Time heals all wounds. Sounds nice. But I’m not sure I believe it. In fact, I don’t. Because I’m living proof. It takes more than time. At least it did for me.
When my Dad died in 2000, it sucked. Trust me. It still sucks. But that wasn’t the moment that really challenged me.
That moment came 10 years ago — to the day as I type this (June 11). That’s the day I got the call from my brother Tom that his twin, my brother Tim, had collapsed in rural Massachusetts and was being transferred to a hospital in Springfield and that things “didn’t look good.” Oh, and that I should get there as soon as possible.
Well, normally, that would be easy to do. The challenge this time was that when I took the call from Tom, I was already in a hospital for an absolute joyous moment — the birth of our beloved Erin Margaret. She arrived early enough the day before, the morning of June 10, that Renee and I were actually getting ready to be discharged when Tom called. His call just sped up the process.
Many of you know this story. For those that don’t, it’s all here on the blog, but essentially, the month of June, prior to last year, looked like this for me.
June 10 — Erin born
June 11 — Tim collapses
June 12-15 — basically a blur with Tim on life-support until my nephew gets home from Iraq
June 16 — nephew gets home, Tim comes off life support
Oh, and that’s right. Father’s Day is around this time, too, so due to all this, the memories of Bob come flooding back.
As if that wasn’t a challenging week enough, my Mother died June 13 last year. So, this year, my previous June hell week becomes a bit rougher, especially on the first anniversary of her death. It could have really made this an absolutely horrific week for me.
It hasn’t. And for that I am immensely proud.
Please, don’t misunderstand. Today was tough. The 13th will be tough. The 16th will be tough. Father’s Day will always be tough.
Tough is one thing. I can handle tough. And that’s the point. I’ve learned how. But it took me a long time. Before I learned, I was miserable. I had some very dark times in my life. From this point 10 years ago til 2010, so a total of three years. I was in the most challenging point of my life. I was letting loss overtake me in many ways.
It would go like this. Dad’s birthday in July, must be miserable because he’s not here to celebrate. January was rough because Tim’s birthday is that month. It’s also the month in which Dad died. June. Oh, June. Erin’s birth, which should be so joyful, ‘ruined’ by Tim’s collapse and death. Get right through that and then it’s Father’s Day. Oh, that’s right, my father’s dead.
It was brutal. I couldn’t escape the cycle. Thank goodness I did because adding Mom’s death into that mix would not have been a good situation.
But, I made the call year’s ago. I’ve written about it. I made the call to the Employee Assistance Program through work. That was the best phone call I ever made. I’m not sure I can say that it saved me, but it sure did change me. For the better.
I know I wasn’t myself during those few years. Some of you as much as told me that.
But, now, I can look back on it and celebrate the success. So why am I writing about this? One of the things I learned in counseling was how to anticipate the moments that would negatively affect me and then deal with those emotions. My triggers were similar. And if I could understand them and deal with them, then I can handle situations much better than focusing on the absolute negative.
Because that’s what I was doing. Only focusing on the negative. And it was bringing me down. Way down.
So this year, being the 10th anniversary of Tim and the first anniversary of Mom, there was the opportunity for a lot of triggers. But, I anticipated them. Found a way to deal with them and accept them. And, I thought, you know what, I have things to say. I need to blog. And one of those things — and perhaps the most important thing — is that I’m proud of myself.
You could have been dealing with a very different me this week.
Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I’ll have some sadness this week. How could I not? But the key is that I will also have perspective and understanding. I will also find ways to utilize this week to remember happy times. My Mother, as many of you know, left letters behind when she died. I’ve read that letter twice already this week, and I’m sure I’ll read it again. And again.
When Tim died, there was a huge outpouring of emotion from his work. Those people showed a completely different side of him I didn’t know existed. So I’ve read some of that, to be reminded of the person I didn’t know as well, but wish I did.
And, on Father’s Day, while I am incredibly blessed to be Aidan and Erin’s Dad, it reminds me now of how blessed I am to be Bob’s son. It’s not negative any more. It can be sad. And it should be — to a degree. It just isn’t negative. I’ve let it be too negative in the past.
And, on this occasion, in a week that offers so many memories, emotions and feelings, I am reminded of how grateful I am — and for how proud I am — for picking up that phone, putting pride aside, and asking for help.
Doing that has allowed me to relive memories and cherish them as a way to honor my family. Whereas, before, I was allowing the death of my family members to consume me and to take away the positive memories and influences and impacts they had on my life. It was all about the negative.
It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. So incredibly worth it.
Happy birthday! Hard to believe you’re a teenager today. Though now that you are taller than me, maybe it shouldn’t be that hard to believe. As I look back on your life so far, I am filled with immense pride and joy. After all, it is somewhat ironic. For the first part of our marriage, Mom and I never really considered having kids. It wasn’t for us. Or so we thought. Thankfully, over time, our opinions changed. And, while there was definitely a time when we couldn’t imagine ourselves as parents, it’s certainly safe to say now that we couldn’t imagine ourselves not as parents. We are so thankful and blessed for the joy you and Erin have brought into our lives.
