris, it was less expected, but we know God knows what he's doing. As I overheard, "Between [Chris' parents]Mom, Dad, Chris, and Uncle Donnie, there's a tough game of Sheepshead going on up there!"

See an album of pictures:

Read the official obituary here.

1 comment:

Kacie said...

What a lovely tribute. I'm so sorry for your loss.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin