In the bleak midwinter


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In the bleak midwinter

By Bobby Neal Winters

My Uncle Dave turned 88 last Wednesday. I gave him a call, but I didn’t wish him a happy birthday. Mostly I listened. He and his wife Anne are up in Idaho staying with their daughter Cathy and Cathy’s husband Ed.
Cathy has cancer, and it’s in her liver. That is why I didn’t wish Dave a happy birthday, because it wasn’t one and is not going to be one any time soon.

I remember Dave’s birthday for two reasons. One is that it is the same as my fathers; they were twins. Two is that it’s on the first day of winter. It’s been sort of a handy mnemonic that a pair of identical twins named Winters would be born on the first day of winter. I’ve taken up calling Dave on this day since Dad died.

When one calls Dave, one listens. He’s reached that phase of life when he’s despaired of hearing anything new. He talks, hoping to share the life wisdom he’s gained to someone who might still be able to profit from it. I’m still able to profit from it, and I’ve never learned anything when I’ve had my mouth open except for what a jackass I am, so I listen.

Back in the early 1990s, Dave wrote his memoirs, and I edited them. They were in three parts: Growing up in the Forks of Boggy, Following the Oklahoma Oilfields, and Memories of WWII.

This is one of the places where I learned to write. It is a good exercise for any would-be writer to take words that are full of wisdom and help them to tell their story.

Not much was needed, really. All I had to do was to add a comma here and there, but the act of having the stories of someone who’d lived come in through my eyes, pass through my heart, and come out of my hands had is effect.

You can know all about grammar and punctuation and spelling and syntax, but if you don’t know a story, what exactly is the point?

When I talked to Dave on his birthday, he told me things I’d never heard before, things going back twenty years. My Dad—having suffered from esophageal cancer—died back in 1986 while Dave was away in Idaho visiting his daughter, the one who has cancer now.

Dave said that before he left on his trip, he’d spent a day visiting with my father, and during that day, my father had told him he was sicker than anyone knew. I’d never known that. I had known that Dave hadn’t spoken for three weeks afterwards.

Now, twenty years later, it’s coming again.

Dave has lost a father, two brothers, a sister, his mother, and another sister during the course of his life. Now his daughter is on the precipice. Soon it will be only him and his wife.

When I listened to Dave I said little, because what on earth can a 43-year-old offer to an 88-year-old who has lived Dave’s life? What wisdom could I possibly offer to a man who is losing his only child?

I could only at one point mumble weakly that even though we don’t know what is ahead of us, we do know it’s better than what we’ve got now. I believe that, yet we all want to hang onto this gift of life for as long as we can. As painful as it can be, that is how God made us.

I’ve been to numerous funerals, but there has been only one time when I’ve visited death, when death has been real to me, and that was when my father died. All the other tears I’ve shed have been simply recalling that one event. All other pain just an echo of that.

Now I see my father’s brother—a man who is a mirror of my father’s very self—in pain, and there is nothing I can say, and there is nothing I can do. I can only just be. I can only call. I can only listen.

(Bobby Winters is a professor of mathematics, writer, and lay speaker. You can contact him at or visit his website

(((Hugs))) and a :kitty: for both you and your uncle. There's nothing more painful than losing a child/watching a child suffer (I don't know this firsthand, but...)

I wish there was more I could do but I'm only human.

Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine
Hi Okie--

I just ran across this thread, and I just want to tell you that I know for sure that many times those who are grieving or facing death mostly need listeners and silent hugs.

Randy (Jack Halyard) and I extend our condolences and our virtual hugs.

As always, you are welcome, Bobby. I don't know what it is about your writings, but they are comfortable to me, even when they disturb. Something to do with that proverbial balance of things, I suppose.

I felt kind of bad about that last post of mine. My condolences? Virtual hugs? Just doesn't seem enough, but somehow I know you know what I mean. At least you were kind and understanding enough in your response to thank me for it.

I cannot, at this time, express what I would like to regarding the article we are sort of discussing here. At least I can't without revealing things I am not ready to reveal.

I said on another thread today that I am climbing a mountain (by the way, I was just on top of one, as I began my ascent to the next--maybe I will find a way to tell about that real soon). Anyway, I also said that I must keep track of the pebbles in my shoe on my way up the next mountain, because I surely do not need any more stones than are already in the way.:)

Okie--I know you know this. Just keep on listening. Talk and answer and hug when these things are called for. You will know. From what I read, you have known for a long time. Pray, and keep on writing....