And it’s those moments, Aidan, or at least some of them, that I’d like to share with you for your birthday. For the next few minutes, I want you to read about moments in your life that I remember well — for whatever reason. And, I’ll try to tell you what those reasons are as we go through the list. Sometimes the reasons are obvious. Sometimes not so much. In honor of you reaching the teenage years, I’ve got 13 things to share with you. It certainly could have been a longer list. So many options! But, alas, because you turn 13 today, I thought that was a good number to start with. Here goes!
- I saw an ad in the paper today for the “Day out with Thomas” event down in Essex. It brought me back to your early years so quickly! How you loved Thomas the Tank Engine! We watched the show all the time! We took you to Essex to see Thomas years ago. And, Aidan, you loved to build tracks. We had so many of the engines and so much track. (We still have them, in fact, because Mom refuses to let them go!) You would take such good care of those engines, lining them all up in so many different ways. Just like you would build tracks. You would always try to use all the pieces we have (and you usually did!). There was a period of time where track was set up in our living room for months on end. And, to be honest, sometimes I wish we could take out the track and build one — just like we used to do all the time.
- When you weren’t building tracks and running engines, you were working on puzzles. If the floor wasn’t covered with track, it was covered with puzzles (and sometimes both!). Sometimes you would have 10 or 12 puzzles out, completed and decorating the floor. The ones I remember vividly were the state puzzles. You learned your states by doing puzzles. That was always fun to watch. Even now, when you work on a puzzle, your brain just works differently than mine (in a good way!) You may not know this, but I’ve always been envious of your ability to solve puzzles.
- I love the holidays with you. And one of the main reasons why is our manger set. You know the significance of that in our family, the fact that it’s more than 50 years old. You know how much it meant to me when I would work with my Dad on putting it together every Christmas. For the past few years, you’ve always been a great helper — especially bringing the wise men closer each day. However, this year, you really took to it in your own way, setting up so much of it with me just watching. You knew what you wanted to do, and it looked great. How could I complain? You never met your Papa O. That frustrates me so much. But, what makes me happy are little things like working on the manger that help to establish that family connection.
- Speaking of family connections….I’ll never forget how much you used to protect your sister when she was a newborn. No matter where we went, you had your big brother radar on — in a big way. You’d be walking with Mom and me and someone would come up to the stroller to get a peak at your sister. You had other plans for those people. That’s because you would cover Erin in the stroller and not let anyone see her. Yes, it was rude, and we had to work around that, much to your chagrin. But, despite that, as I think back on it, those moments, for me, really show how much you cared about your sister then — and still care for her now. I know you don’t like to show emotion (if at all), but you have started to show her more respect and love through your actions. And for that, we are grateful.
- Staying with the family connections theme for a bit, I used to smile so much when you’d come to the cemetery with me when you were younger. You were so good there. Not only would you help me set up baskets at family graves, but you would also often fix the flags on the graves of veterans. And, you would also straighten up memorial baskets on other graves, too. I think you know the importance of the cemetery to me, so it gives me great pride when you help now, and when I think back of you fixing flags and baskets when you were much younger.
- Music has become such a part of your life. In fact, I think it’s appropriate that you’re playing in a concert tonight on your birthday. That trumpet is such a part of you, and I so love to hear you play. It’s been a pretty amazing journey to watch you progress so quickly in such a short period of time. I’ll never forget your first solo, Aidan. It was during the Christmas concert held at St. Pat’s. You performed When the Saints Go Marching In. And you were flawless. What you don’t know about that night is how much stress I was under — first of all because of the strike situation at work and secondly because my godfather was dying. It was a very hard time for me. But in that moment, at St. Pat’s, I was beaming with absolute pride and could forget about all the negative going on around me when you stood up and absolutely nailed your first solo!
- The next two memories are about music, too. That’s what happens when it takes up so much of your life. The next solo you conquered was at the school Flag Day ceremony later that year. Sister Regina asked you to play during the ceremony organized by your fourth grade class. And play you did! You did five songs, all while being the center of attention as the entire school population stood around you. It was an absolutely amazing moment for you, Aidan, one I still think about quite a bit as you continue this journey with band.
- Fast forward to seventh grade, and we are absolutely amazed (and proud!) when you are asked to join the high school marching band. Mom and I didn’t know what to expect, and we’re not sure you did either. This was new to all of us, but you took it and made it such an important part of your life. You practiced so hard, and we were introduced to an amazing new culture, so much so that I can’t imagine not having band in our lives. I remember the moment from this year that made me the most proud. I bet it will surprise you because, in fact, it was a time when you weren’t even playing your instrument. At your home competition, you were chosen, as a seventh grader, to be one of the escorts for a visiting band. You did so with such pride and confidence. I know, I got to see you up close when I was working the gate and you brought the band to the field area. Nobody would have known you were in seventh grade. That’s part of what I’ll always remember, that and how you carried yourself that night. So impressed.
