Grace works that way. It’s a kind word from a gentle person with an impossible prayer. It’s a force sometimes transmitted best hand to hand in a dark place. — Bob Goff

Panting and weeping, my mother shook me awake, “Baby Appachan is gone.” 

It was barely the crack of dawn…What, Ma?Leny Chach and Baby Appachan

I had just seen the man. What could it mean for him to be gone?

One of my life’s subtle influencers had taken his last breath earlier that morning. Baby Appachan, in silence, was an extraordinary influence on my life. His grace was present in my darkest times. I would have never made it to where I am without his influence as a man, an uncle, and a father.

Parkinson’s had a stronger grip on him in those days than ever before. Don’t get me wrong—he was not overtly extroverted prior to the battle, but he possessed boundless energy and passion—qualities I could not find in his eyes any longer.

Everything was a struggle and nobody knew that better than his wife (my aunt), a stalwart in my family. When the rest of the family was around, he wore a little smile—something like a smirk, especially when his grandchildren came around (two adorable little girls). I think that smirk was to help us deal, more than anything else.

Appachan is Malayalam for grandfather. He’s wasn’t exactly my grandfather. He was my dad’s brother. Appachan is a title that expresses respect for someone of age, and it’s not easily adopted. “Baby” was his nickname. Growing up I called him Uncle or Appachan, and always prefaced either with “Baby”. It always confused me, but it was the way things were done.

He imparted vast unspoken lessons upon me. His impact on every person in the family was lasting. One story, in particular, that showed just how much he meant to all of us is one from my cousin, a mixed martial artist. My uncle would take him to the dojo to train when he was young. And whenever my cousin was nervous about his dad watching, my uncle would wait outside for him in the cold of the winter—sometimes watching through the window into the gym, looking on as my cousin trained and sparred opponents at tournaments.

I can picture him, bundled up with the snow coming down, looking on as my cousin fought his way through tough battles and medals. Smiling as he was shivering and beaming with pride.

It paid off. Weeks before his passing, my cousin fought in a MMA fight again. My uncle was not able to join us and watch, but word has it that he was excited when my cousin told him about it. He was thrilled.

That excitement for others, that thrill, is something I want to find in my own life. He made people better. My favorite thing about my uncle was how willing he was to give. Sure, everyone helps people. But my uncle did it in a genuine way—in a way that I haven’t often experienced. I want to embody that.

My life growing up would have been a bit less cohesive had it not been for his actions and his ability to stand courageously against the current. That quality transcended into my cousins and it’s something I love about my family. I’m always learning from them how to do that better—how to stand up for things and people I believe in. It’s amazing to watch my one cousin express those lessons to her daughters. I think his wisdom will surely manifest in them.

Across the board, my uncle was amazing. He served in the Indian Air Force, helped build a huge community and church in Yonkers, and his message of service was a silent one seemingly inspired by faith in God and duty to others.

Every time I think of him, I feel peace and strength. I feel an obligation to my nieces and a duty to the future, both for family and community. The man my uncle was and the qualities he embodied, that’s the man I want to grow up to be. Understanding where he’s walked and what he’s achieved makes it easier. I know it’s possible to love your family, to provide abundantly, and to enrich the lives of the people around you.

As I considered 2015, it occurred to me that I could not close 2014 without telling the world a bit more of his story.

A few days after my mother burst into my room to share the news, seemingly right out of a bad dream, we led my uncle to his final resting ground. Escorted by the Yonkers Police Department, two cousins and I led the way. Those moments are forever etched into my memory. My cousin played “Day is Gone” by Noah Gunderson right before we stepped out of the blacked out Cadillac to direct the crowds of people and the hearse with my uncle in it.

The lyrics play over in my mind—

Daylight fading, I curse the breaking. The day is gone. The day is gone.

Run away. I’ll just run away like a child, from all of them to you. And now I see my most constant mistake is I don’t know what I love till it’s gone. But it’s too late to go back. I can see the darkness through the cracks. Daylight fading, I curse the breaking the day is gone. The day is gone. 

It’s too late to go back I let the darkness seep through the cracks. Love is bleeding I curse my breathing the day is gone, the day is gone. 

Thank you for loving me. Thank you for never leaving me alone. Your memory will continue beyond 2014 for generations. You fought the good fight and you finished the race. You kept the faith and you taught us to do the same.

I love you. I miss you. I will remember you forever.

Ad perpetuam militum memoriam qui pro patria mortui sunt.

In memory of the fallen soldiers.

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