I felt bad for my Uncle Keith. At 83, almost by accident, he managed to outlive not only his parents, his sister and four brothers, but he also survived his wife and youngest child to boot. Based on observing his sad experience, I can definitely say that outliving nearly everyone in your immediate family is not like winning some kind of contest. On the contrary, the poor guy was miserable with a capital M.
Eugene & Keith in the late 1940s
During our visit, he’d intermittently stop in mid-conversation and weep bitterly at the thought of his recently departed “baby girl,” Dawn, having left us much too young in her mid 40s. Openly weeping, head bowed nearly to chest, he continuously sobbed how he missed her. Her recent passing obviously had broken his fragile spirit, what there was left of it, not to mention breaking his old heart, already weakened from decades of atherosclerosis and more than 60 years of some serious chain smoking. I noted an ash tray full of butts on the table next to him. Obviously his health was the last thing on his mind.
Over the years, I became very fond of my Uncle Keith and Aunt Marilyn; I think, because they had demonstrated so much fondness for me. From the time I left for the marines at 18, over the next 27 years thereafter, whenever I made it home on leave they always made it a point to come see me. No matter what they had going on, no matter how busy, they made time to come visit, without exception. They dropped everything and came, every time. It was probably Aunt Marilyn who had the most to do with this wonderful aspect of their affection for me, but as a team, I think they were both pretty special. Even after Aunt Marilyn died of cancer a few years ago, Uncle Keith never failed to ask my parents how I was doing whenever they spoke.
In a special homage to the Aunt Marilyn side of “the team,” over the years, she spent hundreds of hours knitting Afghan coverlets, one for each of my kids, starting with Marie in 1979 all the way through Sarah in 2003. Only my mom showed more interest and got more involved in welcoming my children into the world. Indeed, I was determined to name my child (the one that turned out to be Sarah) either Marilyn or Keith, depending on the gender. My wife at the time wouldn’t go with Marilyn, so, she compromised and agreed to Sarah Marilyn. Post Mortem: Strange how things rarely go as imagined. When I learned that Uncle Keith had passed away last week I pictured him as leaving us by way of a simple heart attack or stroke, where he simply left us and moved on to be with the rest of his departed family and friends, but no, unfortunately I was disavowed of this notion when my mom sent the following email:
“…There is some controversy over Keith's death. When they were taking him to the hospital the original responders were just transporters. When they tried to move Keith from their gurney to the medical ambulance gurney they dropped him and he landed on the right side of his head. He died shortly after that. They tried to resuscitate but could not save him...”
“What a Keystone Cops episode that was for Uncle Keith's last moments. Geez. Seems like all the Spear boys just had bad luck on the end side of their lives, didn’t they? I mean, didn't any of them get a break? Now this... and what does that mean...transporters? What the heck? He had a heart attack at home or something and they didn't send a medical ambulance? I never heard of such a thing as "transporters." Explain please?”
“He was at St. Francis Nursing Home, as the doctor said he could no longer live alone at home. They called the ambulance to take him to the hospital, as he was having some bad chest pain. Instead of the ambulance coming, it was people who are equipped to only take the patient to the hospital (transporters); there must have been a problem at the EMT Center. Well, then the medically equipped EMT ambulance finally did arrive, but only after they had already gotten Keith on the transporter gurney outside the nursing home. So, they elected to transfer him. Why they couldn't use the same gurney is beyond me.
You are right though; all four of the brothers died the hard way—no easy way out for any of them.”