- And while you are already getting yourself familiar with life in high school, you know how important your time is at Sacred Heart School. When I think of you at SHS, I often think of Sister Regina. I know how special you were to her — and I know how special she was to you. She relied on your help so much. And you were always there to help her in any way possible. That’s such a commendable thing. When she needed something done, she came to you, just as many still do, but it was Sister Regina who first, I think, really got you focused on school pride. I know it was sad for you when she died, but I also know she made such an impression on you. I have no doubt you will always carry a part of her legacy with you.
- Because of all the work you did for Sister Regina, it has led me to jokingly refer to you as the Mayor of Sacred Heart from time to time. Obviously our whole family is involved with the school, but it’s clear how much the teachers rely on you for help. Mom and I hear this all the time, but we also see it when we are at events and you are always one of the last kids there. You are always focused on finding a way to help clean up or do something to make the school a better place. St. Michael’s was such an important part of my life, Aidan, that it gives me great pleasure to know you care so much for Sacred Heart. Sending you there was probably one of the best decisions Mom and I have ever made.
- Speaking of Sacred Heart, it’s been fun to see you involved as an altar server at church. You have become the go to man when it comes to this! You seem to serve all the school masses, and you always do such a great job at regular Sunday masses. It’s clear to Mom and me that you take great pride in your work. You’ve trained your sister and helped others learn more about it, too. We love hearing your interest in serving special masses like First Communion and Graduation. And your knowledge has paid off a few times when you’ve known where some things are at church that Mom and I didn’t even know existed! You are valued and respected there, and it makes us very proud.
- Things haven’t always been easy for you when it comes to health stuff. While you have been blessed with overall good health, you’ve endured so many appointments surrounding your allergies and asthma. You’ve had more ear infections and cases of bronchitis than anyone should ever have. You’ve had two sets of stitches and an operation that you don’t remember. And, a few years ago, you were incredibly sick during the Easter season that required a not so pleasant trip to the ER and your first experience with a suppository. Through all of that, no tears. Just one tough kid.
- Tears, however, are the focus of this last memory, Aidan. You probably are thinking I’m crazy to end this with a memory of you crying. But, I can’t help it. I have never been as proud of you as I was during that moment. It was just about a year ago. Mimi O passed away. She had been sick for a while. You knew that, and I think you understood it. I can remember you sitting next to her on her couch and helping her with iPad. She loved you so much. I’ll never forget, before you were born, Mimi O and Aunt Lynn drove to Backus in the middle of the night because they were so excited for your impending arrival. They ended up going home for the night and then coming back the next morning. Mimi O was so excited to meet you. And, when she passed, you were strong — until the funeral. As you know, I was a mess, crying virtually all the way through the service. I was so thankful that you cried. I felt you had been holding things in. You weren’t letting go any of your emotions in any way. And then, at the funeral, you were overcome. I was so proud of you. That took great strength to show that side of you. To show that your feelings were real. We tried to talk to you a few times about how you felt. You were never interested. But, at that moment, you showed us. And I’m so glad you did. Don’t ever shy from your emotions, Aidan. They help determine who you are.
That’s the thing about this, Aidan. You aren’t a kid any more. You are an incredible young man that gives us great pride every day. Sure, you give us frustration, too. That’s part of being a teenager. We understand that. You’ve asked a lot lately why Mom and I are interested in certain aspects of your life, and why we care about certain things. As we’ve told you, it’s because we care about you and we love you. All of these moments, all of these experiences, help build not just who you are, but who you will be. So much is ahead of you. So many experiences await you. So many opportunities. I can’t help but be excited for you and whatever adventure lies ahead.
Until then, Mom and I will be right here. Always ready to help you, support you and love you. Happy birthday, buddy!
It’s been three weeks since “the real Jackie O” died. I knew I would get here eventually. Heck, based on some of the comments I’ve had from a few of you, you knew I’d get her eventually. I just didn’t think it would take this long.
And, now that I’m here, I’m not sure I know exactly what to say. So for those of you looking forward to reading this, I hope I’m not going to disappoint you. But then again, this isn’t about you. Or about me. In this case, it’s about her. And that’s what matters most.
So that’s what I’ll talk about — at least for now. There will be plenty of time in the future for me to talk about other things. Stuff like, you know, how I’m now a member of the “no living parent” club. Trust me, it’s not a club you want to join. I’m not sure there’s one person who is happy to be a member of that club.
I suppose you expected me to be here sooner because of all my previous writings about death. Afterall, I’ve gotten to be pretty good at it. Again, not something I’m proud of or something I’m excited to be good at. It just means I’ve had my fair share (well, clearly fair isn’t the right word here) of it to deal with. And this is how I’ve dealt with it. Here. In this space. So why change now?
I guess that’s my point. Maybe I thought things had changed when Mom died. Maybe I didn’t need to be in this space. Well, doesn’t matter. Because here I am. And, well, here you are, too. And, by the way, thanks for that.
