Some Thoughts on my Nephew Nick

Nick 4Those following my Facebook feed know that we lost our nephew Nicholas Upton on Sunday, August 30. He was on studying abroad in South Africa and while on break with his buddies, went swimming and apparently got caught in a riptide and disappeared.

His father, Jim, is Deb’s brother and he’s been a part of our life since we moved to Connecticut. The two families would get together and where Kate and Robbie were lively and active, Nick and his older brother Zachary tended to be more quiet.  But they were constant presences in our lives and it was interesting watching the boys grow up because for the longest time, they were very, very alike.

But, you have to keep an eye on the quiet ones. Bit by bit, they began to take on their own personas and Nick did his with a roar. He stepped out of his brother’s shadow and took the stage essaying the role of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.

Nick 2For a little while, Nick was into comic books and we shared our affection for Green Lantern. Once he was most helpful getting some of my collection organized one winter’s day.

Nick continued to demonstrate his uniqueness as he stepped out of his brother’s shadow, literally outgrowing him. He was your typical kid with soccer and basketball but in high school he settled first on track and then crew, the physical demands sculpting his body into something lean and muscled.

And while he tended to be silent, he was watchful. In time, a wicked dry sense of humor emerged followed by some keen insights about the world he lived in. Nick noted that Africa was where the next generation of international interest would be. He enrolled at George Washington University, studying international affairs with an African concentration. He still rowed crew but joined a fraternity.

Nick 3But he wasn’t the rowdy one. Instead, he was the safety officer, ensuring the frat’s rules were followed and everyone partied without being stupid. We admired how seriously he was taking his studies and would periodically meet him for meals or bring him to our house for a respite. It was Nick who introduced us to Nando Peri Peri, the rising chicken chain.

He went to South Africa in July and intended to return and run for frat president, another step in building an impressive resume. But first, there was break and that’s when fate stepped in.

I am deeply touched by seeing how the crew team and frat have bonded over this, working together to storm the Capitol to find people who could help with the search and rescue operation. They organized a vigil on campus and the funeral will be on a Saturday so the students can be in attendance.

Like Robbie, I can only wonder what sort of adult Nick would have become. He was on his way when this tragedy hit the family. Unlike Robbie, its suddenness and remoteness makes the loss feel unreal but I can feel it in my heart and soul.

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