I didn’t know what to say on June 2nd.

And I don’t know what to say today. June 2, 2014 marked the one-year anniversary of a terrible, unlikely accident that claimed the life of my Uncle Jeff, a figure who had a profoundly positive impact on my life.

Words written in a Facebook post, to be mixed in with advertisements for the new Mortal Kombat and posts about people’s personal distaste for the celebrities they follow anyway, just didn’t seem right. A tweet? A mere 140 characters to try to capture the incredible impact that Dr. Jeffrey Mark Miller had not only on my life, but on the lives of literally thousands of people? It could never be enough. Even this blog, where I can write as much as I want, felt too confining to capture the enormity of the loss I still feel.

So I said nothing.

But now, as I write this late, I realize that saying nothing is also not an option. Uncle Jeff was so inspiring, and so good, that holding his memory closely and failing to share his legacy is not fair to those who may never have had the chance to meet him. I may question whether the world ever deserved a man like Uncle Jeff, but there is no doubt that it needed him. And it still needs his memory, and it needs more people like him.

I think an anecdote is my only hope for making it through this emotional post coherently. Growing up, I was never particularly gifted physically. I’m short, I was often very skinny, I’ve always lacked muscle, and I’ve always lacked the power of will displayed by true athletes to change any of this.

He was the strong one, not me. But through his kindness, he made me stronger.

Uncle Jeff was, in many ways, the opposite. While he wasn’t tall, he was incredibly muscular and trim. He was playing competitive lacrosse into his 40s, he was a Crossfit diehard, and he was there working in the mud with plenty of much younger folks at Tough Mudder events. He was a true athlete with a competitive drive that helped him excel in everything from bicycling, to skiing, to earning his PhD.

Uncle Jeff, Snickers, and I clowning around when I was about 10 years old.Despite our differences, nobody in my life has ever made me feel as good about myself as my Uncle Jeff did. One incident stands out to me in particular, notable for how vividly I remember it, and how insignificant it would seem to others. It was over the summer in my early teen years, and we were at my parents’ cottage on Seneca Lake.

Throughout the summer I had taken to disappearing into the basement at home to “lift weights” using my dad’s ancient free weight set. In reality, I would wander to the basement now and again to struggle for no more than five minutes, unable to lift anything particularly effectively. I would then settle in ashamedly to watch TV for a few more minutes so that my family upstairs wouldn’t know how quickly I gave up. Understandably, my results were non-existent.

Then, on that day down at Seneca Lake, Uncle Jeff stopped me as I walked out the door into the lawn. He pointed at the faintest hint of tone that was appearing in my bicep, likely not as a result of my lifting but rather as an inevitable outcome of puberty. He complimented me, genuinely, on how strong I was getting. The whole exchange lasted only a few seconds, and I didn’t think much of it in the moment. But it impacted me.

I can’t say that I was inspired by that moment to some previously unattainable height. I can’t trace any Olympic medals to that moment. Heck, I can’t even trace an earned spot on a high school team bench to that moment.

I’ve known a lot of people in my life who try to push others to success, but Uncle Jeff is the only man I’ve ever known who truly inspired others to succeed.

But it undoubtedly impacted me. It raised my self esteem, and it made me try harder in those basement weight sessions. Perhaps most telling is that today, what must be 13 or 14 years later, I am tearing up as I remember his smiling, kind words.

I don’t think I had ever received a compliment of that nature until that day, and I don’t know if I’ve received one quite so genuinely ever since. And it came from a man who could bike 50 miles and make breakfast before I woke up in the morning. He was the strong one, not me. But through his kindness, he made me stronger.

That’s the kind of guy Uncle Jeff was. While he had incredibly high standards for himself, he understood their relativity. He could appreciate and acknowledge when others were making achievements against their own baselines, rather than holding everyone to his.

I’ve known a lot of people in my life who try to push others to success, but Uncle Jeff is the only man I’ve ever known who truly inspired others to succeed.

Right up until the very last words I shared with him, Uncle Jeff provided me with this type of encouragement, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Below are the final words we shared via text message just a couple weeks before the accident. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor in how to do life right.

Screen shot of the last message I received from Uncle Jeff, reading: "Love you're web site! Did you build it yourself? If so, very impressive!"

 

It may be a year since we lost you, Uncle Jeff, but there hasn’t been a day that goes by where I haven’t thought of you, and thanked the stars for the honor of calling you my uncle.

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