Some of you know this, some of you don’t. Bear with me if you’ve heard some of it before.
When my Dad died 16 years ago, I wasn’t there. Renee and I were living in Vermont at the time. It was Super Bowl Sunday when my brother Tom called and said things “didn’t look good” and that we “should come home” as soon as possible. Dad had been sick. Hospice was involved. We knew we were getting close, but this happened fast. I had planned to go home that weekend, but he actually told me not to. So much for listening to your parents. We got things together as quickly as we could and got in the car for the drive home.
We didn’t make it in time. Rather than be home with everyone else, I found out that my Dad died while in a phone booth in Greenfield, MA. We stopped for gas, and I called home to let them know our status. It was too late, my brother Tim said.
Not being there floored me. Catholic guilt to the hilt. It took a long, long time for me to get over that. Therapy played a big part in that, too. It just really affected me — more than I would let on or acknowledge.
The other thing that really bothered me — and had my head spinning for years — was something we learned after Dad died. One of the nurses told us that Dad wanted to write letters to each of us. Again, floored. I wish I hadn’t heard that. Because then I wouldn’t have spent so much time wondering what would have been in that letter. Never have I wanted so desperately to receive a letter. I wish, in hindsight, that I never knew he wanted to do that.
So, what does this have to do with Mom? After all, I did say this was going to be about her.
Well, two things.
First, I wasn’t there when Mom died. And I’m OK with it. Honest. Here’s the thing. My sister and brother weren’t there either. Once we got hospice involved, we started a basically round-the-clock watch in her room. We had great support of family and friends, but of the three of us, we tried to be there as often as possible — ‘just in case.’ In fact, in her last few days, those of us not there got the call to come down twice as ‘things were close.’ But, the real Jackie O had other ideas. Despite there being times when I sat and prayed in her room and told her it was OK to go, that we were going to be OK, nothing. In fact, the last time I told her that was on Monday, June 13, just before I left after covering the overnight shift.
A few hours later, I was at work when my sister called. “It’s over,” she said. And three minutes later I was in the car en route to the nursing home. Even though my sister called me from there, she wasn’t there when Mom passed. And either was my brother. Mom had a plan. And it was clearly for none of us to be present when she passed. She wasn’t alone. She was with her best friend, who said the end was simple and peaceful. But after hearing stories and talking to people about these moments, I am absolutely convinced this was my Mom’s plan. My sister was en route. But she passed right before she got there. She spent her whole life trying never to burden her children with anything. And this was the last example of that. Not burdening us with being there in her final moments. Not having one of us there or two of us there. She did it her way. And would you really expect any different?
The other thing….and this is what completely slayed me. The real Jackie O had everything set and ready for us. We knew what songs she wanted at the funeral. We knew if there was a wake (“you can have one, but nobody will come,” she wrote), what she wanted. We knew so much because she left a book for us. A book filled with logistical things about the arrangements, but also a book filled with memories, important moments and a host of other things she wanted to share with us. It was an absolute treasure and unbelievable gift for her to leave us. The cover had a note on it that said, “To be opened immediately upon my demise……Mumsie.” Can’t make this up.
But here’s where it gets incredible. Remember the letters my father wanted to write? Well, guess what? Yup, Jackie O wrote them. One for Tom. One for Lynn. One for me. What a gift. Part of me wanted to open it right away. But I waited. I waited until we were home later that night. The kids were in bed. Renee was doing some work. I just took the letter into the living room, opened it up, and was immediately overcome with emotion reading her words.
We have never been a verbal family. We just weren’t. So this was perfect. So very perfect. In three pages of her best handwriting, she praised me, scolded me, apologized to me and taught me. It was an unbelievable act of parenting. One last time. In her words. In her voice. I’ve read that letter no less than 25 times now. I hear her voice as I read along. I suppose that will always be the case.
Renee has read it. And that’ll be it. I won’t share it with my siblings. We’ve shared themes and what not, but we won’t share the letters. Far too personal. We don’t know when she wrote them. She referenced Timmy dying, so they had to be done in the last nine years. And her writing is pristine, so I’m thinking they were written at least four to five years ago. There’s no date or any other indicator of timing. Not that that matters. It’s just curiosity.
I’m guessing she wrote them shortly after Timmy’s death. Again, we weren’t a very verbal family. I’m guessing there were things she wanted to say to each of us and wanted to make sure we knew certain things, and, well, rather than tell us directly (so not her style), she left us the letters to leave no mistake. There’s a part of me that is hugely frustrated that there are some things in the letter that were never said to me in person. However, there’s a hugely satisfied part of me that knows I have this letter for good. And I can open it anytime I want and not just read her words — but hear her words. It is quite simply my most treasured possession. You know, I’m not sure I knew what that was before Mom died. Probably some piece of sports memorabilia. But now, it’s the letter and nothing else comes close.
