Today was my brother’s memorial service. In his honor, I thought I’d share the eulogy I read today.
Nobody ever wants to find themselves in the place my parents and I find ourselves in now. Anytime someone dies young, it is a tragedy. When that person takes their own life a whole new layer of grief is added.
However, I am, by nature an optimist and an idealist. God says in Romans 8:28 that He works all things for our good. I truly believe that through God’s grace and mercy, even in the tragedy of my brother Scott’s death we can find meaning and purpose.
The truth is, my brother suffered from mental illness, and if his death can open up a conversation about what it means to have mental illness, it is a start. In our society and even – maybe even especially – in our churches, mental illness is something nobody really talks about. It is associated with shame and the person suffering is often stigmatized.
If someone gets diagnosed with cancer or heart disease or another serious illness, we rally around them. We bring meals, send cards and offer our support and encouragement.
The person who suffers with mental illness too often suffers alone. Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown. Despite so many medical advancements, the human brain still remains mostly a mystery.
But if my brother’s death will cause one person to reach out to offer comfort, encouragement and support to a person with mental illness, or if will cause one person to realize they are not alone and their illness is nothing to be ashamed of, it is a start. If we can begin the conversation of what it means to have mental illness and how we can support and help people who deal with this on a daily basis, then my brother’s death will have purpose and it will have meaning.
The truth is living day to day with mental illness is difficult. You and I take for granted getting out of bed in the morning, going to work and all the myriad of daily tasks we do, almost without thinking. For the person with mental illness, those mundane things are a struggle. It is like strapping a 50 pound weight on your back and trying to go through your daily routine. It can be overwhelming and exhausting. Most days are a battle. Winston Churchill called the depression that plagued him much of his life, the black dog, always on his heels.
Mental illness is also a liar and a thief. It twists the person’s thoughts so they are overwhelmed by fear and despair and helplessness. It steals a person’s potential, his dreams, his relationships and in some cases, like my brother, his very life.
Just like someone suffering from cancer or diabetes, though, a person with mental illness is so much more than their illness. The biggest tragedy to me today is if you left this place and only remembered the end of Scott’s life.
My brother was so much more than his illness. He was and always will be my cool older brother. When I was a little girl, my brother seemed to me to be this shining light. He had all this energy and he was so much fun.
If you knew him at all, you will remember how he sort of came into a room like a mini-tornado. His energy and enthusiasm was infectious. If it was Christmas, he had on his Santa hat – usually the one with leopard fur trim. When we were kids, he was definitely the risk taker out of the two of us. He spent a whole year in a cast because he broke the same arm three times. He’d get one cast off, and something else would happen. I was beginning to think his graduation pictures would feature that cast!
I remember one day, he was doing wheelies on his bike and the tire got caught in the drain, flipping him over the handle bars. My Grandma McColm happened to be visiting at the time and she put baking soda on his arm, which was skinned from wrist to elbow. I could hear him hollering all the way up in my room.
I remember another time, when Brock was turning 4, Scott – who lived in Michigan at the time – came swooping in on his birthday with this giant blue bear. The kids loved it. Well, Brody loved it after he realized it wasn’t going to eat him or anything. Hanging out with Scott was always an adventure.
He did everything with enthusiasm and with his whole self. When he came to the boys’ basketball games, you better believe he was decked out from head to toe in Temple gear. He was their most loyal (and loudest) fan. When he went to Brody’s free throw competition, he started to clap and whistle. I had to tell him you couldn’t do that until it was over. He was somewhat disgruntled that he couldn’t show Brody his support from the stands.
Scott was a people person. I have never met someone – with maybe the exception of my friend Amber – who knew everyone everywhere you went. He even met the guy who owned the Animal Planet channel and house sat for him. I’ve lived here for 28 years. My brother didn’t really start living here until 2011 but he knew way more people than I did.
He was also crazy smart. I think he probably had a photographic memory – at least he’s one of the few people I know who could ace a test he never studied for! He could take apart something mechanical, fix it and put it back together. I remember we were having trouble with this recliner and he came over, took it apart and fixed it.
Scott was also very compassionate. His voice mail encouraged callers not just to leave a message, but to make a difference by serving at a homeless shelter, adopting a pet in need or donating to a cause. You could find him on Thanksgiving and during the holidays serving meals to the homeless or needy. My brother and I shared a love of animals. He volunteered at the Humane Society often and he couldn’t pass up an abandoned animal. He always had a pack of dogs and cats that he rescued. He specialized in the hopeless cases, the dogs or cats that nobody else wanted. Scott had a real heart for rescuing the abandoned. Sometimes, I think by rescuing those four-legged friends, he was rescuing himself a little bit at the same time. Despite his own struggles – or maybe because of them – he wanted so much to help others.
Scott could also be amazingly thoughtful. He loved to buy gifts for people and really made it into an art form. From the gift itself to the wrapping and even the tissue paper, he worked hard to give not just a gift but something meaningful to the recipient.
He noticed what you liked and what your interests were. He found this vintage book about sheepherding collies for me once. I still have that book. He would buy OSU things – despite being a rather rabid Michigan fan – for my son and my husband. He haunted Hobby Lobby for art supplies for Brody.
One time, he even put in newspaper that had an Ohio State football game story on it in one of my husband’s gifts because he knew Bruce was a big Buckeye fan. Now, sometimes, he didn’t quite hit the mark, but even the misses were meaningful because he put so much thought into those gifts.
Scott had the ability to not just look at someone but to really see them. So many times, we are so busy and we rush from one thing to another, not taking the time to really see the people around us, but not Scott.
I remember one time I had to have this surgery on my ear. Now, you need to know I used to be deathly afraid of needles. I still don’t like them, but at least I don’t pass out anymore at the sight of one. But at the time, the thing I was dreading the most was the IV they would have to put in my hand. The nurse came in with all of her equipment. Everyone was kind of chattering away, but my brother saw the petrified look on my face. He came over and squeezed my hand hard. “Look at me, Rosi,” I remember him saying.
Yes, my brother was like a shining light, and now that he is gone, my world is a darker place, as I think it probably is for many of you here today. Although he didn’t really realize it, Scott made a difference in a lot of people’s lives. I will always miss him – his compassion, his energy and his enthusiasm. It will always make me sad that he lost his battle with mental illness. But even though his battle here didn’t end in victory, he still won the war. In I Thessalonians 4:13, Paul tells the Thessalonians that they don’t grieve as people who have no hope. And the thing is, I have that hope. I know my brother was saved and that today, he is at peace in the presence of his Savior. His struggle, his daily battle – it’s over.
The same God that my brother is with now is the same God that has shown up for myself and my family in so many big and small ways since last Thursday – from how the officer told my parents, to reconciled relationships, to encouraging phone calls and messages. It’s because of that hope I can say today that God IS good. He IS faithful and He IS kind. Quite frankly, I don’t know how anybody can get through something like this without that hope. It’s because of that hope that I know, even though I didn’t get to say goodbye to him in this life, I will say hello to him in the next.