Living Fully: An homage to Uncle Dino.

My gut and my dreams tell me Dino wants me to share this message, so here goes nothin’.

I’ve always been close with my aunts and uncles. It was like having more parents, without some of the barriers we impose on relationships with authority figures. My aunt (Titi, as Puerto Ricans say) Iris was always someone I could confide in, and I admired her for the raw energy and emotion she seemed to be committed to sharing. She loves hard and deep, a product of the particularly tumultuous life she experienced. No matter the mood we were in, I could always sense her affection and empathy for her loved ones–especially her brother Dino. She called my Uncle Dino “Dean the Fiend”, partly because it rhymed and partly because he was the living, breathing definition of a fiend. Enthusiastic about life even to his detriment, Dino was gun-hoe about most everything he fancied. In fact, Re-Defynd was almost Re-De-Fiend…in reference to the fiendish spirit it takes for us humans to take on an endeavor like this.

My uncle was many things throughout his life, as we all are and will be, but the man I came to know was proof of the power and possibility of human redemption. A life changing bout with alcohol abuse left his home and work life in jeopardy–big time. I was too young to have witnessed the gravity of the situation firsthand, but I understood his recovery came just in time for the whole family. His wife and daughter worked hard to accept him back into their lives post-rehab, which was no easy task after everything being uprooted. My Aunt Mary is one of those people you get the feeling is really a saint. We could talk all night over bottle(s) of wine about life and its many twist and turns, and she would always hear me out with sincerity and offer the kind of advice I usually pay a therapist to get. What followed this rehab-roller-coaster ride was the part I remember most fondly about my uncle’s life.

At home next to the golf course, he seemed to have struck the right chord between work, leisure, family, & friends–and to the amazement of the Cajuns around him, he stayed booze-free doing it. He and his wife were the picture of health, balance, and strength. Why does this story, other than because of its powerful message of rehabilitating your soul for a better life, matter to my life’s purpose? Well, tragedy struck in October of 2016, and it put a new perspective on things for all of us. Uncle Dino found out about his terminal brain cancer only two short months before he died from complications. It’s not easy to wrap my mind around a 60-day notice for my life. Most of us don’t know what to do with that type of earth-shattering news.

Dino might not have known either, but he managed to show us all what strength, honor, and love really look like. From constant updates to friends and family to a smile that wouldn’t stop even after brain surgery, we were the lucky ones to have his strength to count on. Our most recent interactions replayed on shuffle in my head as the funeral proceeded. Each memory was, at the time and in retrospect, a truly special experience, even up until his last moments with us. I’m lucky to have been there to say goodbye when so many friends and family couldn’t, and I’ll never forget watching his soul release from the pain and suffering of his body.

Giving Dino credit for this blog is my own way of saying, “I miss you, & here’s the proof that you taught me something great in your time here.” He’d probably be embarrassed, smiling and shaking his head before reminding me to appreciate life’s many blessings & to avoid taking things too seriously. He’d pour me and my saint Aunt Mary another glass of wine and tell us about the book he read last. Forever a student of life, a loving husband, and a pretty rad dad, my uncle would love to hear how purpose-driven and open to love the family has become since his passing.

Dino “wrote” this blog in a sense, because the very essence of his spirit left behind in me reminds me to live fully–not perfectly–fully. I know my fear/expectation of failure has held me back for a long time. Falling into the trap of expectations for our lives will surely cause crippling complacency (or so I think he’d say). I’m always talking about concessions, and I utilize Dino’s life as a reminder to avoid them at all costs. Your story will look different from mine or Dino’s, but the universal message remains. Each person has the unique ability to redeem themselves, no matter how hard they fall or what breaks when they hit the bottom. Faith is not about organized practices in public or in private, nor is it about surrendering control to another power. You are your highest power, and your faith in yourself is the catapult that will send you into heaven on earth.

 

 

Always with peace, love, & a kick-in-the-butt,

Lizzie V.

 

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