Monday, March 21, 2011

Eulogy For My Uncle Mike

I don't know why, but I am feeling the need to post the Eulogy that I gave for my uncle Mike Smith. I am hoping, by putting the words down on this blog, that it will help me in achieving some measure of closure with his tragic death at the age of 42. At the same time, I hope to pay tribute to the man, at least as best as I can.

Here is my eulogy from his funeral on March 12, 2011:

If you look at the genealogy of our family, as far as the family tree, Mike was my uncle. But in my heart, he was always my brother.

Mike and I were born only five months apart. Growing up, he was the very first friend that I ever knew. Being so close in age, we were going through a lot of the same things together at the same time.

I remember that, as kids, we were always amazed that every Christmas Santa seemed to bring us the exact same toys. We figured he must have know that we were going to call each other and compare notes. ("Did you get an action figure? I did too!") Again, it was just like we were brothers - Santa didn't want to make either of us jealous.

One of the toys that we got one year was a tape recorder. Back then, we thought that was the greatest invention of all time. We would stay up, sometimes late at night, recording all kinds of crazy stuff. Funny songs, silly jokes, anything we could think of. As we became teens, some of the jokes that made it on to the tape recorder would probably not have met with parental approval. Which, of course, just made it that much more hilarious to us.

One of the great things about Mike is that he had this wonderful, infectious laugh. Any of you who have ever heard him when he got really tickled about something know what I'm talking about. When you heard that laugh, you just couldn't help but smile and laugh along with him. There was so much joy in it. I used to do and say the goofiest things just to hear that laugh.

Sometimes Mike and I would get in trouble together. One summer, when we were about eight years old, we were in the parking lot of what was then called Legion Road Elementary School. His older brothers, Jeff and Ricky, were playing with us on the outside basketball court. I guess Mike and I weren't challenging enough for them, because all I remember is that we just ended up watching the two of them play each other. After a while, we got bored with that. We started walking around the school, which of course was closed and locked up for the summer. As we walked, we noticed that the sky was getting cloudy, and were afraid that it was about to rain. What could we do? Well, maybe one of the doors to the school would be unlocked, we thought. So, we went around to each door, pushing and pulling on them, trying our best to get them open.

When you're eight years old, you don't think about things like security systems. I mean...what kid would try to break INTO school?

After a few minutes, I said to Mike "Did you just see a police car drive by?" Nah, couldn't be. We kept walking. A few seconds later, we both see a police car...slowing driving about 100 feet in front of us. Mike was such a cute kid back then, and his eyes grew about ten times their size. "It IS the police!" he yelled, then took off running. I, on the other hand, was frozen in fear, and started calling out "Mike, come back!" Just that moment, I feel the hand of a huge policeman on my shoulder.

Oh, boy, we are really going to get it, I thought.

In a matter of seconds, I see another policeman, sort of perp-walking Mike back to me. Poor Mike - he couldn't have looked more guilty if he had been in handcuffs! We hadn't really done anything that terribly wrong, but when you're a kid in trouble, you always think it is the deepest trouble that anyone has ever been in. The policeman ended up just giving us a stern warning about not trying to gain entry into locked public buildings. Therefore, I don't think it went on either one of our permanent records. If it did, though, I would be proud just to have one more shared experience with Mike.

If I were to describe Mike in just one word, it would have to be "humble". He had this beautiful, rare humility of spirit. He never wanted a big fuss to be made over him - he probably wouldn't like the fact that we are talking so much about him today. But we love him too much not to.

If I were to pick one other word to describe Mike, it would be "caring". But again, he was caring in a very humble way. He didn't blow a trumpet to show he cared. He didn't so much talk about how much he cared...he showed it through his actions. You always knew that if you were in trouble, Mike would be there to help if he could.

When grandma got really sick for the last few months, we all saw Mike's caring heart come shining through. Nothing in the world was more important to him than taking care of her. We all now know that his own health was much worse than we thought at the time. But he put his own needs on the back burner, and did everything he could to take care of his mama. I think that just goes to show what a great job she did in raising him.

There were times when the strain of his health, and all of the other pressures of life, showed on Mike. When grandma's health first took a turn for the worse, Mike posted on his Facebook page "When you feel alone, look around, because you are". I can see how Mike might have felt that way at times. Only he could go through the health struggles he had to go through - no one could do it for him. And to have the stress of caring and worrying about his mother thrown on top of that...I can see where he might have felt alone for a minute. But as the family joined together to help take care of her, I think that really touched his heart. In fact, I know it did, because a couple of weeks later, he put another post on Facebook that said: "My family has shown me we can be strong together and I am very proud to be a part of this wonderful family."

Two weeks after grandma passed away, Mike posted his last message on Facebook. He said "Yes, heaven will be sweet again. First my dad, then my brother, and now my mom. Heaven is sweet again." I thought it was a beautiful sentiment, and I told him so. We had no way of knowing that, eleven days later, Mike would also leave us - and heaven would become an even sweeter place.

If I could talk to him right now, I'd say "Mike, there's a part of me that's very selfish. Because I want you here with us. I want you in THIS world, to help make it a sweeter place. Because lord knows we need it - this crazy world can use all of the sweetness it can get. I wish you were here so I could take you to that Cincinnati Reds game like I always promised you I would. I need you, and the family needs you."

But I guess God needed him more. And when I stop being selfish, it comforts me to know that he's not in pain anymore. He's not restricted by his physical body anymore. He's up in heaven with grandma, grandpa, and Jeff. They're having a great time and hearing him laugh that great laugh. And he is happy. And when I think of it that way, I am happy too.

When we were putting together the slide-show for Mike, we were trying to think of what song to put on there. So we thought - what would Mike like? Mike was a big fan of Michael Jackson, so the song we chose was "You Are Not Alone". It's a pretty song, and I think the lyrics are very appropriate. It's almost like a message to Mike: for all the struggles he had to endure, for all of the suffering he had in his life, he was never, ever alone. He was a Smith. And he was deeply loved by his family. He knew that, especially at the end, and if he could see us all today he would have no doubt how much we all love him.

But I think the song also has a message for us. Our family is hurting right now. To lose grandma, and now Mike, so close's very hard for us to bear. And its hard not to think about how unfair it all is. But the message of the song is - life isn't fair. But God is good. And he gives us the strength to go on by keeping Mike alive in our hearts. And as long as we keep his spirit alive - his spirit of humility, his spirit of caring, his love of his family - Mike will always be with us. And we are not alone.

We love you, Mike.

- Paul Burch, March 2011