I would like to reach out my hand

Last week I went with some co-workers out to San Francisco for a conference.  I had a great time, learned a bunch of stuff, and met a lot of people from around the world all working in the same sorts of roles.  I’m still going through all the notes and pictures, so I will be writing about the trip soon, but while there I got a phone call from my cousin Eileen, Evan’s mom.  She and her husband asked me if I would be willing to read the post I made about Evan’s passing at a memorial service they were having.

I’ll be honest, I was floored.  I wrote that a bit off-the-cuff, on my iPad while sitting in the living room going through old family pictures.  I didn’t think it was all that special, really, not my best work, but they really liked it, and wanted me to share it with everyone.

“It’s not written as a speech, you know,” I told her.

“That’s fine,” she said, “it’s really beautiful and is a wonderful tribute to Evan, and we would love for you to read it.”

“I’d be honored to.  But… well, I should probably take out the swears.”

(from the background) “No! Leave them in!” John, Evan’s dad, yelled.

And so it was settled, and I began a four-day fretting session about wanting to edit it, but not wanting to, because they asked me to read it as-is, and had me send them a copy of the text right then.  I still tweaked it, and wrote a preamble, explaining what it was, and apologizing for the curses in it.  My tendency to be blunt came back to bite me in the as- er, butt.  In fact, a majority of the flight on Sunday night was spent running through it in my mind, falling back on the tricks and techniques I learned back in college during all those communications classes, and trying to make sure I didn’t miss any fine-tuning.

You have to understand something.  I am not afraid of public speaking.  I have given eulogies, speeches, and MC’d many events.  But this one was actually making me nervous.  I mentioned this to my wife and a couple of friends, and how out of character this was for me, and got a ton of support and reassurances, but as anyone who knows me is aware, I am really hard on myself, and really wanted to push myself to do this right.

Monday night arrives.  I put the speech into a teleprompter app for my iPad, got on my suit and tie, and went off to the service.  Evan’s dad is a teacher at the local high school, and the service was held in the auditorium of the school.  By the time the service began, it was nearly full, at least a couple of hundred friends, family members, teachers and students packing the hall to say goodbye to their relative, student, friend.  It was not just a memorial service, it was a Celebration Of Life.

It was a beautiful service.  Evan’s dad made a great video montage of photos and video clips of Evan, students gave some testimonials and performed songs and an interpretive dance routine that in other circumstances might have seemed a bit odd, but fit right in.  John and Eileen also read poems that Evan had written in ninth grade, and nary a dry eye could be found.

Evan had followed a Buddhist path in life, and a large section of the service was based on the Buddhist perspective of the cycle of life.  A friend of the family, a man who I considered a Sifu (although that title might be inappropriate) in Buddhist teachings gave a long talk about the cycle of life and one’s manifestations, there being no birth, no death, just different manifestations of self.  A very serene, peaceful man, and the entire time he was speaking I kept thinking “Holy crap, I have to follow this? With my cursing blog post?!”

When the time came for me to go up to speak, though, I will admit, the adrenaline and the training took over, and most of the nervousness fled, leaving behind my “phone voice” and the rush that always accompanies walking onto a stage.  I read my post, complete with disclaimer, and even read the parenthetical joke (I really shouldn’t have, it sucks when read aloud)

Then there was applause.  Huh, cool, they laughed at the right times (except for the joke, but that was my fault), they seemed to respond well to what I said, and as I walked away I got a wonderful look from Evan’s mom, and grins and encouraging looks from his dad and brother.  Afterward people came up to me and thanked me for my words, and as is my way I thanked them and deflected the compliments a little bit with a joke about being the guy who swears at memorial services.

Look, I’m Irish.  We do not take compliments well, we are raised that way.  Take a compliment and you may as well be bragging, or something.  Why do you think we drink so much? C’mon…

One of the most touching moments of the night, however, came when Evan’s brother Conor went to the podium and spoke.  I had felt bad about my speech in front of the Sifu, but I felt so inferior to Conor when he spoke.  I could not have done what he did, delivering such a heartfelt reminiscing and farewell to his twin brother, and he received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of his testimonial. I don’t know where he found the strength, I certainly could not have done that, but he did it, and did it so well that I felt like a chimp signing “KOKO CUP BALL BYE EVAN” in comparison.

I’ve long wanted to have “I’ll Be On My Way” by The Saw Doctors played at any service for me,  but I have to say, the choice of Rusted Root’s “Send Me On My Way” and the soloist performance by Conor’s girlfriend was a perfect closing to the night, done twice because during the first time through the microphone was dead, and everyone insisted they do it again with a good mic.

I gotta say, give me a good memorial service like that over a formulaic funeral any day.  Especially when there are a lot of people who really cared for the person and are given a real opportunity to say good-bye.  I think Evan would have been a little embarrassed at the attention, but also touched, because he was sent off in style, and I know it helped his family through this whole ordeal, seeing the love and support that everyone had for them.

One thought on “I would like to reach out my hand

  1. It was the most beautiful celebration I have ever been to. So much love in that room – it was palpable. I spoke with “sifu” and tol him that my youngest said how incredibly touching it was listening to what he said. I then told him my husband said to me “I thought how am I going to follow that?!” Sifu said he thought it was wonderful. Joe, it was beautiful, cursing and all. It was appropriate and honest and it made Evan’s family happy, not the right word, to share this with everyone that night. It will remain in people’s hearts whenever they think of Evan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *