My uncle, William Virgil Roberson, passed away on Tuesday morning at the age of 64. He had cancer so it was not a complete surprise but since his diagnosis in the first months of this year, it has been a spiraling roller coaster. Literally one week after being told by the doctor that they just needed to remove him from some pain medicine and he would turn around, start eating more and could begin chemotherapy treatment again so he could fully recover, they were sending him home to say there was nothing they could do. It was less than two weeks later that just days after we were told he probably had about a month that they said he was in his final moments.
I do not get to see them often enough. But I’m always more grounded in who I am, where I come from and who I really belong to when I am with them. We even found a picture of a very distant relative, enjoying what appears to be whiskey, that looks freakishly like me. No one knows who she is but it is clear we are related.
We lost my grandmother three years ago this fall and I wrote a blog post after that experience, a little tribute to my crazy family. I wanted to include it again here in honor of my uncle. One of my last memories of Uncle Virgil happened just a few months after I moved to Richmond. I was anonymous and knew no one and was feeling really lost, honestly. His son, my cousin, lives in Richmond as well and invited me over to his little girl’s birthday party. It felt so safe to be with Uncle Virgil and Aunt Faye, so safe to be with family. They treated me like I belonged to them. When I went to leave, they walked me out and one of my last memories of my uncle is him helping me back out of the crazy driveway. He was helping me back up, making sure I didn’t run into anything. It was a small act, but it is usually the small acts with family that make us feel safe, loved and taken care of. I needed to feel loved, safe and taken care of in that moment. That little moment meant more than I ever said to Uncle Virgil but it is how I will always remember him. “I’m watching for you, don’t worry. You aren’t going to hit anything. You’re good.”
It has been a long week in my family. My grandmother, Chloe Hardison Roberson, passed away early on Monday morning. She had lived a long life and while we are sad, I think there is a general sigh that she is finally at peace. The woman who once knew everything that was going on in town, as the pastor said at her funeral, almost before it happened, no longer knew who we were and most days, where she was. She was a survivor and a fighter but the fight had gone out of her. The things I remember about my grandmother are her love for Mello Yellow, candy orange slices, that she always kept icee pops for the kids in her freezer, and the fact that she was a little ornery. Granny always had an opinion and she was always willing to share it with you. I learned later in life just how proud she was of me. Anytime my name would appear in the Biblical Recorder, a NC Baptist newspaper, she made sure everyone saw it. When I was hired as Baptist Campus Minister for the Raleigh Area, she wanted to make sure everyone knew.
Listening to the pastor speak, I realized that a lot of the things I like about myself I share in common with Granny. A friend once put it, “We are going to get around to the truth eventually, why not just get there now.” I’ve learned I have strong opinions and I pride myself on sharing them. I want to be transparent and let others know what I’m thinking. I’m fiercely protective of those I call “my own.” I’d like to think that I’ve learned to be a little tough myself along the way.
We have a big family….there are seven children still living, sixteen grandchildren, twenty-one great grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren. They organized us for the funeral by allowing the children and their spouses to process in and sit towards the front, the grandkids were together, etc. While it started out feeling a little weird not to be with our parents, it wound up making us feel like one unit. One clan, the Roberson family. While some have different last names now, we are the Robersons. And as I sat there, I was overwhelmed thinking, “I love these people. I really love these people.”
We are not often all in the same room so it was funny how overwhelmingly we all look alike as we gathered as a large group. We all have a little of Granny’s orneriness in us, but we are there for each other. As a family, we have struggled through difficult times together but no matter what, we have stood by each other in our times of crisis. We’ve visited hospitals as cousins struggled in a fight for their lives, we’ve rebuilt homes after hurricanes have knocked them down, we’ve stood by each other and loved each other unconditionally no matter what we may have done. We know how to celebrate with each other. We could rent out my aunts and uncles to make wedding receptions more lively because they know how to cut loose and have fun! We are funny and we love to laugh and tell stories. It’s even better if the stories are on each other.
As I sat there in my pew, I remembered jumping on the trampoline at my cousins Wendy and Eric’s house. I remember how cool I thought my Aunt Fay was because she is so crafty! I simply adore my Aunt Becky. I remember going exploring in the woods with my cousins Nikki and Will and us scaring ourselves silly. I remember looking forward to getting Nikki’s hand-me-downs because she was way cooler than I ever thought I could be growing up. I remember all of us cousins walking to the gas station from Granny’s on Easter and getting bubble gum eggs. I remember camping out in my Aunt Cindy’s back yard out on Hatteras and the amazing fresh seafood my Uncle Joey always brought to our family get togethers. I remember all of us playing bingo and our crazy Christmas gift exchange and all of us getting feisty with one another…because it’s in our DNA.
With family, it’s easy to just take one another for granted. But these are special people. I’m so glad my life is intwined with theirs. I’m glad to be part of our Roberson clan.”