Mom was a teacher by trade. And she lived that all the way til the end — leaving us — or at least me — with one last lesson. I hope I can complete it. It’s not an easy one for me. And, it’s even a struggle I have in my own way of parenting. Is it earth shattering? No, it’s not. But if I follow through, it’ll make me a better person, and be it as a teacher or as a parent, isn’t that really what Mom always tried to do — make me/us better?
While you think about that, I’m out of here. I’ve got a letter to read. Again.
I’m really good at writing eulogies. I’m just not really good at giving them. And there was no better example than today at Mom’s funeral. I tried something completely different, in part as a tribute to her, and in part as a way I thought might help get me through it. So much for that idea.
I was so blown up with emotion that I didn’t even get the first line out before Renee had to come up and finish reading it for me. Thank goodness she’s the rock!
There will be more to come about Mom’s passing. Many have asked certain questions and I can answer a lot of that here at once over time. Stand by for that. Meantime, I had a request to post what’s below, so here it is. The background story is this, Mom taught at St. Michael School in Pawcatuck. Every year, at the last faculty gathering, she would read a poem that recapped the entire year.
So….I thought I’d use that approach for my talk about her. I’m super proud of how it came out….I just wish the words had actually come out of my mouth! 🙂
More to come….but here it is:
My Gift to Mom
It was just about this time, almost every year
when the teachers of St. Michael gathered to hear
thoughts from my mom on the year that was
it’s something she did annually….just because
The thing of it is, if you haven’t figured it out by now
She always did it in rhyme, though they never knew how
She taught this to me, though I’m not sure she knew
And today I’m going to share our combined gift with you
A walk through the past in which you’ll soon know,
There’s a lot more to learn about the real Jackie O
Or to you maybe she’s an aunt, a colleague or a friend
But no matter what she was to you, she was that to the end
And she’ll be it going forward, of that I have no doubt
Her spirit will always be with us, it will never fade out.
She wouldn’t let us have it any other way
The memories we have? They will definitely stay.
So perhaps the first one I share you assume will be a joke.
The only place to start is with her beloved Diet Coke
Come to the house and you better have one in tow
Because, if you don’t, off to McDonalds you’ll go
Cumby’s if you’re in a pinch, Subway soda, too
If it wasn’t McDonalds Diet, she definitely knew.
So to the nearest Golden Arches we always did flock
But without her as a customer, I worry about the stock!
She loved her time at St. Michaels, it brought her great variety.
Toy parades, field trips and her beloved ROT Society.
Live and Learn and Family Dollar brought many stories to share
My favorite? The customer who asked, “Do you sell shoes in pairs?”
Our mother loved Christmas and she loved to have fun.
One year I opened something and it said “Number One Son!”
We always argued who was the favorite, but here was a clue!
The only problem? Minutes later, Tim and Tom opened one, too!
For me there’s more to show that she loved me the best
In fact, I think this clue is more powerful than the rest.
After all, it’s pretty simple, Mom came to consensus
Of her four children, I’m the only one who is ‘Precious.’
Mom lived simply, it’s really all she knew
And once your were her friend, she was your friend, too
She followed what she taught to her students at school
that the best way to live is to follow the golden rule
Do unto others as you’d have done to you
You do it for her, and she’ll do it for you.
She led by example, work hard and get it done
And when and if you finish, then it’s time for fun.
She may have been frugal, but I’d never call her cheap
Like at Christmas time, the bows…those we always had to keep.
She lived within her means, she wasn’t monetarily rich
but I’m not sure there’s one person, with whose life she’d like to switch.
She loved us through and through, she always did her best.
To us she is the greatest mom, better than the rest.
We’re not very affectionate, we rarely say things out loud
She lived a very content life. I have no doubt she was proud.
And now there’s one last thing that I truly must share
For us I know for sure, mom will always be there
Though now there’s a difference, she’s in heaven up above
joining Dad and Tim, and looking down at us with love.
A lot of you know that I lost someone dear to me recently. My cousin, who is also my godfather, lost a five year battle with cancer last Tuesday. It’s an immeasurable loss not just for me, but for anyone who knew him.
What made this situation unique is that four years ago, Michael asked me to do something for him. He asked me to give his eulogy. But there was a catch. A big catch. He wanted to read it.
So, even though he died last week, I wrote his eulogy, per his request, four years ago. I gave it to him four years ago. And his closest friends and family heard it Saturday when I spoke at the funeral. Or, at least, I tried to speak. I probably read one-third of it. Renee, thankfully, was strong enough to help with the rest because I was such a wreck.
You may think it strange for me to post it here. But I don’t. He was such an influence on me. He is a big part of who I am. So, if you know me, then you know Michael. By sharing this, I just want you to know him a little better.
Writing a eulogy isn’t really a difficult thing. It’s simply an expression of feelings. Delivering it, however, is usually the challenging part. At least for me.
But what makes this eulogy unique is that Michael actually knows what I’m going to say. Yup. He’s heard it already. or, I should say, he’s read it already.
