What Do You Do When Santa Dies?

We’ve had a death in the family this week.


My Uncle Ken.


I was given the task of writing his eulogy.

I realized, as I began to write, to summarize in 3 to 5 minutes, someone’s life how much I really don’t know about them. My Uncle Ken was in his 30s when I was born. Thirty years of living that I have only been told a portion about.

You can be sure the next 20 were glossed over and cleaned up for me as well. The PG version.

Then I had three kids over the next decade, so I cannot really be deemed a reliable witness to anything. Sleep deprivation steals so much.

And then he is in his 70s, and I have to admit are things I just missed along the way, portions of his life I know nothing about.


What I do know is my Uncle Ken always loved to dress up as Santa Claus this time of year. He was a skinny Santa. What he lacked in girth, he made up for in enthusiasm. He was the jolliest Santa around.


What happens when we loose our Santa?


Most of the time I was growing up, my Aunt and Uncle lived in a small town in Southern Minnesota, population around 400 people, for most of my young life. This was the 1980s, before Jacob Wetterling disappeared, when small towns were safe and kids roamed free. I loved life in this small town. I loved our visits.


My Uncle was deeply rooted into the small town. He worked at the school. He was a volunteer fireman. He volunteered at church. If someone needed help, Uncle Ken was there.


And I know now as an adult, that he wasn’t perfect. He had his demons of course. Those things he wished he could change about himself. But the interesting thing about being human, is it is not who we are necessarily, but what we pass along that matters most.


Because isn’t that what we are trying do? Trying to make those around us better? Passing along to the next generation those qualities that will cause them to be stronger and better equipped to run the race just a little bit better? A little faster? A little wiser than we were able to run?


My Uncle Ken helped me learn all sorts of lessons starting in that small town. Some of them were for fun, like teaching me to “drive” when I was 8 and could not yet reach the gas or the brake of the pickup truck. I felt important as I sat on his lap to steer. But other lessons had a much more lasting impact, like how he taught me not to be ticklish.

I remember Uncle Ken would tickle the sensitive skin just above my kneecap as a test upon our arrival in at their house. If I squirmed even a little bit, Uncle Ken would say it meant I had a boyfriend and he would tease me relentlessly for the rest of the weekend visit hoping I would give up the name of the boy I was suppose to like.

Yet, I wished to remain invisible, for I was shy, and I wanted to avoid his jests. Eventually, I taught myself not to react, not to squirm, not to be ticklish to the touch.

But that was not Ken’s way, he found other ways to tease me. He wanted me to know he saw me; so I knew he loved me.

And when he could tell the teasing was too much, he would remind me that I was enough the way I was by telling me that even though I was small, even though I was shy, I had power.

“Dynamite, comes in small packages,” he would whisper to me.

I carried that phrase with me always. I believed it and it gave me power.

He passed onto me a way to run the race a little better, a little faster. I will always be grateful.


For if the spirit of Christmas is to give more than you receive, then our family was lucky to learn this lesson well from our family Santa.  May we carry on this example and teach it just as well to the next generation.

We will miss you Santa.



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