One of my favorite dogs ever is having emergency surgery right now. He isn’t even my dog. His name is Harvey and he is a gigantic, white standard poodle. I have met few more noble beasts.
Perhaps that is what brought on a sort of glum mood. But whatever the reason, I started thinking about death and how we are remembered. I thought about my grandfather’s funeral during which I, at 19 years old, gave the eulogy. I started crying and did not get through it very well. My grandparents were baptists and it was an open casket and I was 19. But I felt very solid about my words, sob-stuttered as they were. For some reason death gives a kind of clarity to writing for me.
I have experienced a lot of death for someone in my age group, location, historical time period and socioeconomic class. I am an anomaly. I have buried a lot of friends, all of my grandparents and my brother-in-law.
None of it is good. The drug overdoses, the suicides, the car accidents, the cancer. Death is always sad and uncomfortable. It doesn’t really matter if you know it is coming or if it is a surprise. It is cold and hard and sad. Everyone tells you it is okay and gives you food and flowers, but it isn’t okay. It ruins you for a while (and a little bit forever).
So, my thought was, I would write an obituary for myself and then periodically update it so it would be easier when I kick it. I hope that my parents do not outlive me, but if they do, my dad will want to write the obituary and he will do a great job. Keep Laura, Boy Kelly and Girl Kelly in the loop for editing, but it will be great, I’m sure.
My basic thought was to talk about what I have accomplished, but then I thought about what I wrote about my brother-in-law and I had other thoughts. For reference, this is what I wrote about Eric.
One does not often envy the eulogist at funerals. I am always blotchy faced with streaming tears watching as some poor soul tries to honor the deceased. One particular exception might be for whomever has the honor of eulogizing Eric. Like with all writing, it has a lot to do with the subject. Eric was a very good man. That is not subjective, in this case. Eric and I could be the poster children for the culture war of bipartisan America. There was very little we agreed on politically and for most of you the statement “we are both a little stubborn and opinionated” will be recognized as the massive understatement that it is. But we got along well because we loved each other and because Eric was a very good man. We never left a family gathering without a hug and a kiss even if we had been spitting vinegar with red-faced diatribes pointedly aimed at the other’s political camp. I am blessed to have been a part of the O’Neal clan for fourteen years and in that time, Eric treated me as his sister. Eric was a very good man, not just because of his extreme tolerance for an absurdly liberal sister-in-law, but because of every facet of his character and being. Eric was a family man in the truest sense. Eric was a good son: watching all the sporting events with his dad, Jim and bantering back and forth about stats and plays in all sports but the particular favorite was, of course, cardinals baseball; cooking with his mom and dad and always, always kissing his mom goodbye when he left the house. Eric loved and honored his parents. Eric was a good brother: the age difference being substantial enough that he had the pleasure of teaching his brothers Kelly and Aaron how to drive and among many other things, imbuing in them a love and appreciation for professional wrestling; while always being fiercely protective and gently teasing of his beloved little sister Tiffany. Eric was very pleased to have been made an uncle by both Tiff and Aaron and loved little William and Henry very much. William always had a hug for uncle Eric. Eric was a good father: to all seven of his beautiful children. He adopted Brittany when he married her mother and although he loved her immensely for her humor, wit, smile and sweetness, perhaps her greatest gift was making him a grandfather, Papa to her daughter Laiken. Ashley was a very inquisitive child, often to a staggering degree, but Eric always took her endless questions in stride and encouraged her curiosity rather than curtailing it and no doubt contributed substantially to the brilliant young woman she has become. Eric was fiercely proud of his son Brandon who is an astute athlete and recent high school graduate. Eric loved his youngest daughter Courtney who will always be his baby girl. Through Brandon’s athleticism in touring bike racing, the O’Neal family changed and grew when Brandon met another athletic young man named Connor and subsequently met his beautiful mother Diane. Connor and Jackson were treasured sons to Eric and I know Brandon and the girls were delighted to gain two brothers. And of course Eric adored sweet Olivia, Diane’s youngest child, who called him daddy and meant it. Eric was a good husband. If you do not believe in soulmates, it is likely that you never saw Eric look at Diane. That is true love. They were truly meant to be and my heart breaks that they were not gifted with more time together on earth. Diane’s strength, compassion, fierce kindness and fortitude in the face of tragedy has been a gift to this family and certainly to Eric. I feel a particular sisterhood with Diane, as I am sure Debbie and Chrissie do as well, as we all know, when you fall for an O’Neal man, you fall hard. Eric was also a good grandson, nephew and cousin and loved by all of the extensive O’Neal family. Eric was a good friend. He leaves behind scores of great friends and lives he has touched. Eric was a good Christian and espoused unwavering faith throughout all the trials of his life including his valiant battle with cancer. I know his faith was a great comfort not only to himself but to his family and loved ones. Eric was a good cook. In a family with both Debbie and Jim O’Neal, being a contender in the kitchen is no light task. Eric was a contender. His mashed potatoes were incredible. The secret is somehow chardonnay but I’ve never had the culinary prowess to pull it off. I could go on and on. Eric was a complicated soul with a dynamic and beautiful character. Eric was a good man and he leaves a very big void in his wake, not only because of his stature, although he was always easy to spot in a crowd being so tall and having such a giant presence, but he also had a giant heart and loving soul. I wish him and all of us he leaves behind peace and comfort. Eric was a good man.
Reading that, which I am quite proud of, makes me think differently about what I would write and what it would be. We have no kids, but we still love our families.
Anyway, this is a thought I keep having and I think I will write something, macabre as it may be, and post it here. It may take a bit.