That was his request. And how could I deny it? Even though there’s an obvious discomfort in writing a eulogy for someone when that someone is, well, still alive.
Know, please, that part of the way Michael and I dealt with his sickness was with humor. So much, in fact, that when he first asked me to do this, it was election season. You all remember the radio and TV ads that we hear during an election season. Well, Michael, in his own way, wanted to put a special touch on this. While you can rest assured that we didn’t in fact do this, we laughed for quite a while at his idea of him recording a message that I would play at the end of this that says, “I’m Michael Keane, and I approved this message.”
Because he has read it, I know that he did approve it. And, honestly, I can’t tell you how much that means to me. Because, for most of my life, I have sought Michael’s approval on so many levels. I don’t know if he realized that or not, but it’s true.
Not only are we cousins, he’s my godfather. He’s my accountant. He’s my friend. He’s my travel agent. He’s who I go to for pretty much anything. In short, he’s my guy.
He’s heard me deliver eulogies to my brother and to my father – and he knows now, only because he’s read this – that neither of those are as difficult for me as this one.
But, this isn’t about me. This is about Michael. As it should be. And as it will be.
There simply has been no greater male influence in my life than Michael Keane. I don’t make that statement lightly. Yet, it’s true.
He’s been all of what I mentioned earlier. He’s been a big brother. He’s been a father figure. And he’s been so much more. So much that I can’t always find the right words.
He’s taught me more about the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, BlackJack, Rotisserie Baseball, Vegas and good steak – among other things — than anyone.
Michael played fantasy baseball, so I had to play fantasy baseball.
Michael went to Vegas, so I had to go to Vegas.
Michael went on baseball junkets, so I had to go on baseball junkets.
His generosity was incredible. Never asking for a thing in return, yet always giving.
One time, I was at his house, admiring his new man cave in the basement and dreaming about the day I’d have the same set up. A week later, the phone rings.
“Michael,” He said.
“Yeah, hey, how’s it going?” I asked.
“Good” he said.
“What’s up?” I asked.
He told me: “Get yourself to the mall, go into Tweeter and give them your name.”
“Um, why?” I asked.
“Would you just go, please. Don’t ask questions.” And that was it.
So I go. And I give my name to the associate. He types something in to the computer, smiles and says, come this way.
“Seems like you’ve got someone who likes you,” he says and before I realize what he means, he’s telling me, “You get that, that and that.”
What do you mean, I get that, that and that i asked.
Well, it seems Mr. Keane has taken care of this for you.
After the shock wore off, and I got things home and hooked up, I called to thank him.
Don’t thank me, he said. Just enjoy it. Needless to say, that wasn’t going to be a problem. That was just his way. He didn’t need thanks. Knowing that someone would enjoy his generosity – at any level – was enough for him.
As I said, he was my guy. For everything. Trips, steak, Disney advice, financial advice. Anything. He was the first call I’d make. And he always made sense. Always pointed me in the right direction. He taught me so much. About everything. About life.
And along the way, he would always kid.
He’d say, You know, I wouldn’t have to buy you stuff if you were an accounting major in school. Yup, that was one of his favorites. I’m a PR man by trade and Michael couldn’t understand why I’d want to work with words instead of numbers.
Ironically, I’m standing here because he finally understood why.
As I mentioned, Michael heard me deliver two eulogies – first my Dad’s and most recently my brother’s. After Tim’s funeral, family was gathering outside the church. I was still a wreck. Michael hugged me. Well, not really, but he put his arm around me to comfort me and for us, well, i think that was a hug. Whatever it was, it worked for me.
That wasn’t the most important part. It was what he said that I’ll never forget.
He said, “Now I understand why you do what you do. You have a gift.”
Not that I was seeking his approval, but it sure felt good to get it.
Whom I kidding? Of course, I was seeking his approval.
Which leads me to his request that I write his eulogy – before he died.
No pressure or anything. Not to sound weird, but normally, there wouldn’t be. It’s not like the person being eulogized typically knows what is being said about him.
Just the opposite in this case. He does know. Which brings the pressure.
He asked me to do this and he wanted to read it. Once I gave it to him, in a sealed envelope, I couldn’t help but think — What if I disappointed him? How could it possibly be good enough compared to all he’s done for me? After all, these are just words.
Well, I’m here, so I have to assume that it was good enough for him. In fact, as strange as it seems, maybe writing a eulogy for someone before they die isn’t such a bad idea. After all, in an Irish-Catholic family like ours, it’s not like we make a habit of actually sharing our feelings.
So, in a strange sense, for me, if there is one good thing that came out of Michael getting sick, it’s that I was finally able to tell him just how much he means to me.
Just how much he influences my life.
Just how much I love him.
And, because of that, I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know that he has, in fact, approved this message.
I’m headed back to Disney World this summer for the first time in, well, a long time. More than 35 years, in fact.
Summer of ’76 — Bob and Jackie packed the four of us up in the station wagon and we headed due south. Next stop, the Magic Kingdom. Since that trip, I’ve done Epcot and Universal, but I’ve never been back to the Magic Kingdom.
