“Uncle George is an angel now!” my youngest son Henry announced scarcely before I stepped in the door this past week. “He’s gone to heaven.”
It had been something I was dreading for some time – how to explain to Henry about losing a close relative. In this case, it was my Uncle George who Henry was very fond of. George Woodard, who lived here until about 10 years ago before moving back to his original town of Pulaski, passed away this weekend at the age of 92.
His passing wasn’t something that came as a surprise. I took my mother and Henry to visit him just two weeks ago after one of my cousins told me things were going downhill in a hurry. Given his rapidly deteriorating health, both I and mom realized after our visit two weeks ago that it would be the last time we’d see him. Henry had given George a big hug before leaving that day, but I wasn’t sure he quite understood the gravity of the situation.
“Uncle George is very sick,” I explained to Henry on the way home after that visit, wanting to prepare him for the inevitable. “He may not be with us very much longer.”
Henry cocked his head, looked out the backseat window of the car and then gave me a serious look. “Is he going to die?” he surprised me with his question.
In case you didn’t know it, and some of you who only know my youngest son through my columns may not, Henry has autism. He is high functioning but it takes him a bit to get his head around certain concepts.
“Yes, Henry,” I responded. “He is going to die.”
Henry got quiet for a moment, obviously trying to process it before looking back at me. “Is he going to heaven?” he asked.
I chuckled to myself and looked back at him through the rearview mirror. I mean, if Uncle George doesn’t make it to heaven then none of us are going. “Oh, I’m positive of that,” I replied. “He was a good man.”
This past weekend, when we got the call of George’s passing, Henry still took it pretty hard. He was very “blue” as Henry refers to his being sad. I could also tell he was nervous about going to the funeral home.
“You can stay out in the lobby,” I said, offering him an out when we arrived at the funeral home Sunday afternoon.
Henry shook his head. “No,” he replied. “I want to go see Uncle George.”
I have to admit, I was proud how he composed himself. I was talking to cousins elsewhere in the room as he and his mother waited their turn in the receiving line. I watched as he walked up to the casket, paid his final respects and then stepped over to give his aunt a tight hug.
On the way home, Henry no longer seemed “blue” as he had before. Instead, it seemed his visit to pay his respects set him at peace.
“Uncle George is an angel now?” he asked on the way home.
“Yes, Henry,” I replied. “Uncle George is an angel.”
Standard reporter Duane Sherrill can be reached at 473-2191.