My phone rang before 6 Saturday morning. I don’t know how it works in your house, but a call after 11 or before 7 is rarely ever good news at ours.
And it wasn’t.
At the young age of 69, Kenneth Lee Brandenburger passed away from complications with cancer. He was an amazing man. He was my dad’s best friend and brother. He was my uncle.
I want to write about how unfair cancer can be…how it doesn’t discriminate based on those that live life to the fullest and those that just go along for the ride. I’d love to write about how unfair this is…but I won’t. We all know that.
But what you may not know, is just how special Kenny was.
Growing up so close to Grandma, I heard a LOT of stories about how much of a handful KennethLee was. You see, that’s how Grandma would say his name, “KennthLee.” I’m assuming that it was just habit, from yelling it so much when he was little. At least that’s my theory.
My uncle decided at a young age that school was not his strong suit. Instead, working hard and working toward a goal definitely was…and he succeeded. He worked hard, played hard, and made the most of everything. But what I remember the most about Kenny was his quiet demeanor, but easy ways. And he wasn’t only my dad’s brother, he was my dad’s best friend.
In the last few years, Uncle Kenny looked so much like my Grandpa that it took my breath away. Being around him made me feel connected to Grandpa in ways that I had missed so much. He had Grandpa’s easy demeanor and quick smile…but he wasn’t completely like Grandpa.
No, Uncle Kenny definitely had a healthy dose of Grandma Vivian in him. He had a zest for life and enjoyed a good laugh. And he had a feisty streak as well.
I only got to see Uncle Kenny about twice a year, deer hunting and ice fishing. But it was always a great time.
We had a routine down…he’d arrive, I’d ask him to site in my gun (which is one that he picked out, by the way), he’d give me grief about it not making a difference because I wouldn’t hit anything anyway and so on.
Yet, when I would shoot my deer, him and Dad would come and help me dress it out. It was just our routine.
I remember when I had shot the buck that I now have mounted, I needed help because my gun had jammed and the deer was injured, but not dead. Uncle Kenny and my Dad came out and helped put the deer down. After giving me grief about nothing being wrong with my gun, I asked if they thought it was worth having mounted. Kenny simply looked at me and said I did a good job, and even he would have it mounted, if it were his.
That may not seem like much, but for our upper-Midwest, German background, that was sometimes as close to a pat on the back as you would get.
And the memory that I hold most dear, when I was going through one of the roughest times of my life, my Uncle Kenny was a rock. When I couldn’t understand what was going on, or why things were happening the way they were, he kindly told me that I couldn’t change other people. He would call me and talk about things, and make sure that I understood that he was there, in a quiet, understated way. And I will be forever grateful to him for that.
I will travel to Wisconsin tomorrow to say goodbye to one of the greatest men I ever had the privilege of meeting. And as much as I look forward to visiting with family and friends, and reminiscing and sharing, my heart breaks trying to make sense of it all.
This much I know, Grandma and Grandpa Brandenburger are the lucky ones today…KennethLee is reunited with them, along with his sister, Vicki, and so many other family and friends. And as much as I miss them all, and my heart hurts so much, I can’t help but feel…well, just a little bit jealous.
I love you, Kenny.