I don’t have many memories from that trip. And, those that I do have are more centered on the actual trip itself — the stories that a family travelling in a station wagon are destined to have forever.
One of the few memories I have of the actual Magic Kingdom revolve around the “It’s a Small World” ride. I don’t remember it for a great ride. Rather, I remember it for the annoying song that I can still hear in my head — as if I was six-year-old on the ride today.
The point, in case you’re trying to figure this out, is that Walt Disney was right.
It really is a small world.
And, the thing that’s happening now is this — as I get older, the world gets smaller.
At first, I wasn’t a big fan of this notion. Well, both notions, actually – that I’m getting older and that the world is getting smaller.
I can’t fight the age thing, obviously. Though if I could, I certainly would.
But the getting smaller part? I’m a lot more open to this than I would have been just a couple of years ago. Those that know me best, know that I’m actually more shy than social. Hard to believe for some, but 100 percent true.
When I’m in a new situation and/or environment, there are typically two things that help me ‘loosen’ up and become more of my self.
The first usually take the longest. It’s simply a matter of me feeling comfortable in the situation/environment. That could be just becoming more comfortable in the physical space or, more likely, taking my time to get to know new people before letting them know more about me. Before really letting them ‘in.’ Once in, it’s a different story. But it takes a while for me to let someone in. Always has.
The second part of this can get me to my comfort level faster. That’s finding out that, in this new situation/environment, that I actually have a connection with someone there. Usually, you don’t know that connection exists. Maybe it gets discovered in a meeting. Maybe it gets discovered in casual small talk. Either way, when it does, it makes, at least me, anyway, much more comfortable.
Sometimes, that connection is short-term, but it still has a huge impact. One of my previous posts addresses just that situation when I made a deep connection with someone who knew my Dad. I didn’t expect the connection to happen at all — and it came about only through small talk. And thankfully it did, because I still remember that moment fondly. And I know I always will.
Other times, it’s more long-term. And that’s more likely with friends and co-workers. With friends, it’s that no matter how long it’s been since you’ve communicated, you’ve always got some connection. It doesn’t matter how your life has changed, there’s always something there to bring you back — if you wish. For me, there are two situations here that I don’t want to be brought back. I’ve been hurt enough to want that. However, I can acknowledge that if that ever changed, there’s enough in the background (enough of a connection) to at least have a starting point.
With co-workers, it’s a little more challenging — at least for me. But the beauty of this is when you find the connection, the relationship often times goes from colleague to friend. And that’s what’s cool. My workplace employs nearly 3,000 people. I figured it wouldn’t take too long to make some of these connections. And, well, I was right. Start the conversations strictly about work. Get more comfortable. Learn more and discover a connection — whatever it is. It’s a great feeling when it happens. Because it just means you’ve not only gained the trust of a colleague, you’ve gained the trust of a friend.
And, in the grand scheme of things, there aren’t many things that trump the trust of a friend. That’s always been part of my thing, too. While I don’t necessarily hang in big circles, I do hang in tight circles.
The point of this mess is simple. What’s not simple is how I’ve gone on trying to explain it.
As I get older, the world is becoming smaller. There are more connections. And that’s a good thing. Particularly for someone like me, who doesn’t have any easy time otherwise — believe it or not.
Sometimes, those connections are more — and this isn’t the right word — emotional. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to make a connection with someone because you know some of the same people. You can make a connection because of a shared experience, for example. Does that make sense? I hope so.
In that sense, the world becomes smaller because you discover you, believe it or not, aren’t the only one going through something.
The other side of it, though, is making a connection because you do know certain people that someone else knows. You find common ground. In other words, the world gets smaller. There are more connections. There are more shared experiences. It makes sense when you think about it. Person A knows 100 people. Person B knows 100 people. Person A doesn’t necessarily know Person B. However, when they do have a chance to meet, they discover common connections — and that gets the ball rolling.
Usually, at least for me, if the ball gets rolling, good things happen. And, when good things happen, it all ties back to what Walt Disney said years go.
It’s a small world, after all.
Brace yourself, this post has nothing to do with death.
Still with me then? Good. I’m glad.
So I had a pretty awesome experience last week. If we are connected on Facebook, then, well, you’re sick of hearing this again — I flew in a Blackhawk helicopter!
Well what does that have to do with my job in healthcare? Nothing. Or, maybe it does. Let me explain.
Each year, the local chamber of commerce offers a program designed to expose new leaders (that’s apparently me) with the opportunity to learn more about specific things happening in our area, in a variety of topic areas. The group (there are 22 of us) consists of people from healthcare, education, defense, finance, healthcare and a few other industries. We meet once a month to learn more about a particular topic.
We’ve done healthcare. We’ve done education. We’ve done judicial. We’ve done economic development. Along the way, this program has given me the opportunity to tour behind the scenes of an area casino, spend time with a judge and tour a prison, take part in an amazing program that aims to prevent teens from being distracted drivers and more — including the opportunity to listen and talk to industry leaders in this area.
