Its four years ago today that my brother Scott died, suddenly and tragically. Although sudden or not, motorcycle crash or not, it would have been tragic.
I don’t like to remember this day four years ago; it was the worst day of my life. I get that chest pain again just thinking of it, the one I had constantly for at least two years after he died. I went to medical school, I work in the ER, I treat people with chest pain all day long, but I know that chest pain was heart pain. The pain of a heart wrapped up in thorny brambles, a suffocating, locked up heart.
I don’t like to remember Scott as someone who died, but rather as someone who lived. On this day, August 23rd, as well as on his birthday, June 3rd, I light a candle for him, and I pull out my box of Scott treasures. The box has a bunch of favorite photos, from when he was just a little kid, and on through to the last ones we have, taken a couple of weeks before he died. There are lots of him and I together. The box also has some of the amazing notes people sent me after he died, and the life sustaining pieces of poetry they included. If you haven’t had someone close to you die, you likely can’t realize the power of human kindness to sustain you through that time.
My box also has some odds and ends that are pure Scott, some notes in his handwriting, lists, and unimportant things like that. Its a sad thing when a shopping list is a treasured connection with a loved one. It is a sad and lonely substitute for the real thing. But at least a substitute is better than nothing. It is something to hang onto.
So, I light a candle, and I set out some of the photos. I remember times when we were kids, and the things we did together, and as a family – the fishing trips, family gatherings, birthday parties, and camping trips. I look at the photos of him, and I remember. And I wonder. While I have grown older, and changed in some ways since we were last together, he never does. He doesn’t get much past his 40th birthday.
And I wonder – Scott, where are you now? Do you still remember us, your family, carrying on as best we can without you, like a car missing one wheel? Do you still watch over us, like you always did? Knowing you, I know you must, but as time goes on, I feel your presence less and less. I wonder if perhaps you have moved on. And while that is no doubt as it should be, I selfishly want you to stay, to watch over me, and mom and dad, I want you to still be there with me during the tough times. I want to hold onto you, instead of wishing you well on your own journey. While I cannot imagine what that journey might be, it does seem to me that in some form our path continues after we die. There must still a piece of the universe that holds Scott. So, until we meet again dear brother, until we meet again, I will remember you.
Since I’m getting chest tightness and shortness of breath, I’m going to stop now. But I’ll leave you with the words I spoke at his funeral, as I’d like you all to know more about this remarkable person, my brother Scott.
EULOGY FOR SCOTT
My father’s nickname for Scott when he was a little boy was Sunshine. I think it suited him perfectly – he was a beautiful blonde boy with a big smile and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. From the time he was born until the day he died that never changed.
When he was little he had so much enthusiasm for life. He was a handful as a toddler as he was always getting into things – he was never bad but always up to mischief. For years when I was little my fancy birthday cakes came with these finger-sized potholes in them where Scott had sampled them at the first opportunity. My parents would explain to him why he shouldn’t do that, and he’d listen, and then go on doing it year after year. He was just too excited about those cakes.
And I remember the time my mom was outside saying goodbye to the lady she’d had coffee with. Scott took the jug of milk and the bowl of sugar and turned them upside-down onto the table, because it was fun to smear them all over, and watch the milk run onto the floor. I was there telling him not to do it, but that didn’t stop him for a second. I can still remember the look of delight on his face as he did it.
Scott was always fearless. When he was small he kept my parents very fit. When he was about two he had a habit of intentionally walking off wharves into deep water. My mom or my dad would then break an Olympic record in the 100-meter dash and haul him up from underwater, and there he’d be, laughing joyfully.
That fearlessness, combined with his natural abilities, made him a very talented athlete. As someone who shared the same gene pool, I’ve always been jealous of these qualities. He could shred up the double black diamond runs, rip down the trails on his mountain bike, and fly down the switchbacks on his road bike. At least I’m pretty sure that he could – I actually could never keep up with him to see it!
His sense of humor was fantastic. It was like Scott, not a loud and flashy, but quiet, concise, and insightful. Last month mom bought a new frying pan – the kind of pan that you can use on the stove and in the oven. But when she got home she looked more closely at the lid and noticed a rubber handle. She asked Scott if she could put that lid in the oven and he looked at it, and said sure…once!
As Scott got older he grew to be a little quieter. He became a man of tremendous integrity, reliability and honor. Scott was unfailingly steady and dependable. Not one to seek out the spotlight, he was there day in and day out, a little in the background, always willing to do whatever was needed for anyone. Usually by the time you recognized something needed doing, Scott had quietly done it.
Scott was a brilliant man. His mind crackled with native intelligence – the kind that is pragmatic and practical and useful. He didn’t much get into philosophizing, and he didn’t care what kind of marks he got in high school, but what he could do and build and figure out was formidable and awesome. He built me so many great things – something I needed or dreamed up but couldn’t buy. One day he’d just show up and give it to me – something perfectly built for the task – solid and practical and well made. Like the gas camping lanterns that he painted red and wired with light bulbs and electricity for my old log cabin. Or the molded aluminum kayak holder that is custom made for my kayak – back in the days when you couldn’t just go out and buy a kayak holder.
I think one of Scott’s favorite things to do was ride his motorcycle. He’s been riding bikes since we first moved to the farm, and his friends will tell you he was an amazingly skilled rider. He did a lot of riding this summer – he told us last week that any day the sun was shining was a day to be outside. I can imagine why he loved it – the sunshine, the journey through beautiful landscapes, the pleasure and sheer fun of moving gracefully with the curves and bends in the road. He died on his bike, but I’ll always remember the life long love affair he had with motorcycles.
I think what mattered most to Scott were the people in his life, his family, friends, and acquaintances – all of you here today. He always put our needs before his own. He didn’t really talk about how he felt; he just went out and did things to show us. The care that he lavished on us was the way he showed us his love.
And we can’t talk about Scott and the wonder of him without mentioning where he came from …on the morning he died we were standing in my kitchen drinking coffee and speaking of our remarkable family. We grew up thinking everyone had what we had, and only as adults did we come to realize how truly lucky we have been to have our parents. Scott is who he is because of George and Karen. He knew it and he loved them like nothing else.
We love him, we miss him, and we wonder how we will go on without him.