No, this isn’t a story about a new man in my life. Or a romantic fairy tale between two lovers. It’s some thoughts I’d like to share about the email I just received.
“Donuts and the Donut holes.
Picnics and Ants.
Peanut butter and jelly.
And then there’s John and Hope.
You can't say one name without the other.
I’m sure you’ve been talking with someone and Johns name comes up, and the other person says “John who”, you know John and Hope.
They just go together . . .”
These are the first few lines of “John’s Last Letter,” Gary Burke’s eulogy for his best friend John’s funeral. I just received this email from Gary (or G.B. as I’ve always known him). This letter was written 20 years ago. And his friend John was my dad.
I still remember my dad’s funeral clear as day. The people funneling into St. Christopher’s Church. The line of sad smiles and heartfelt condolences walking by the front pew where my mom, sister, Grandma Lois and I sat. My family recruiting my friends Steve & Mike to hand out the programs at the front door. Ok, ok, I know those folded sheets of paper with a nice photo of the recently departed aren’t a Playbill for the evening’s show but I still have no idea what those things are called! It was late-August of 1999. But, as cliche as it might sound, it truly still feels like yesterday.
I remember Lance and G.B. taking the mic as they spoke about their best friend. The painfully grieving looks they gave me and my sister. The slight shake in their voices as they spoke. But I don’t remember these words. Not at all. Because the letter that G.B. wrote for my dad’s eulogy weren’t the words he shared in front of the almost-full church. I don’t remember his exact words but he didn’t say much. He was heartbroken. And he shared only what he could get out in front of all those people that day. And that was how sorry he was for my mom, me and my sister. And how much he loved the “Big Guy” - my dad.
I remember my mom telling me sometime after the funeral that G.B. had planned to say more but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. And that he had mailed his letter to my mom - she kept it with the stack of sympathy cards we had received after my dad’s passing. But I never read it.
And just yesterday, G.B. reached out to me via Facebook Messenger asking me for my email address. He had been going through old letters and came across his eulogy and thought I might like to have it. “Aww! That would be so wonderful! Thanks so much, GB,” I responded.
But as soon as I saw his email sitting in my inbox tonight, I felt the weight of this letter flood over me. And for the first time, I didn’t cry tears from the perspective of a daughter who lost her amazing father. I cried tears from getting a taste of what it might be like to lose my best friend.
“. . . From that first day we’ve been BEST friends.
WHEN we first took off for the Caymans,
I didn’t know him that well,
but we flew out a few months later on our first great adventure . . .”
“. . . Now here I am in the CaymAns, with a man I don’t really know.
On an island I don’t know where it is; and I’m thinking,
‘I’m with an organizational fruitcake; a NUT.’
BUT, the really weird thing for me was he called his wife twice a day.
and he did all the mushy stuff like: ‘I miss you honey’ and ‘I love you honey’, Then he’d make kissing sounds over the phone—Kiss, kiss
at this point, this is when we started to teach and understand each other.
He was the the Yin
I was the Yang . . .”
“. . . John also got me into jet skiing. Not nice easy flat freshwater jet skiing; But big I mean huge wave CRUSHING, ocean going jet skiing and riding the waves. We would load up our jet skies every Wednesday morning to ski at Moss Landing. . .We’d laugh, and tell jokes and stories in his VAN for an hour before we even got in the water . . .
He’d tell me stories
How cute they are,
and other silly stories.
When they got their first teeth,
when they rolled over,
and how special it was just to hold them and look in their tiny little eyes;
and how much he Loved them all .
I remember thinking
What a luck man he was . . .”
“. . . like two nuts we Shipped our skis over to Hawaii to “ride the big waves” . . . I finally grabbed this huge wave and I’m riding down the front side bouncing up and down and concentrating on not falling; and here comes John riding by me with this big smile on his face.
Yelling at me, ‘Hey G.B. you know there are only 10 people in the world that can ride these waves this big?”
I yell back, ‘ya that maybe true but pretty soon there’s only going to be 9 cause I’m going to be dead!’
We laughed, philosophized and rode the waves all day long . . .”
“. . . the one time that I will remember the most
is when John and I were riding back from Tahoe after a ski trip . . .
The subject turned to Hope, and the kids.
And with tears in his eyes
he tried to explain to me just how much he loved them . . .”
“. . . I am a lucky man,
the last time I saw John, I kissed him and told him I loved him.
We were more than friends
I was G.B
He was the “Big Guy”
When I first met John
I was going through a painful divorce
John taught me how to love again.
To look forward to the future.
And about family.
I will think of my friend often
AND. . . I will miss him . . .”
Now, luckily for my mom, John and Hope still go together. Not just in the cosmic spiritual way but my mom’s new husband is also named John ;)