While the program is teaching us new skills and techniques of leadership, it’s also showing us just how much is ‘in our backyard’ and how the area in which we live are so dependent on all of the industries we are observing.
That was never more prevalent than last week.
Our focus? The military.
Now, this part of the world is heavily connected in the military community. We are, among other things, ‘the submarine capital of the world’ — since the world’s best submarines are, in fact, built here. We have a naval base that employs more than 10,000. We have a major service academy in our area, too.
We are military focused — yet for some reason, the leadership class hadn’t taken on the topic of the military.
Until this year.
Because this was the first time, the military partners involved in the tour rolled out the red carpet. And, well, that’s where the Blackhawks come in.
I, along with a few others, was completely stoked for this experience. Here I am a week later and I’m still in awe of what we did, where we went and how we got there.
The morning started on the base. On the way to the Blackhawks, our national anthem was played over the speakers for morning colors. Everyone stopped and it was hard to not feel different hearing it where we were — and with what we were about to do.
The Blackhawk was incredibly smooth — that’s what shocked me the most. It was such an easy, effortless ride. We touched down at the local National Guard camp and got a tour there, as well as multiple speakers explaining the Guard’s role and much more.
Back in the chopper for a 30 minute tour of our region — just an incredible experience to fly over places I see everyday and get a completely different perspective on the area I call home and all that’s around it.
We landed at another local facility where Blackhawks are maintained and refurbished. I had no idea this was going on in my community.
After that tour, one more short ride where we landed on the front lawn of the Coast Guard Academy. An absolute special experience to do that and then be toured around the Academy by a cadet, before joining up with senior administrators for lunch in the officer’s club. You couldn’t leave the Academy without being impressed.
When we did leave, it was in a van this time (so depressing!) for a ride back to the base where the tour continued with a trip inside a submarine simulator used for training, followed by a look at how submariners train for deep water rescues and then finally aboard an actual US submarine in port for minor repairs and preparations to be made before its next significant voyage — which, according to the commander, could be as long as six months. Where to? He, of course, wouldn’t say. But, with all the continued drama in the Mid East, I couldn’t help but think this sub would soon be Syria bound.
So, Mike, you’re probably asking…here you are, more than 700 words in and you really haven’t explained the point of this.
Well, I say, it starts with the title of this post — ‘Behind the Fence.’
When the morning started, one the military types told the group that our access that day would take us ‘behind the fence.’ That we’d get to see things (the sub simulator) and do things (um, fly in a Blackhawk!) that others just don’t get to do. All of this, he said, was to show us ‘the other 1 percent.’ He wasn’t referring to the uber rich and talking taxes. No, he was talking about the 1 percent that protects the freedom we enjoy every day — without ever really thinking about it.
In exchange for this access, for this unique experience, he asked for something very simple in return. He asked for us to take what we saw back to our world and share it with people we know. To tell them not just what we saw, but who we saw doing it. And to see how much pride was involved.
So, here I am. Letting you know what a day this was.
Now, I’ve basically lived in this area my entire life, save a few years here and there. Obviously I know the importance of the military in this area. But, well, maybe I underestimated that a bit. I had no idea there’s a training ground not far from here where soldiers train in mock villages to simulate what they might discover in the Middle East. I had no idea that helicopters from 13 states along the east coast are brought here to be repaired/refurbished. I had no idea of the size and scope of the National Guard. I had no idea how impressive the Coast Guard Academy would be. I’d been there before, sure, but for a football game. I had never set foot in an Academy building until last week. I was thoroughly impressed.
The base. I had no idea how big it was. I had no idea how many sailors go through submariner school. I had no idea what life was like on a submarine. I had no idea how much work goes on when a sub is in port preparing for its next destination. I had no idea of the true economic impact the military has on, not just this area, but the state as a whole.
Flying in a Blackhawk. That was fun for me and the others in the group. But for the team flying us, it’s more than fun. It’s there job. For everyone we met that day, it’s more than just a submarine or a helicopter. It’s a job. But it’s really more than that. It’s about freedom. Their freedom. Our freedom. My freedom.
My nephew served and did multiple tours in Iraq. I’m proud of him. Or at least I thought I was. But now I’m even more proud of him — and the many others. Now that I got a better glimpse into the life, the work and so much more, I can start to appreciate the sacrifice even more. The sacrifice they make for me. And for you.
The point is, I understand it more. And I wish you all could experience what I was so beyond fortunate to experience. Who knows. I may never fly in a helicopter again — let alone a Blackhawk. I was given an extraordinary opportunity. One for which I’m thankful. And one which I wanted to share with you. Not just because I was asked to do it. But, well, because you should know. Particularly if you live in this area, you should know the incredible work that’s going on right in our backyard. It’s more than the obvious. It’s the stuff you’d never think about. Right here. This close.
And for that, those of us that live here should be filled with immense quantities of both thanks and pride.