My husband's uncle, Bill Guarnere, passed away yesterday. To the world, he was "Wild Bill Guarnere" of HBO's documentary Band of Brothers, but to my husband and our family, he was just "Uncle Billy."
Uncle Billy, even to his last, earned the moniker 'wild' for good reason. I laugh when I think of it, because it seems like all the Guarnere men followed faithfully after him as a result. His sense of humor, his disregard for "keeping up appearances" and simply telling it like it was, and his fierce love of family and loyalty to friends can all be seen - underscored - in the line of Guarnere men he inspired.
So given how much they all looked up to him and revered his status as patriarch of the family, it was a terrible blow to hear news he had passed suddenly on Saturday.
At the same time Uncle Billy was being rushed to the hospital, a good chunk of the Guarnere clan was already at the hospital tending to another one of our own... the one you won't hear news stories about or see documentaries on, but the one who, even from her hospital bed, unites the entire family in love and devotion. Her name is Lena, and she is Uncle Billy's sister-in-law. She's currently doing battle with pneumonia and could benefit from some prayers if you'd all be so kind.
Anyway, I bring Nan up for two reasons in reference to Uncle Billy. Both showcase, in my mind, the type of love (and bit of humor) Uncle Billy always showed to his family.
On Friday morning, Uncle Mike, Nanny's son, called Uncle Billy to set a date to grab coffee. Uncle Mike apologized for not being around, but Uncle Billy waved him off the phone and said, "Don't you worry about me. Go take care of your mother. She needs you right now."
Of course he'd say that. Uncle Billy didn't care about himself. He knew Nan needed Uncle Mike, so he sacrificed time with his nephew so he could be near her. I'm sure if he were able, he'd've been at her bedside, too. That's just how Uncle Billy is.
Which leads me to reason number two.
I spent five hours with Nanny on Saturday. Several other family members were standing vigil as well. Two times Nan brought up Uncle Billy, and here's where I imagine his sense of humor came in to play.
The first time, my Aunt Donna was leaning over Nan to see if she'd recognize her. Nan affirmed she recognized her, but she insisted that her husband was between the two of them. She asked, "Why is my husband here?"
Aunt Donna looked at me and asked if she'd heard her correctly. I smiled and said, "Yup. She's asking about Pop Pop."
A few moments later, she asked again, but then she said, "Bill is in the way. Get out of the way."
I looked at Aunt Donna, but she was talking to her sister. Grandma Gloria, however, seemed to have heard her, and she smiled back at me and nodded. I thought it was funny that Gram heard her (given how terrible her hearing is) but my two aunts did not. I thought Nan might've been talking about a nurse or something.
About an hour or so later, I was in the room with Nanny, myself. She'd finally nodded off, and I'd sent Uncle Mike and Uncle Frankie to eat dinner. I used that time to pray at Nan's side, holding her hand. I had just finished the Three Beautiful Prayers when she jolted awake.
I thought she might've been startled by the beeping across the hall. She looked at me and I said, "Morning, Nan. You feeling okay?"
She said, "Yeah. I feel alright."
I asked, "Do you want me to grab you some lemon water?"
She said, "No. Bill brought me up."
Again with this Bill person. It never even occurred to me she could've been talking about Uncle Billy. I thought she was confused, and I said, "No, Nanny. You were sleeping. Is your mouth dry? Let me get some water."
As I spooned the lemon water into her mouth, she stared past me and asked an unseen person why he was still standing around. She reached her hand out and said something along the lines of "Get on, already. Go get my husband."
Again, my heart hurt because I feared Nanny was starting to see visitors from the other side of the veil. I said, "Nanny, who are you talking to? Who do you want to go get Pop Pop?"
She looked at me and said nothing. She just leaned back in the bed and sighed.
A few hours later, we got news that Uncle Billy had passed. I didn't put two and two together until I was on my way home from the hospital. I honestly think when his soul left his body, he stopped off to strengthen Nanny for her journey. She, in reply, waved him off and sent him to reunite with her husband, his brother, to begin enjoying Heaven together.
So please, say a few prayers for the repose of Uncle Billy's soul and the strength of my Nan. Pray also for the broken hearts of my husband's family. Uncle Billy was revered by them, and for good reason. He was more than just a soldier - he was the force that bonded so many of them together. His charisma commanded the attention of everyone, and his generosity and love commanded their respect.
My heart is broken for them because I know how deeply this loss is felt. And to experience losing Uncle Billy in the midst of watching Nanny deteriorate... it's just a terribly difficult road to walk right now. So please, keep them all entrenched in prayer. Pray for their comfort, their peace, and Divine strength. They will need much of that in the coming days and weeks. We all will.
Godspeed, Uncle Billy. God bless you and the family you leave behind.
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