Try as I might, I couldn't find joy or celebrate his death while at his homegoing. (As a man of faith, his funeral was no somber affair. Instead, it was a time of singing and celebration.) It was my first funeral, and unlike anything I expected or have ever experienced.
I heard remembrances from friends and family, and laughed and cried at the vignettes shared. One, about Steven's love of music and the first time he took his son Craig to an Earth, Wind and Fire show, had me smiling. Another, about a remark Steven made to his pastor when he was near the end and had a lucid, pain-free moment where he uttered one word -- "tremendous" -- repeatedly, left me hopeful. A final one -- about how Steven always ended his conversations this year with the words "I love you and I appreciate you" -- reminded me to always ensure that my loved ones know how I feel about them.
But one remembrance epitomized why I have such respect for Steven: it spoke of his grace and his strength in the attitude he chose to very end. Our friend Sandra read her beautiful eulogy and said the words that all of us needed to hear, but didn't have language to express.
For Stevie C. who asked me to speak at his homegoing celebration:As his casket left the church, I sobbed again when I glimpsed the "get well" banner that Geraghty and Lori made for him last year when he was in the hospital receiving chemo. After leaving the sanctuary, I reached for colleagues and friends who were also grieving, and trying to get to the emotional place where they could celebrate his death as more than just the end of his suffering. But when I left the church, I just wasn't in that space yet.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
My brother Steven would want me to share that thought with you this morning. He would want me to remind you that despite our tears and sorrow, we have good reason to celebrate today.
We can celebrate because Steven is home. His long night of suffering is over. And our long night of watching him suffer is over. The body that failed him has died. But Steven himself is more alive than we. And we will see him again. This is the great hope that sustained our brother Steven. This is the great assurance we share as people of faith.
Some will dismiss our belief in things we cannot humanly perceive as quaint, naive, even delusional. But how then will they explain the courage, the perseverance, the unfailing sweetness of spirit that Steven displayed throughout a long and grueling illness he knew would ultimately take his life? What we have witnessed over this past year, in both Steven’s and Craig’s responses to inconceivable hardship, has been nothing short of supernatural. I asked Steven once how he did it, and he said, “In the middle of the storm, in the middle of the typhoon, you just close your eyes and say, thank you.”
We have a saying in our family: It matters how you finish. And what we mean by that is, it really doesn’t matter what you accomplish or accumulate in this life, how high you rise in society or business or government, none of that matters if you throw it all away in the end. And conversely, it doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make along the way if you learn and grow beyond them. Because in the end what matters isn’t what we’ve done, but who we’ve been. What matters is the content of our character.
When I think of Steven, I will think of a man no more perfect than any of us, but a man of character and commitment, an extraordinary father and a wonderful friend. I will think of a man of faith, who died as he lived, counting every day a blessing and every blessing a reason for thanksgiving. When I think of my brother Steven, I will think of a man who finished well.
Over the next week, I had two unexpected moments that got me there. The first came when I turned on the TV in our hotel room in Solvang to do a homework assignment for a Comm class. Although I'd finished the assignment, I lingered on that channel for a few minutes longer before getting dressed to go to dinner. I had to sit down when Earth, Wind and Fire opened the Nobel laureate concert. Two hours later, I was already sitting down when the second moment came with Leo's one-word summary of an exquisite meal we enjoyed at the Ballard Inn: "tremendous."
Both moments left me slack-jawed and incredulous, because I am not a person who believes in god or fate or messages from beyond. What I'm left with is a profound feeling of peace and a heart that is grateful for having shared a few moments with a man who finished well.