My brother wanted no eulogy at his funeral. I suspect two reasons: Despite his robust personality, Eddie was a modest guy, and, knowing that I might get the call, he wanted to spare me from becoming the same sobbing mess I’d been years earlier in trying to eulogize our parents and aunts.
There might be another reason, but I’ll go with those — that Eddie wanted the attention to be on his survivors and not him, and that he wanted to relieve a brokenhearted brother of the duty of eulogy.
Still, here I am, asking your indulgence, as I offer parting words for a younger brother whose illness and death are still shocking to those of us who knew and loved him.
These last two years, in this awful pandemic, millions of people had to deal with the same kind of loss — the relatively brief illness and death of kin, often many miles away, isolated in hospitals or nursing homes. No matter how prepared you think you are, or how elderly the person who dies, the loss is searing. The physical bond is broken. The warm hand and familiar smile suddenly become memories. Your text message goes unanswered.
Eddie was 65, and that’s not exactly young, but he was the last of four siblings and the first to depart. His illness, a horrible cancer, came on fast and took him from us within a couple of months and during the holidays.
Pardon me for saying so — I understand that people die every minute, at all ages, from the coronavirus and all other causes — but I assumed Eddie would always be around. Despite being the kid brother, he had the largest presence of any of us. He was smart, funny, principled, opinionated and, above all, a family man who never left his hometown and made a good life for his wife and four children there.
We were two years apart, the kids my mother decided to start having at age 39 after a childbearing hiatus of 11 years. (My older brother and sister were born before and during World War II.) Eddie and I were boomers who grew up in a modest house in a Massachusetts town where we had easy access to streams, ponds, pastures, woods, baseball fields, a five-and-dime, a library, three barbershops with comic books while you waited, a junkyard, wild blueberries in summer, sledding hills in winter and dozens of other kids to play with.
While Eddie and I had stupid boy-fights — over the last slice of pizza, over the unauthorized use of my bicycle or his — by fifth grade, I became an admirer of my little brother. In fact, at some point back in East Bridgewater, Eddie started to glow. He got straight A’s in school, pitched no-hitters in Little League and hit several over-the-fence home runs. On the basketball court, he could outshoot everyone but the high school senior who lived next door. He was swimming like a dolphin and diving into pools well before I dared to try.
He retained jokes and, influenced by Mad magazine, developed sarcasm skills at an early age. One time, while we were fishing from a wooden bridge, an elderly man stopped by and noticed that our bucket was almost full of flounder. “Did you catch those?” he asked. “No,” Eddie snapped, “we talked them into giving themselves up.”
He employed that kind of wit throughout his life.
From high school, he went to Tufts University, but after a couple of years as a student-athlete decided it wasn’t for him. He came home and took jobs as a foundry worker and bartender. He fell in love, got married and he and his wife, Valerie, started building a family.
Eddie became a shipping logistics specialist. He got trucks to deliver groceries in all kinds of weather to the stores in a New England supermarket chain. He later used his leadership and organizational skills to modernize a trucking company.
He was an active citizen, movie aficionado, accomplished golfer who never bragged, productive gardener, do-it-himself mason, lover of birds and grandchildren, creator of excellent cocktails and great meals.
He was my best man, I was his. We lived 400 miles apart but communicated frequently by phone, mail and text, sharing recipes, jokes, political observations and sports trivia. His last message came on Christmas Eve from a hospital bed, expressing thanks and love.
He died five days later.
Those are hard words to read.
We were not finished being brothers.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. I’m self-conscious of my privilege here: I’ve been allowed to use my newspaper column to tell you about someone I loved. Given his edict against eulogy, Eddie would not have approved.
But I hope what I shared will help those of you who lost a sister or brother, son or daughter, parent or spouse, best friend or best man. We feel immense sadness and loss. We are left with only memories. And that was true before the pandemic created, in just two years, a vast diaspora of mourning survivors in hundreds of thousands of households across the country.
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We should not dwell on grief, but we should remember that, as we beat on, it’s one of the things that unite us as human beings. We should all be kinder to each other. Despite his final wishes, I don’t think Eddie would mind that I took this moment to say that.