Last night my Uncle Ethan died. We’ve been expecting it for a while now since he has been so sick, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. Uncle Ethan was a really great guy and we all loved him very much. He’s been part of my life since I was 4 and it just seems strange that I won’t hear his laugh late at night at the Bundy Reunion anymore and that we won’t be sitting around his family’s campsite listening to all the crazy stories he’d tell. He’s been such a central presence in the family and he will be very much missed. At least now he will be able to see his sister and his parents again while he waits for the rest of us to join him.
Uncle Ethan was the third of six kids, just older than my dad, as well as the husband of Aunt Debra and the father of 5 boys and 1 girl: Camareo, Troy, Leo, Stoney, Lex and Shirley. One of the things I will always remember about him is how much he loved his family. Every summer all of the Bundy clan would gather on Mount Trumbell for family reunion camping trip over the weekend closest to the 4th of July. Uncle Ethan’s camp was always really close to ours and I remember the family always laughing and entertaining each other late into the night. His laugh was so loud and booming that I’m sure everyone on any part of the mountain could hear him laughing and knew who it was.
The family lived close to us in St. George and we’d go visit quite often. Another one of the things I remember about him is how much he loved his wife. As he got older and started getting sick he went through some difficult times that would have tried any wife, but when I was a kid, I remember seeing how much love and respect he had for her. He wasn’t always a perfect man and he made mistakes, but in all the time I was growing up and until now, I have never doubted the love he had for his wife and his kids. And last night it was very evident that the love he had for his wife and kids was also felt by his daughters-in-law and grandkids.
After Uncle Ethan’s kids started getting married and having kids of their own, I don’t think I remember a time when he didn’t have grandkids crawling all over him. Uncle Ethan was such a joyful and exuberant man and kids were just drawn to him. When I was a kid I remember him always having something funny to say or some way to tease me, my brother and my sister. He was always happy and he always let us know that he enjoyed having us around.
That’s another thing I always loved about Uncle Ethan. He was very loving and accepting of people. My brother, sister and I had a hard time being accepted by most into the Bundy family because we were step-kids, but Uncle Ethan never treated us like we were different and he was always kind to us. He teased us and joked with us and treated us just like we were born Bundys and that meant a lot to each of us. I don’t think I ever told him how much his kindness to us when we were growing up meant to us. I told him that I loved him, but I don’t think I ever thanked him for accepting us. I hope he knew it meant a lot and we loved him all the more for it.
Aside from being a brother, father, uncle and grandfather, Uncle Ethan was a rancher. He loved his horses and he loved his ranch. I remember going to his house a lot when we were kids and he always had horses in the corrals in his backyard and he was more than willing to let us ride them whenever we wanted. He would let us explore his sheds and play with all his tack and gear. In the winter he let our family go spend a week at his ranch on the Arizona Strip where we had free reign of everything. We could play wherever we wanted and ride his horses as much as we wanted whenever we wanted. I had a favorite horse, Mousy Bell, that he would always be sure to tell me that he had all ready for me to ride. When Mousy Bell had a colt, he let me come over and meet him. He told me I could call him anything I wanted and I named him Star Gazer because he had a star-shaped white spot on his forehead. Unfortunately, his kids decided to call him something else and then they eventually sold him, but Uncle Ethan always knew who I was talking about when I asked about Star Gazer.
The last couple times I saw Uncle Ethan he wasn’t his old self. I moved away from Utah in July 2006 and that was the last year I saw him as his normal loud and entertaining self. He had this booming voice and infectious laugh that would crack you up just listening to it. He had such fun stories and jokes that he loved to share with everyone and I think most of us listened to his stories because we liked hearing him laugh at the end. 2006 was the last time I saw that side of him.
The next time I saw Uncle Ethan was in May 2011 at Grandma Bundy’s funeral. He was such a different person then. He had been suffering from liver failure and the buildup of toxins in his system had brought about a drastic change in him. He’d been struggling for a while and they eventually figured out what the problem was and started him up on dialysis. The night before Grandma’s funeral he had his first treatment. He started getting better for a while, but he’d just been sick for too long and his body began to decline again.
Yesterday I was hanging out with my family when dad said we needed to go visit Uncle Ethan. We all finished the little things we were doing while we waited for my sister to get home from work and then after she and I had something to eat, we headed out the door to Uncle Ethan’s house. When we arrived we were told that he had slipped into a coma a few hours earlier and that they didn’t expect him to be with us too much longer. He had been fortunate to be on home hospice care, so he was able to spend his last days at home surrounded by the family that he loved. We all went into his bedroom and gathered around his bed while my dad and two of his sons gave him a final blessings of peace and comfort. We stood around him and talked about things we remembered and loved about him and sang songs to him. We sang his favorite song, Ye Elders of Israel, and by the end we were all crying. We knew it was his time to go, but it’s still hard saying goodbye to someone you love.
After singing to him for a while and sharing memories of him, Aunt Debra asked the grandkids if they wanted to give him a last hug. As they all filed up to hug their grandpa one last time she reminded them that his right side was very painful and just to hug his left side. It was so tender seeing all those tiny kids reach up to give their grandpa one last pat on the chest as they laid their heads on his shoulder. Several of them were crying and some didn’t really seem to understand what was going on. After the line of kids stopped I went up and gave Uncle Ethan a hug. It was weird not having his arms wrap around me and give me that huge crushing hug he always gave. I kept imagining he’d wake up for just a moment to give me one last hug, but he didn’t. His breathing was labored and we all knew that any moment he would stop.
After waiting several more minutes, dad said several words about how Uncle Ethan was a good example of many things and how he had such great faith in the Lord. He talked about how Uncle Ethan loved his kids and grandkids and wanted all of them to be better people than he was. Not that he was a bad man, but every parent desired for their children and grandchildren to be better than they were. Several more minutes passed before dad spoke again. He said some people didn’t like to pass with their family looking on and preferred to depart this life in privacy and that he was going to tell his big brother goodbye one last time and then let him be. Dad hugged Uncle Ethan, held his hand and then kissed his head before turning and walking out the door. My sister went up and gave Uncle Ethan one last hug and told him how much she loved him. I waited a few moments before going up again to give him another hug and tell him how much I loved and was going to miss him. Then I hugged Aunt Debra and told her how much Uncle Ethan meant and how special he was to me. I told her I loved her and that I was grateful for her and Uncle Ethan. Then I went and joined my parents and sister in the living room. My mom had gone up to hug Uncle Ethan and tell him goodbye while I was hugging Aunt Debra. We stayed at the house for about 10-15 more minutes before dad said we needed to leave and let them have their privacy. We made the 15-minute drive home and less than 10 minutes after getting home we received the phone call that Uncle Ethan had passed.
It was sad hearing that Uncle Ethan was no longer with us, but I felt peace at knowing that I was able to tell him goodbye and that I loved him one last time. We all also knew that it was his time to go and that he was no longer in pain. His last few years were hard on him and his family and as much as they are missing him and will miss him, we all know that he is no longer suffering and that he is celebrating his reunion with his parents and little sister. His is at peace now and is up there watching all of us. Goodbye for now, Uncle Ethan. Rest in peace and enjoy your time with those you love who have passed on before. Enjoy reuniting with the Savior and being able to see His face again. You are very much loved by those who are still here and will be missed until we get to see you again.
Ye Elders of Israel