Monday, June 13, 2011

Special Post: Another Connection through Eulogy...a must read

yet another connection..another moment when I sat and thought "the voice of God coming through another". This time it was Barbara Ocain, the partner of my dear friend Gary Shell. She was giving a Eulogy at our Celebration of his life that I was honored to be the host of. And there I sat and heard her explain suffering and loss in a way have to read it. Truly, I have found another friend for the rest of my life..only through Gary would I have made this connection..only through my God would I be privileged enough to sit and hear this...

I thought of all who have lost a love too soon, of all who have lost to the indiscriminate nature of cancer. What a powerful and healing eulogy....I selfishly have bolded part that was so, so incredible to me...All I can say is "thank you Barbara".

Thank you everyone for being here tonight to celebrate Gary.  However, if he were here, he would be leaning over to whisper to me, “ What’s the matter with these people?  Don’t they all have anything better to do on a Saturday night than to sit around and talk about me”?  But he would be flattered and humbled.
And a special note of thanks should go to all those who planned this event, especially his dear friends Tara, and Bo, without whom the loving coordination and the special touches would not have happened. And a VERY special note of thanks to his dear lifelong friends and hiking companions from the Appalachian Trail, who join us tonight having once spent months in the wild with Gary – they have come significant distances to honor Gary, and get a sense of who he was in his other world, with his other friends, his family and his city to whom he devoted years of his life in his effort to make his community a better place to live and play. Thank you all.
And let me be sure to thank, and honor, his family – his mother Dot, brothers Tom and Bruce & their families, who stood by and supported Gary and me and warmly accepted me as part of their family.
The startup line from a very popular song by the band Train plays on the radio daily. The line grips me when I hear it:
Forever could never be long enough for me,
To feel like I’ve had long enough with you.
We did not get forever.  We got less than two years.
And I am so jealous of those of you who had so many years with Gary.
Gary was the most wonderful person I have ever known, and will probably ever know. After all these many decades we found each other.  I loved him more than I realized I could love another human being – a real awakening for me. I adored him – and he adored me.  We told each other every day.  Like a lot of couples in love, we had a sweet little ritual - a personal exchange. Everyday Gary would say to me, “who loves you Sweetheart? And I would respond, you do Gary – and who loves you right back? Gary would respond, you do Baby.  I miss that.  
We were the most synchronized, compatible two people bonded in love and spirit that you would ever find.  It was almost eerie - we agreed on everything – except for his preference for the band Journey and my love of boiled peanuts.  His loss there.
 Rationalize this all you want, but Gary’s death was random, senseless and unfair, and I make no apologies for feeling the way I do about his passing, angry that someone so vibrant, with such a big soul, loving and spirited could slip thru my fingers – with so much more to live for and do.  Let’s face it - We were robbed.  And in Gary’s classic words, he would sum it up by saying, “It ain’t right.”
With me, Gary was the sweetest, most tender, thoughtful, gentlest man I have ever known. But don’t get me wrong.  I know Gary could be hardheaded, opinionated, free spirited and passionate.  He was all those things we recognize in ourselves but social restraints suppress in us.  Not Gary. One of the many things I loved about him was his wicked sense of humor, his irreverence, his spunk, and his rebelliousness – he took you right to the edge of inappropriateness, dangled you there on the brink, then would playfully back off with that wry smile and twinkle in his eyes.  I’m sure you’ll offer up the stories to validate these observations in a few minutes.  Gary was not afraid. Always a “big picture” guy, Gary would take you on and when you challenged him, he would raise his eyebrow, arch his back and come back to get you…and be your friend after he had enjoyed the joust.  He had extraordinary people skills. And with his wit and personality he was so likeable, playful and genuine that it was difficult to not like him. 
When such a man of tremendous depth, vibrancy and wisdom, tenderness, and fun dies – and in a manner so punishing and at a time so cruel and inconvenient, we cannot help but be troubled by the unfair distribution of suffering in the world. As intelligent, caring people, we ask those hard questions. Why? Why Gary? Was his death a test? A lesson?  Is the lesson learned that we should be more sensitive, more compassionate, more appreciative of life and health because of this experience?  If so, it’s my opinion the price for this lesson is much too high and such reasoning shows far too little regard for the value of an individual’s life.
I can only respond to questions about his illness in terms of biology, science, chemistry and medicine.
I don’t know why my Gary was sick and dying and in pain.  I couldn’t tell him why life gave him this terrible fate or that he had been chosen because he was so special or brave and therefore was being tested.  But in a world in which we all possess immortal spirits and everlasting energy inside fragile and vulnerable bodies, life gives strength and courage to those who, unfairly and thru no fault of their own, suffer pain and the prospect of death.  Gary never complained. Not once.
And as he labored through this cancer, I hope I helped him remember that he was more than a man with a cruel and senseless illness. And I hope I helped Gary receive compassion and the reassurance that he was an amazing person and a cherished friend by you all.   He was a man with a loving family and a life partner and with many devoted friends, and with enough iron in his soul to remain a living person in the fullest sense of the word until the very last day.
I don’t know why people are mortal and fated to die, and I don’t know why people die at the time and in the way they do.  Perhaps we can try to understand it by picturing what the world would be like if people lived forever.   That is impossible.  As Gary would say, “It ain’t right.”  Being born immediately makes us eligible for the universal calamity of human nature - - death.  Vulnerability to death is one of the given conditions of life.  We can’t explain it anymore than we can explain life itself.  We can’t control it, or generally can’t even postpone it.  All we can do is try to rise beyond the question, “Why did it happen?” and begin to ask the more important question of:  ”What do we do now that it has happened?”
I am still saddened and depressed, wondering what might have been.  But tonight is a symbolic first step towards healing and the process of reparation. Tonight, we will all make the effort to put the loss behind us and look to the future.  And while understandably it may take me a bit longer than the rest of you, we will begin to recall what he gave us and celebrate the memory of his life and the legacy of his gifts. That’s what he would want us to do –and he would tell us we are making much too big a fuss over this.
I want to thank you for the outpouring of your thoughts, expressions, your sweet words, cards, emails, notes, Facebook posts, letters, - and your prayers.  Gary was not a religious man. He found his form of spirituality in the great outdoors. Yet in spite of his protests, we witnessed every possible variety and form of prayer and religious support possible offered up for Gary - regardless.  He and I shared a number of conversations about this, and eventually he resigned himself to the fact that prayer made others feel better – that it was one way you all thought you could help Gary.  Were your prayers answered?...    Gary died right on schedule, of predicted causes; there was no miraculous cure for his illness. How could that be?
I am here to tell you that at a time when he and I felt so desperately alone – and now - when my heart aches of loneliness without him, we found out that we were not alone at all.  I now have found out how many other people loved Gary and were hurting for us, and with us….and that is no small thing.
You were trying to tell us that this was not just happening to us because he had done anything wrong. You were trying to tell us that Gary’s life meant a lot to you too, and that whatever happened to Gary, that his family and I would not be totally alone.  That is what your prayers were saying, and it made a difference.
It has enabled me to reach deep and find strength for him I did not know I had.   With my love for this precious man, buoyed by your support, I would not and will not be broken by this awful set of circumstances.  I, and his family, will go on living, caring and loving. 
 So I did not get a miracle to avert this tragedy, but I discovered people around me and strength within me, and faith beside me, to survive this and continue loving Gary in a whole new place, time, and manner. 

