Three months ago I wrote that my uncle offered his support following the death of my father. Yesterday we buried that uncle, a victim of eastern equine encephalitis, EEE. This has been a particularly bad year for this exceedingly rare disease, but for our family an excruciatingly personal one.
Normally EEE affects only 5 to 10 people a year nationwide. About a third of those cases are fatal, with most of the survivors requiring months of recovery and experiencing some degree of brain damage. This year there have been 11 fatalities so far. One of them was my uncle. Other relatives that live in that area say they are afraid of going outside. The town has instituted a curfew of sorts, closing neighborhood ballparks at dusk and warning people not to venture out during times when mosquitos are likely to be active. This weekend is the annual illumination, the sending of floating lights down the river. The smell of DEET will likely join the aroma of scented candles this year.
My uncle was the youngest of nine children. He was always willing to take charge of events, and always supported the family with gusto and faith. My mother and two sisters are all that remain from that large coterie along with my uncle’s wife and another late uncle’s ex-wife, both as true aunts as the blood sisters. They carry on a family legacy that has been inspiring to all in my generation and the next who have learned from their fine examples.
Still, it’s been a rough year or two. Unexpected passings, lost employments, health issues and more pile on the background noise of our current political strife. There seems constant reminders that life is to be lived while we have the opportunity.
My heart goes out to my dear aunt and three cousins whose grief is magnified by the suddenness of this calamity. I weep for my other aunts, my mother, my extended family. I take solace in knowing they all continue with the fond memories of my departed uncle.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.