In my last Take 5 article, I spoke a little bit about the struggles of living several hours away from family and friends when they are hurting.
I experienced that struggle again this past week when I learned my uncle, Dwayne Kriegel from Grinnell, was in critical condition at UnityPoint Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines after suffering a heart attack brought on by anaphylactic shock from a wasp sting.
The decision was eventually made to take him off life support after the doctors concluded there was nothing more they could do. He died early Tuesday morning at age 58.
Over the weekend, almost all of the immediate members of my mom’s side of the family were in Des Moines to be with him, holding out hope he would make a recovery.
I went back and forth several times last weekend on deciding whether or not I should make the trek down there. Since the situation was so uncertain, I ultimately chose to remain in Sheldon and receive updates over the phone.
By Monday night, my uncle’s status was not looking good, and I knew I would be making a trip to Grinnell this coming weekend for his visitation and celebration of life.
Dwayne was married to my mother’s older sister, Tammy, and has been a fixture in my family my whole life. He worked as a postal worker, meaning he knew most everybody in Grinnell from delivering their mail.
Up until the time I was in middle school, Tammy and Dwayne lived just down the road from my family and I on the outskirts of Grinnell.
When my older sister and I were kids, we would spend countless summer afternoons at their house using their outdoor pool and trampoline. Even if my aunt and uncle weren’t at the house, they would still let us come over to swim and jump.
I think I honestly have more memories swimming in their pool as a kid than at the public pool in Grinnell.
By the time I was in high school, my aunt and uncle had moved to a house in town, but I remained just as close to them. When my grandparents opened a 1950s-era soda fountain restaurant in 2011, everyone in the family pitched in to work there, including Dwayne.
Working at the small restaurant was my first part-time job as a teenager, and I remember countless evenings working alongside Dwayne.
When the place was packed with people, we coordinated who would wait tables and who would prepare the food. On slow nights when all the tables were empty, Dwayne and I would pass the time chatting about the latest news in town as well as the various activities that kept me busy in high school.
It was on those nights that I truly got to know Dwayne. An easygoing man, he treated all people who walked through the door the same. When the restaurant was swamped with customers or when a customer was giving us a particularly hard time, he always handled the situation professionally and courteously.
As I said, since he also worked as a mail carrier in town, most of our local patrons knew who he was already. That meant they knew he would prepare their ice cream sundaes or banana splits with the same care he took to get their mail to them on time.
Dwayne was also an organ donor, meaning that in death, he has been able to help many people in need of various organ transplants.
Since he died, his family has been promoting awareness of the importance of organ donations. To register as a donor, visit: https://www.iowadonornetwork.org
When I head down to Grinnell this weekend to celebrate Dwayne’s life with my family, I look forward to remembering the good times I shared with him and being reminded of the great man that he was.