I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve never really experienced the death of family, friends or co-workers. Not one. Until now.
Earlier this week, my friend Eric Medalle was killed in a freak, one-in-a-million accident. He could have been anywhere else on the earth, even just three feet away from where he was, and he’d be fine right now. But he wasn’t.
Yesterday was his funeral. Again, I’ve never been to a funeral the truly mattered to me. I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t know what to expect.
When we arrived, the funeral home was playing Enya. This would have definitely annoyed Eric. Fortunately, his childhood friend, Chris, assembled an appropriate playlist and replaced Enya in short order.
The day was full of speeches – 3 hours of speeches – and I think I could have sat and heard 3 hours more. Everyone who spoke had my attention, and I was hanging on every word.
His good friend Mike Ryan, who I only realized after visiting his Facebook page that I had spoken to before, gave the initial eulogy, and Carrie couldn’t have picked a better person. While he was telling personal stories, he was really representing the Eric that each of his new. As he said, he was Eric’s best friend, and then he realized we all thought we were Eric’s best friend. That’s how Eric made everyone feel.
I have to let my human brain show for all here and admit that as I was listening, I almost started to feel jealous. I had worked with Eric for just over a year, years ago, and when you work with someone, you get to see them every day. I hadn’t actually seen him in awhile, and I was hearing all of these stories from and meeting his Pokemon co-workers. They really got to know and experience him.
But while it’s a feeling, and if I’ve learned anything this week it’s that you can’t control or run from your feelings, it was quickly replaced by appreciation. I appreciate Eric’s effect on everyone and am truly happy for everyone who got to experience who he was.
In fact, if I realized one thing yesterday, it’s that Eric was an appreciator. He constantly took time out of the day to appreciate all of the things and people that were important to him. You never had to wonder what Eric thought of you. He eventually got around to reminding you before too long.
After Mike and the family spoke, the floor was open for anyone to speak. At the time, I didn’t think I had anything to add.
But it wasn’t until 3am, the morning after, when I couldn’t sleep that I started having some realizations. To be honest, I had been feeling guilty that I didn’t make a greater effort to see him and his family over the last few years. Then I started reading our text exchanges. I read five years worth of them. The truth is, we were just not destined to get it together.
Our five years of texts were largely attempts to get us together. And every one seemed to be foiled by my daughter’s basketball, Isa’s soccer, him being in Hawaii, me being in New Jersey, a softball game, a prior commitment or just the stupid 30 minute distance between our houses and that he worked in Bellevue while I worked in Seattle. All stupid excuses now, but normal logistical hurdles when you are taking someone’s presence for granted.
We discussed seeing a number of bands – Thomas Dolby, Prince, Peter Murphy, Dead Can Dance, Johnny Marr, to name a few – but in each case, one of us wasn’t in town or available.
Several people who spoke yesterday mentioned that Eric would periodically send a text that just said, “KEXP!” I thought this was funny, and it definitely sounded like Eric. But I didn’t remember until I read my texts that I, too, had received several of these. I think everyone did.
Music is a very powerful thing, and it was one of the ways Eric made associations. If KEXP played a Joe Jackson song, he would text, “KEXP!” I love Joe Jackson, and Eric knew it.
After reading these texts and thinking about this all night, I now realize what I would have liked to say at Eric’s memorial:
Eric must have had a hell of a data plan for his phone.
He texted everyone. All the time. He must have found a way to invent a 25th and possibly 26th hour in the day. I don’t know how he did it. But he did.
Because he was an appreciator. He always made time to appreciate and acknowledge those around him in meaningful ways that made you feel like you were his best friend.
I would also speak just to introduce myself. I represent Eric’s short time in Wisconsin. Most everyone else represented his current Pokemon team or his childhood. I wish I knew them all. But it’s not too late.
And while Facebook, and Eric trending on every major tracker showed us all just how far his touch reached, I would have shared some data. I’m a data guy, it’s what I do. Eric knew that about me.
Yesterday, I wrote a post about Eric. I did that for me. This blog is just for me and my daughter. I write it so she can look back and read about what I was thinking at some point in my life. Consequently, my site gets about 3-5 views per day (largely because some co-workers recently found it).
Over the past two days, that post received more than 2,400 visits. Eric would mischievously enjoy that he messed up my stats…
There’s also a college fund for his daughters that I would ask you to visit. As of now there’s been nearly 900 donations. I’m not sure I could muster up 20 if this had happened to me. It’s humbling and amazing.
At one point we were asked to give Eric a slow clap – a fitting tribute. But it’s also worth mentioning that Eric was a reference machine. He could have delivered his own eulogy in references and probably gotten through it without the need for any original material. I don’t know how he could make all of the recollections and associations he did, but looking back, I’m not sure I appreciated just how fantastic his mind was.
As many pointed out, Eric was a connector. He brought people together, and yesterday was his finale. But it doesn’t have to be.
Carrie, his wife, in a show of strength, calm and understanding that I’ll always remember, told us that it’s up to us to stay involved, stay together, be part of each other’s lives and be part of hers and her daughter’s lives. It’s up to us to teach his children who he was.
While I’m not as qualified as so many of the others who were there. I’m committed to doing my part. I hope to get to know Chris and Mike and check in on Carrie now and again, as well.
To look back and wish you had spent more time or said something you left unsaid is very human and very normal, from what I can tell. But I’m not sure it’s healthy. It seems a better use of my time would be to make something good out of all of this. I hope I have the resolve and determination to see it through.
After years of missing the class, I’m finally learning about death. It’s part of life, so a necessary lesson.
Eric is gone. There’s nothing that can be done. And it makes me cry, no sense holding that back. It’s understanding what I learned from him and applying it that matters now. Eric, I hope I can be a good student.