This is not the post I had planned for today but life never seems to turn out the way we planned. My paternal Uncle, Gerald P. Sigal, passed away today, approximately one year after he was diagnosed with cancer. Jerry is survived by his lovely and dedicated wife, Norma; their two sons, Peter and Ivan; and Jerry’s lone-surviving brother, Dr. Roland Sigal (my father.) Jerry had been the youngest (by 14 years) of the 3 sons of Philip and Nancy Sigal of Bethlehem, Pa.: Roland (my Dad) was the eldest, Michael (who passed away at Thanksgiving 2002) and Jerry. I did not know either of my Uncles very well, having met Michael only once and Jerry only 3 times in my life. That is a tragedy in itself that plays out in many families where members are estranged for one reason or another, but one which I tried to remedy.
The last time I saw my Uncle Jerry was almost exactly 7 years ago (July 2003), just a month before I began my first round of chemo. Very conscious of the rather dim odds for survival and having lost the opportunity to get to know my Uncle Mike due to his very early death due to a rare form of Leukemia in 2002, I felt driven to go and meet with members of my family whom I hadn’t seen in years, hardly knew or in many cases, had never met. So I packed up my car and drove myself the 350 miles to Reading, Pa. It’s a small town high up in the Pocono Mountains and while suffering from a distressed economy, it is a showplace for what money can’t buy: incredibly beautiful views of the mountains and valleys, forests and streams that surround the town. While there, I stayed with one of Uncle Mike’s 4 children, Andy Sigal and his enthusiastic, pretty wife, Sandy. This was my first time meeting ANY of my first-cousins and was a real treat. Andy and Sandy not only opened their home to me, but showed me around the town and took me to meet his step-mother (Barbara Sigal), his youngest sister (Flora Spector), and our mutual aunt and uncle (Norma and Jerry Sigal). I was invited to dinner at Jerry’s home (a really fantastic century (actually, I believe it was close to 200 years old) home on the crest of one of the mountains with a flowing stream at the bottom of a ravine on one side and a delightful flower garden in back. We had dinner under a trellis covered patio in the back and afterward, I first got a tour of the house where they had done a considerable amount of work restoring it, making it inhabitable for 21st century living, and making it truly their own, and then had the opportunity to just sit and talk in their cozy little den.
I don’t know if you’ve ever sat down with someone whom you are closely related to but had lived 40+ years essentially being complete strangers. It is both exciting and scary and awkward at first. I knew relatively little about my uncle beforehand, other than that he was an attorney who enjoyed sailing and flying small planes for a hobby (just like my grandfather and father), that he was 6 ft. -4 in. tall with the classic good looks of all the Sigal men, and that his wife was a Hebrew School Teacher and Administrator. Oh yeah, I also knew that when he was a teenager, he had once stolen a sign for a cave that was a big, local tourist draw. (I knew this last fact only because when I was 10 yrs. old, I slept up in a loft bedroom at my grandmother’s farm where that sign was hung on the wall.) My visit with Jerry and Norma was for only a few hours but I found them both very open and easy to talk to and that we had a number of mutual interests. I learned a lot about their sons, whom I had never met, and we even visited their websites so I could see some of their blogs, published articles, news releases, bios, photography, and videos. Jerry and Norma were beaming with obvious (and well-deserved pride. I learned my uncle’s “side of the story” about the family in general and his relationship with my father at various times in his life, and I was surprised by the vehemence (fiercely proud) with which he spoke about my father’s military service and business acumen. There was a 14 year difference between Roland and Jerry and it was clear that my Dad had been his hero while growing up, but unrealistic expectations grew into resentment and clashes with my Dad’s 2nd wife created an excuse to grow distant. I also learned their plans to move to Ocracoke, North Carolina the following year after Jerry retired. I left there that night with a warm and positive feeling and felt that the door now opened would lead to a continuing new relationship.
Unfortunately, my life took a detour I had never expected, and while by the grace of G-d I managed to survive not only that round of chemo but 2 more subsequent rounds and have thus far managed to outlive the original prognosis I was given, the years between 2003 and March of 2010 were devastating to my body and mind and for most of that time, I could not even sit up, feed, or bath myself. What little energy I had been zapped by this lawsuit I’ve been trapped in and so I had nothing left in me to follow-up with my Uncle, Aunts, and cousins, and now I’ve yet again lost my Uncle Jerry and my opportunity to have been a “real family” with him. I’ve no idea whether he felt a loss in those regards but I’d like to believe that he would’ve really liked my husband and son and that we could have helped bring him and my Dad closer together. I guess that will have to wait for our next lifetimes, if such miracles occur. In the meantime, “Fly High, Uncle Jerry! I’ll be looking towards the sky hoping to see you there.”
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