There are a lot of things that I find upsetting at funerals, naturally. Loss. Tears. Pain. Grief. The sight of the families one leaves behind. But, what I find pains me a great deal is the thought that the individual who has passed may have no idea of the impact he/she made on the world. Did the person ever imagine that there would be hundreds of people at the funeral? Could the person every imagine a 1 hour waiting line just to get inside for the wake and viewing? Was it possible to imagine that people would travel from near and far just to say “goodbye”?
I’m not sure what compelled Jeff to draw Richard as “Superman.” After all, Jeff never met Richard. My husband, with whom Jeff works, had really only met Richard one or two times. Jeff simply saw a bunch of Facebook status updates and then contacted me/Jorge about a drawing he had done. We didn’t ask him to do it. We didn’t even mention anything about a drawing. Jeff just drew it.
Richard was diagnosed with cancer back in the Fall of 2008. He was considered terminal, even then, but knew he was going to fight like hell. We knew he was our “superman”. Richard even showed up to Camp Sunshine – a far trip from PA to ME – the morning after a chemotherapy treatment in order to vacation with his family.When his wife wanted to discuss end-of-life plans, Richard grew angry and fought even harder. I imagine he wasn’t easy to deal with — he wasn’t going to give up on life, no matter what anyone said!
Because we had a good deal of time to say our goodbyes to Richard, I hope he knew just how important he was to us all. And, in these final weeks, many have reached out to Becky, focusing on her strength and courage during this time. She accepts the compliments and admiration with humility, grace, and a sense of humor.
While my thoughts have been with the Matthew family in this past 1 1/2 years, and particularly in these final few weeks, I never realized the impact that Jeff has made in this world, in their world. With Richard’s passing, friends of Richard changed their Facebook profile pictures to the Superman Richard image that Jeff drew. It was incredible to see Jeff’s work so prominent in the social media network. And, given that Jeff isn’t “friends” with these folks, he’s never seen an entire News Feed filled with a drawing he had done.
Walking into Richard’s viewing, I entered a bustling world of his friends and family. In each of their hands was the familiar, but small, version of the Superman Richard print. But, this time, on the bottom of this print was “Richard P. Matthew; March 6, 1970 – March 3, 2010.” People showed others the print. They laughed. They shook their heads at this image of how they remembered Richard, long before he grew thin from cancer.
Just past the lobby, the original and framed version of Superman Richard was on display. It was the first time I had seen the print, which I’ve been told has hung above Richard’s chair; the same chair in which he held his wife, his mother, and took his last breath. Jeff’s partner, Samantha, had framed the print. Again, she had no relationship to the Matthew family.
I watched as friends and family approached the framed print so beautifully displayed on a easel. Time and again, people said, “This is exactly how I want to remember Richard” and “Superman Richard? Yes, that’s exactly who he was”. In the receiving line where Richard’s family met guests, I was thanked for the Superman Richard print (I had postcards made a few months ago for his family). “The print was such a beautiful gift,” repeated his family members. “I’ll be sure to tell Jeff,” I replied.
After about an hour sitting in front of Richard’s casket and gazing upon his peaceful body, I decided to find a drink of water. I was exhausted just watching Becky enthusiastically greet each and every person. I wandered around the funeral home and heard laughter coming from one of the side rooms. “I see you found the water,” I chuckled to a group of young kids. “No, lady, we did better than that! We found the hot chocolate!” they replied.
“Hey, are you the one who did that Superman print of my Uncle?” asked a cute little 10-year old boy who probably wished he didn’t have to wear his suit for much longer. “No, that was my husband’s friend. The guy’s name is Jeff,” I said.
“Well, could you tell Jeff that I said ‘thanks.’ I don’t really want to be in that room where my Uncle is, but the Superman print is aweeeeesome!”
“Yeah, tell him I said ‘thanks’, too!”
“Yeah, me too!”
“Me too! It’s awesome!”
“I’ll do that. I’ll definitely let Jeff know.”
I wonder if Jeff will know the impact he made by his one random act of kindness. That one random act multiplied over and over again. That one random act brought comfort to those who needed it. It brought hope for those who yearned for it. And, it left a lasting image for all of us to remember.
As I was preparing to leave for Richard’s funeral, I received an email from one of my students, Alex:
Liza, I just wanted to take some time today to Thank you for all the help and support that you have provided me with. I am very happy here in DC! You have helped make this possible. You have been a great role model for me in soo many ways. I saw your fb status that said 3mile run. I was like WHAT THE HELL? I cant even do a mile without crying for a break. This influenced me to start hitting the track again. Thank you for everything. Have to get back to work now.
I’m thankful that Alex took a moment to write that in the middle of his busy work day. I read it, took a deep breath, and began my long drive to PA with a renewed sense of self. Alex changed my day.
As I enter into the countdown for my surgery, I’ve been finding more ways to tell people about the impact they have made in my life. In a rare quiet moment last night, I drew my two girls onto my lap, hugged them tight, and told them, specifically, of some of the ways in which they have made my life better. Happier. More complete.
I asked my girls to “list 3 things you love about the people in our family.” My younger daughter said, “I love that my sister brushes my hair. And, I love that Daddy is my butler and brings me chocolate milk when I tell him to get it. Oh, and I love my Mommy’s flat tummy.” My older child said, “I love that Mommy snuggles me. I love that Daddy gives me cookies even when you said we can’t have any dessert. I love that my sister doesn’t bother me when I tell her to get out of my room and go away.” I replied, “I love that you think I have a flat tummy. And, I love that you just threw Daddy under the bus and that he’s gonna get in trouble!”
We laughed. We came up with even funnier “what do you love” statements (e.g., “I love that Daddy doesn’t get mad when I fart” and “I love that Mommy dances to Beyonce with us”). And, we promised to love each other every single day.
The night before the funeral, I dreamed of Richard. He was in his coffin, Becky was standing at his side. Richard peacefully opened his eyes, looked over to Becky, and whispered up to her, “Thank you.” Richard smiled, closed his eyes, and returned back to wherever it was he went.
Standing across from the family at the funeral, I watched young Toby hold two, long stem roses in his hand, and playfully bang them against his father’s casket. I was reminded of the impact we all have on one another. I imagine Richard told each of his children, his wife, and his family the impact they have made on his life. And, I know he would want us to do the same with each of our loved ones.
Peace, love, and being Super,