Okay, everyone. I need you all to lean in close. I’m going to tell you something you don’t know.
Uncle Brad was a secret agent.
To my eleven year-old self, there was no other explanation. In the 1970s, he was double-o seven cool in his aviator sunglasses, slacks, slim-cut collared shirts, and pointed Italian loafers. His hair was always perfect, and there was never a hint of a five o’clock shadow. He wore a fancy silver watch and carried a cigarette in his hand like a sixth finger.
He even smelled good.
The summer I turned eleven, back in the -ee days when Ken was Kenny and I was Shelly, I shared my suspicions about our secret agent uncle with my cousins, Kenny and Lori, and my sister Heidi.
That summer, at family gatherings during Strawberry Days, 4th of July, and Pioneer Day, we spent a lot of time doing our own spying from the tops of Grandma’s maple trees and peering out from behind the lilac and bayberry bushes. Kenny was in charge of the notebook where we recorded our observations. We waited patiently for Uncle Brad to use his fancy watch to contact his superiors and disappear in a silent helicopter that we knew would land out by the apple trees.
But Uncle Brad was a pro. We never caught him doing anything more exciting than blowing smoke rings. Decades later, when I told him about that summer, he laughed and laughed. I found out last night from Aunt Susie that some of the joke was on us. He told her that he never liked wearing aviator sunglasses, but he wore them because he knew the nieces and nephews liked them.
To be fair, when I was even younger, I was convinced that Aunt Betty moonlighted as Doris Day in movies. As I child, I may have had an overactive imagination.
And while Uncle Brad wasn’t a spy, it wasn’t my imagination that told me he was something even rarer: a person who loved each of us unconditionally.
Human life is messy. No one understood that better or had more compassion for messy than Uncle Brad. He had the gift of seeing each of us as who we truly are. He cheered our successes and mourned with us through our trials. I know of several occasions when envelopes full of hope, sympathy, and cash simply appeared when times were tough for many of us. During one of the last conversations I had with him, when he was so sick that he couldn’t hardly speak, he wanted to know how one of the cousins was doing and what he could do to help.
From his deathbed, he wanted to help.
Uncle Brad was quick with a hug. There was a law that you couldn’t go to Provo Towne Center without stopping into Sears to see him.
Like a master spy, Uncle Brad worked quietly behind the scenes. After his retirement, at family gatherings, he was the first to arrive and the last to leave. A wiz at setting up tables and chairs, he never let me carry a box to my car.
He made Kevin do it.
Uncle Brad was never the center of attention, but he loved to talk with people one on one. He always wanted to know what was going on in our lives, and he showed how deeply he cared by remembering the tiniest details about what we told him. Years later he’d ask how something had turned out. If it was important to us, it was important to him.
But as much as he loved his nieces and nephews, his greatest joy was in his daughter Katherine and in his grandsons. He loved them fiercely. I remember the delight in his eyes when he told me about how smart Katherine was to be able to juggle so many things at work, how amazingly well Kyle sang at three, how Chaser learned to drive, or how naturally Gunny played ball.
Like many men of his generation, his focus was on providing for his family. He worked long, hard hours. He was a patriot who served his county in both the Navy and Army. When I asked him why, he told me that he just had to see how the other half lived–and who had the better food. I remember him golfing, camping, and fishing, but I think I was in my thirties before I saw him wearing a pair of jeans.
James Bond didn’t wear jeans, either. Just sayin’.
As his health deteriorated, we saw him less and less. Family celebrations became too much for him. During the last years, I know he dreamed of drinking a tall glass of water or an icy Coke—neither of which was possible for him to do.
Earlier this week Aunt Betty sent me this:
“I know that Brad’s cancer was a terrible disease, and I saw Heavenly Father’s love helping my husband to get through it. Because my husband was a kind and loving person, he chose to trust in our Father in Heaven as he faced such a grueling four year battle. I saw his faith and love for the gospel grow tremendously. He was able to receive his temple endowment and be sealed to me forever. In the last few days of his life, I asked him several times if he was afraid. He always said no. When I asked how he was feeling, he would sometimes ask for pain medication, but always told me he was fine. I am so thankful for him and the courage he showed. He is and was the bravest person I have ever known.”
I was there in the temple when he was sealed to Aunt Betty. He was frail, and I remember how physically difficult it was for him to be there. Just last week, Uncle Brad told my mother, the original Kathy, that he wished he’d had the opportunity to be a temple worker. He thought he’d be a good one.
I work in the Provo Temple in the baptistery. I testify to you that the veil has two sides. Without a shadow of a doubt, I know that he is there, loving us all unconditionally. Heaven is full of guardian angels. He is still here, supporting us through our trials and cheering our successes. If you close your eyes, you can feel him wrap his arms around you in a hug.
Aloha ‘oe, Uncle Brad. Until we meet again. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.