I don’t know what it is about funerals that make me want to write a blog. I guess maybe it’s the inevitability of sitting there in a church, synagogue, or wherever you might be hearing about the end of one person’s life on earth that makes us think about our own life. Maybe it’s that I’m in my mid-50s now so, actuarially speaking, I’m in the 6th inning or so. Oh, I have a few more at-bats in my future, but not as many as I had 20 years ago. That’s just math. I think another part of it is that I’ve had the opportunity to attend the funerals of some really remarkable people in the last 4 or 5 years. That provokes some interesting self-reflection.
Earlier this week, Facebook posted a memory to my page from four years ago when my amazing friend, Paul Witteman, passed on New Year’s Day. I wrote about 10 blogs on Paul and his life, but they all seemed so weak compared to his actual life that I never posted any of them. It still helped to write them. And, if you go back to the very first blog I ever wrote, I said the purpose was for me to get stuff out of my head and that it was for me, not my readers (now apparently up to four).
Then, there was the tragic passing of Dick and Jody Vilardo in a horrible double murder in my home town two years ago. I did post that blog (here).
Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Andy Fox. Andy’s brother, Tim, is married to my sister, Amy. Andy passed just before Christmas at the way-too-young age of 49. I met Andy a few times at various family functions, though it has been quite a while since I’ve seen him. So, in fairness, I didn’t really know Andy. And, like the Vilardo funeral, I walked out of this one thinking to myself, “Shit, I wish I had gotten to know Andy better when he was alive.”
Andy was developmentally disabled, which meant he faced far more complex challenges than most of us do. And, it meant his parents, Nora and Denver, had to persevere for Andy in ways that most parents don’t. Denver even quit his job to start a non-profit to provide supported employment services for Andy and others with severe developmental disabilities.
That’s amazing stuff, but what really stood out to me in the weeks leading up to the funeral and the service itself was just how full a life Andy led despite these challenges. My sense is that the few times I was with Andy, like at my sister’s wedding, were at events that took Andy somewhat out of his comfort zone. I had never had the opportunity to experience life with Andy in his element. For example, multiple people told stories of how much Andy loved swimming with his parents. The pictures of Andy in the pool with a huge smile on his face were a testament to this. I wish I had had the opportunity to spend time with Andy in his comfort zone.
I opened by saying funerals usually provide an opportunity to think about some little piece of my own life. I’m a worrier and a stresser. Always. Every day. I work in a complex profession and take every setback personally. By any measure, my kids have led very fortunate lives, but I stress about them too. All the time. But, listening to the pastor eulogize Andy and listening to his family tell stories about him made me feel small. It made me realize that the barriers I’ve had to fight through and the stress I’ve had to deal with were like the guys hurdling matchboxes in that famous skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus called “Twit of the Year.” I guess I was the twit in this episode!
I cannot imagine, nor do I want to, what it must be like to lose a sibling or, perhaps even worse, a child. I observed this up close yesterday and the pain was intense. At the same time, I think we were all soothed by the amazing rendition of “No More Night” sung by Andy’s homecare provider and home host at the end of the service. I know I was. And hopefully I learned a little something from someone who had to overcome real barriers. RIP Andy.