a living eulogy



“Michael O’Sullivan was my great friend. But I don’t ever remembering telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral. To sit at the front and hear what was said, maybe say a few things yourself.

Michael and I grew old together. But at times, when we laughed, we grew young. If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.”

– Jackie O’Shea in waking Ned Devine


I was talking  to a friend of mine yesterday. Sadly, his mother-in-law had passed away last week and he was telling me about how moved he was by the funeral. They had played a slide show of pictures set to music and the last of the songs had been Natalie Merchant’s Beloved Wife. He was so touched by it that he sent me a link to the lyrics. I didn’t have to read them; I know them by heart.

The song is achingly beautiful. I used to listen to it over and over and over again on my Discman. Yes, Discman. If you’re too young to know what that is, go ask your mom and come back. I’ll wait. And I remember thinking that it would be pretty amazing to leave this world knowing that you were loved like that. So I said that to my friend. That as heartbreaking as it must have been, his mother-in-law was a lucky woman to have had that kind of love in her life.

He agreed and added that it was nice to see the outpouring of love at her funeral. “It was a big crowd,” he said. “She would have loved her funeral.”

Before I could censor it, I heard myself saying, “It always makes me sad. Why don’t we celebrate people BEFORE they die, you know? Why don’t we write tributes and stand up and deliver them to the people we care about? Why don’t we say, ‘You are important to me and I adore you’ before it’s too late for them to hear it?”

Just after the conversation ended, I turned to my business partner. “Hey, Johnny,” I said, “I’m really glad you’re in my life. You are a damn good person.”

He smiled a little awkwardly. I suppose I should work on some kind of preface for next time.

But dang it all, who’s on board? I mean really, what the hell are we all waiting for? The funeral? So I’m starting right here, right now. And I’m starting with YOU. Yes, YOU. So sit down and relax while I read to you, OK?

You, dear reader mean the world to me.

You who share my journey with a generous heart and a warmth that I could never have imagined nor designed.

You who take the time to leave encouraging comments and notes of support and love and understanding.

And you who don’t.

You who simply take the time to show up here and read.

You who get it – who get the joke and who get when I’m not joking.

You who simply say “I’m here” when you have no other words.

You who e-mail me with the gift of your own stories.

You who come here seeking comfort and hope in the sometimes dark and confusing early days of this journey.

You who have been at this for a decade – who paved the way, fighting for each and every morsel of help in a world that looked far different from the one we now inhabit.

You who have dropped the ‘step’ from step-son and who have poured your heart and soul into raising your husband’s precious son as your own – autism and all.

You who teach and support our children each and every day and who still come here seeking further insight and understanding.

You who see yourself in Brooke – who recognize her challenges (and strengths!) as your own and who offer your humor, love and a perspective that is worth its weight in gold.

You who have pledged to take responsibility for teaching your children what it means to show tolerance and compassion to their peers and who come here by way of doing the same.

You who don’t have children but who know that that does not separate you one whit from this village.

You who celebrate the victories that mean so damn much and who so tirelessly cheer for all of our precious children.

You who are grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins for whom this may not come naturally, but who want to understand.

You who ask how you can help.

You who send gentle missives telling me to drop the disclaimers – reminding me in no uncertain terms that life is not a contest to see who has the hardest road and that my experience and my pain and my worry for my daughter are no more or less valid than anyone else’s.

You who remind me that I am not (and more importantly that my little girl is not) alone.

You who show me day in and day out that there is an ARMY of love out there in the ether.

You who gently (and not so gently) force me to stretch and grow and see things from a different perspective.

You who convince me that I can keep doing this everyday, even when I’m pretty sure I can’t.

You who I am so grateful to have in my life.

I thank you.

And I celebrate you.

20 thoughts on “a living eulogy

  1. Lovely, Jess! Thank you. And celebrate you.

    A little off the direction you’ve taken this, but I’m reminded of my mom, who presided over her own 65th birthday party after having decided to stop cancer treatment and enter hospice care. She gave her guests a chance to celebrate their friendships together, and started the celebration off with a wonderful speech inviting them all to do just that.

    Good to make space for it “in the living years.”

  2. Someone is really good at affirming! Yay Jess!

    “You who send gentle missives telling me to drop the disclaimers – reminding me in no uncertain terms that life is not a contest to see who has the hardest road and that my experience and my pain and my worry for my daughter are no more or less valid than anyone else’s.”

    Rock on Sistah!

  3. I never get over being amazed by you. Where did you really come from, really!
    You always, “do better than you can”.
    Love yo,

  4. Beautiful, Jess. Dabbing my eyes here at work. I am so glad to have you in my life. I appreciate you more than words can say. And I’m going to spend this entire weekend telling my kids the same thing. Love.

  5. Jess- I don’t know how you know exactly what I need to hear so often!! 2 years ago today was the last time I saw my Dad alive and my heart is so heavy today with missing him. He was diagnosed with cancer and fought the battle for one year. One of the most important things I have ever done was to write him a special letter on Father’s Day to let him know what he meant to me and how much I loved him and he passed away just a few months later. The last thing I ever said to him while he was in the hospital fighting for his life was I LOVE YOU! I can’t tell you how much those two things have helped me. Now I need to tell everyone else in my life how much they mean to me!! So thanks for the reminder. Even though we have never met I think the world of you and appreciate you so much. You are an amazing inspiration to so many! Thank you for being you! Hugs.

  6. I try so hard not to cry when I read your posts, but this one really got me. Damn, now I have to re-do my mascara before I go out later. Thank you for this.

  7. What a great idea…I hope it catches on. A couple years ago a mother volunteer died suddenly and unexpectedly. I was supposed to meet her that morning for coffee and donuts. The last time I talked to her she didn’t think people liked her.

    Boy she would’ve been surprised to see the out pouring of love and support at her funeral and the community taking care of her young daughter. I wished she knew she was loved before she was gone. At least I told her that I thought she was wrong, that I knew many people he liked her a lot.

  8. Although I’ve only known you for a short time, it has already changed my life. I’ve never known anybody that radiates generosity and warmth quite the way you do. You have a way of bringing out the best in people and I think that’s a rare gift. You humble me with your honesty and inspire me to be a better person. Thank you for being you. Love you Jess.

  9. You are a beautiful soul. I can’t say anything to express what it is that this post makes me feel but I don’t have to, because you get it, and I’m so very grateful for that…

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