I offer that as an example of your hopes and prayers being answered.
Knowing Gary has enriched my life immeasurably and made me a better person – and all of you in your many unique ways and experiences helped shape Gary and therefore helped shape me.
Why do go people have to suffer?  We want happy endings with good people rewarded.  I step back to 10th grade English class and remember the author, Thornton Wilder, who offered the image of a magnificent  tapestry.  Viewed on one side, it is a beautifully woven work of art, drawing together threads of different lengths and colors to make an inspiring picture.  But turn it over and you will see a hodgepodge of many threads, some short and some long, some smooth, and some cut and knotted, going off in all different directions and colors.  Wilder offers this as an explanation of why good people have to suffer in this life.  Life has a pattern into which all our lives fit, and the pattern requires that some lives be twisted, knotted, or cut short while others extend to impressive lengths, not because one thread is more deserving but simply because the pattern requires it.  While the concept of ‘deserving’ may seem arbitrary and random, like the backside of a tapestry, every thread, every twist and knot has its place in a great design that adds up to a wonderful work of art.
Gary’s life, and his love – and his death – have an indelible place in this work of art. 
So, I did not get forever with Gary.  I got less than two years.
But he left his mark in this city, in your lives and in my heart.
Who loves you Gary?  I do. We all do.
  Thank you for being here this evening in honor of Gary.

Presented June 11, 2011, at the Celebration of the Life of Gary Shell  Ceremony                                   Halyburton Park, Wilmington, NC                                                                                                              by Barbara Rushing O’Cain

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