The Eulogy That Never Was

1998 Friendly Farms 02I never wrote a eulogy for my brother, Pete.

It never really entered my mind to write one or to try to speak at his funeral. In all honesty, family speeches at funerals make me uncomfortable. At one funeral I went to, a daughter-in-law said so much, I kept thinking, “This is what therapy is for, dear.” It was painful. (and it wasn’t even the man’s kin.)

I’m not sure what I would have said either. Could I have been honest? “Ladies and gentlemen, my brother and I were estranged for many years. And here I am. So let me now tell you all about him.”

No.

And yet, as the anniversary of his passing approaches and I get increasingly apprehensive about his upcoming “unveiling,” I feel the need to say something. What, though?

I was born the youngest son of a family of black sharecroppers. Sorry, too soon for jokes from The Jerk?

Ya know, the truth is, Pete and I were somewhat estranged. Yeah, we were finding a place of understanding between our divergent lives, and it was awkward at times, but we’d been moving toward each other, not apart. We didn’t speak all that often, every month or two. He’d been to Atlanta and visited with the boys a year before he died and all 8 of us had a great time. The boys taught Sarah how to play games on the iPad. We swam together. We laughed a lot. It was nice. And when Pete left, he apologized and said he should have come earlier and stayed longer. We spoke a little more often after that.

And then the call at 2am that changed everything.

The days following the accident are at once a blur. Yet at the same time, a picture of Pete in the hospital bed connected to tubing and electrodes is indellibly etched in my mind. Tonight, I re-read the posts Gail and I made for family and friends to keep up with Pete’s progress on the hospitals “care site.” I remember writing some of them; I remember trying to navigate the explanations so that I could let people know what was happening without leaving them helpless  while also trying to honor my parents sense of privacy. What I forgot was the support that came out of the wood work on the update site and Facebook, support and love from the most unexpected places but genuine and genuinely helpful. I was shocked how people that we would never in a million years expect to hear from reached out to us in the most unconditional ways, right when we needed them. People give a kind of “knowing support” during crises like ours. They tell us things we need to hear and somehow we know instantly they are right and true.

I will also have forever tatooed in my brain the memory of talking to my father from the Southwest Airlines check-in line before boarding the plane back to Atlanta. “How were the evening rounds tonight?” I asked my father. He said it was more of the same, that Pete was put on anti-biotics that night. I boarded the plane feeling relieved, never expecting a call on the other end of the trip with news of a tragic change in Pete’s condition. The sound of my father crying as he related the news. My own tears on my call to my former sister-in-law, who would now be a solo parent, and with whom I cried uncontrollably. All I could get out was “I’m so sorry, Jamie, I’m so so sorry.” Her own tears in the way of her trying to get out “I’m so sorry How, I’m so sorry.”  

The Indian driver told me God has a way that we cannot understand but is always for the best.

The relative serenity of the chaotic boarding line from just a few hours before, ironically replaced with the chaotic feelings in an otherwise serene subway train. I worried I was making such a scene that I got off and took a taxi to my car. The Indian driver told me God has a way that we cannot understand but is always for the best.

There’s an odd thing about the way loss brings people closer. In the still moment of an empty funeral chapel before anyone else arrives, when it’s just you and your closest family members and the casket with your loved one, something happens. In the silence of that moment, a deep bond is formed. Maybe it’s watching a parent caress their child’s casket like they would the soft skin of a newborn. Or seeing your big sister fall apart in a pew. The freedom to emote without worrying about guests seeing you is cathartic. Bearing witness to and supporting the grief of a loved one is like a tube of emotional SuperGlue that forever bonds you– even more than laughing as adults about your fights over controlling the TV when you were kids.

In the year since Pete’s passing, I’ve wanted to say so many things. “You ass” was high on the list many times, but not as high as “I wish I could tell him about THIS.” There have been times of judgement and times of great empathy. There were the talks with his boys; the reminiscing with Gail, Jamie, my parents, his friends and clients; and all the times I found myself saying “Jeez, I sound like Pete” or “I think Pete did the same thing.” I’ve learned so much about this person I grew up with, how loved he was by the people around him, how much he amazed the people whose lives he touched. These are the things we can only learn because of another’s death.

I miss you Pete. I miss my brother. I miss my tormentor. I miss watching you be a dad with your boys. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. And I’m not ready for it to be a year either because now it feels like an even bigger farewell than it did a year ago.

I wish you were still here. Until we meet again…

With love, .how

2 Responses to “The Eulogy That Never Was”

  1. Joel
    June 2, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about you and your family a lot of late. Guess we’ll have a chance to catch up soon.

    Love and Peace,

    Joel

  2. May 30, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    Howard,
    What a touching and heartfelt tribute to your brother. He was lucky to have you in his life and you him. Hang in there, friend.
    Leslie

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