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2017-09-03 08:50 pm
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My uncle, my mother's younger brother, died this morning from brain cancer. He was first diagnosed about thirteen or fourteen months ago. It's been a slow and frustrating year of setbacks that brings us to today.

He was in several ways the family rebel. Unlike his sister and brothers, he didn't go straight to college after high school. Instead he worked various odd jobs and wandered around in his early twenties, before going to air conditioning repair school and ultimately getting a bachelor's degree in engineering and finding a career as a biomedical devices engineer. He was also a rebel in other ways- my mother describes the menagerie of snakes and birds he kept in the attic when he was a teenager with a bemused wonder. He was the only one of his New York bred family to flee the East Coast, living happily in Southern California. He was a person who always listened to his gut and pursued what made him happy regardless of what other people thought. I always admired him for that.

As the only engineer in the family, he was a role model for me. He gave me advice several times when I was in college about how to navigate the next step on my path to becoming an engineer. It meant so much to me, after I got my first job out of college, to be able to sit with him at Thanksgiving and discuss our work together, engineer to engineer. I think it was the thing that finally said to me that I had made it. He had a knack for solving problems with his hands. At various times he taught me little offhanded lessons about plumbing and carpentry.

He was one of the most intensely curious people I know. He was curious about people, and he loved talking to them and learning their stories. At my grandfather's shiva two years ago, he got into a long and involved conversation with a doctor friend of my father's who used the sorts of devices my uncle made. When he was leaving after the shiva visit, the doctor said to my mother, "I'm sorry it's under these circumstances, but I was really glad to get to meet your brother." My mother told me that during her last visit to see him, a couple weeks ago, he was mentally fading, but he kept being triggered by things he saw and remembering some random fact he would geekily share with her. My mother kept a list on that visit of books he insisted she needed to read, movies he insisted she needed to watch, things she needed to look up and learn more about. And it always went both ways. When I used to discuss science fiction with him, he would eagerly write down my recommendations and I would write down his. The world was a treasure chest for him that he loved to explore and learn more about.

Per his request, his body will be cremated. He was never a religious person, though he was always a proud Jew. Because of the cremation, my mother is not obligated in shiva, which she has mixed feelings about. Death is always hard to navigate, no matter the circumstances. But his life: too short, but always full, I can celebrate. Baruch dayan emet.