I’ve been wrestling for days over what to say. I’ve written and read eulogies for my parents, but life just doesn’t prepare anyone for having to do this for your child. I’ve been advised by different people that I should focus on the good things, which were many, but the reality is that with Chris the good and the bad were inexorably intertwined and inseparable. To talk about one and not the other would be to be talking about someone else.
To clarify, when I use the word “bad” I don’t mean that Chris was bad in any sense. He was a good person. He was warm and charming and funny and generous of spirit. He wasn’t mean and aside from hasty things said in anger, which we all do from time to time, he never hurt anyone with a clear intent to do so. He just went his own way and often that way didn’t take rules or common convention into consideration, and as a result he often created trouble for himself.
In many ways, the things that were the most troublesome about Chris were also the things that made him such a beautiful person.
From the earliest age, Chris felt life at a higher level of intensity than most. When he was a little boy he used to run around and holding various toys in front of his eyes. I mean right in front of his eyes, like an inch away. So close I doubt he could actually focus his eyes on them. He would be lost in his own little world. Whatever he saw or felt in that world was so deep that he used to shake with the intensity of what he was feeling. I asked him on more than one occasion what he was doing or seeing or why he would shake like that and he would smile and say “I don’t know” and then go skipping away.
This intensity was part of everything he did or felt. He never did anything small in his entire life but that was because he never felt anything small. Everything he did or felt was huge, and dramatic, and loud, and sometimes messy.
As he got older approaching adulthood, he used to like to romanticize himself as a hard case. A tough guy that didn’t care about anything. Those of us that knew him and loved him knew this was an act, and a laughable one at that because underneath the tough-guy persona there just was no disguising the fact that in reality he was exactly the opposite. This tough-guy image was actually more for himself than for everyone else. He was very good person. He felt life with a keen intensity that was often difficult for him to bear, and like many people that feel things very deeply, he sought out ways to turn down the volume to a bearable level, and also like many, he found that way with certain drugs. The appeal was instant and irrevocable. Many of you know that I also fought my own battles with drug and alcohol addiction, and because of that I’m in a position to understand my sons fight in ways that some people cant. I know first hand what an 800 lb gorilla addiction is. I’m not angry with him that he wasn’t able to win that fight because I know what its like. It’s a hard fight to win and for many, through no fault of their own, its actually not possible. I came very close to losing that fight myself, and I actually cant stand here in front of you today and say with any certainty why I didn’t.
I’m not angry with him, nor do I have to forgive him, because theres actually nothing to forgive anymore than you have to forgive someone for getting cancer. He didn’t contract it because he was bad or irresponsible or because he hung out with the wrong people. He wasn’t neglected or unloved, in fact he had a wealth of people that loved and cared for him. His grandfather Andy was a daily caregiver for both Chris and Jake when they were little. His grandmother Margot as well as they got a little older. They’ve always been there for Chris. His mom was there every minute of every day loving and protecting them. This disease isn’t caused by anything. He was born with it. It wasn’t his or anyone elses fault. It just was.
This was only one part of my son, though, and although its taken center stage a lot for the last several years, its not the part that I think of first when I think of him and not the main focus of what I want to share with you.
When all is said and done, what I think of the most is simply how much he loved to laugh. How much he loved to make other people laugh. How much we loved to make each other laugh. When we would get together, both when he was younger and more recently, we didn’t do exciting things or go cool places. We would just hang out, watch movies on TV, and re-write the scenes and dialog of the movies in the most ridiculous and silly ways, and laugh our heads off.
We did have more serious discussions about things and about his life. There were also things he probably would have called “lectures” which we can define as me talking and Chris not listening, but most of it was just the hanging out together.
I do this with Jake as well and my step-son Chris too. Its been a rarity that I’ve had all 3 of them under the same roof at the same time since theyve gotten older and started living their own lives, but the best memories I have are when all of us have been under the same roof at the same time, talking and laughing our way through a movie, and driving Juanita crazy because she was actually trying to watch the movie too. She didn’t have it easy when Chris, Chris, Chris, and Jake were all there at the same time laughing and making silly jokes.
I consider myself blessed because while its natural for all parents to love their children, I really like all my sons as people and enjoy nothing more than simply hanging around a room with them, making jokes and laughing. In truth, they are quite the literally best people that I know.
Some of you also may know that I’m also a musician. This is something that has brought me a lot of joy in my life, and its something that I sought to share with my kids. As playing guitar has been my main focus musically, I’ve encouraged and supported by giving them all guitars over the years, although I have said it didn’t have to be a guitar if they had an interest in other instruments, but guitars is what I could give, so I did.
For Chris, there was only ever a passing “intellectual” interest, but he never really showed any real drive or passion for it, and I was OK with that. Not everyone is a musician, so I never had an expectation that they would be musicians as well. I just wanted to make it possible for them to pursue if they chose to.
For some reason, and quite unexpectedly, that passing interest transformed overnight to a full-blown passion about 4 or 5 months ago. He found an acoustic guitar laying around the place he was living at the time and started playing it, and singing. Over the course of just a few weeks he went from occasionally plinking on a guitar to playing full songs, singing, recording the music, and sending them to me and a few other select people. It was really amazing. The first one I played while driving home from work in my car one day, and I was quite literally astonished. I had NO idea Chris had such a beautiful voice.
Over the next month or two he sent me no less than 18 songs he recorded. What was even more amazing was that he recorded them with his phone, and they sounded really good. Not perfect. Not professional studio quality, but actually quite good. Chris was highly critical of his own performance, as he always was about anything he did, but I told him right away that I wanted to get him into my studio because I KNEW that he really had something and I wanted to capture it.
I wanted to show him what he had. Unfortunately due to his living circumstances at the time his visits were infrequent, and he couldn’t stay overnight, so I only got him into my studio once, and that was pretty brief. We had plans to do it again for a more serious effort, but we unexpectedly ran out of time. I wish I would have been able to see where that would have lead him. I have no doubt it would have been wonderful.
Whatever Chris did or didn’t accomplish in his life, there is no doubt that I was proud of him. Not for accomplishments, but simply for who he was. I could not love him more than I do, and in spite of innumerable mistakes that I made as a parent, I believe he knew that I loved him. That’s one thing I know I got right. I’m further blessed because the last conversation I had with him two days before he died was a really good one. We talked on the phone for over an hour and it was a great talk. Some of it was serious and some of it silly, as was our way, but it left me feeling good, and the last words I said to him in this world were “I love you”