Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Legacy Bigger Than Cancer

It's the end of January and I'm sitting here with my Passion Planner answering the seven questions in the Monthly Reflection like I do every month. Without hesitation I answer the first question: What was the most memorable part of this past month? Matt's memorial service. 

Last Sunday I attended a funeral for someone I've never met and walked away with a renewed conviction to live my life well. His name was Matt Fulton and his legacy is bigger than the cancer that took him. 

It's been a year and half since my friend Sarah told us her younger brother was diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer. My heart broke. At the time I was still processing my dad's sickness and death so I knew what NOT to say to her. Instead of serving her a  platter heaped with meaningless platitudes I simply texted I'm so sorry. 

I let her know I would be there when people she considered her friends suddenly acted weird or not show up. I've traveled the long, treacherous road that loomed ahead of them and in that moment I decided I'd go to his funeral when the time came, secretly praying it wouldn't be for years. 

The greatest gift my friends gave me during my dad's funeral was their presence. I didn't know how much it meant to me or how deeply I needed to see their faces until I saw them through the haze of my grief. There were also the friends who "showed up" in the form of flowers they sent to the cemetery or the cards/gift cards delivered to my house. I learned that I valued presence more than the empty "thoughts and prayers" and "sorry for your loss" sentiments I received during our time of sorrow. 

I'm not sure what I expected at Matt's memorial service other than the proverbial Psalm 23 I've heard in the hundreds of funerals I've attended in my life. When you grow up Filipino and Catholic, funerals become a normal part of life as baptisms and weddings. I was five-years-old when I experienced my first one for my best friend, my great-uncle Loy, whose absence I still feel acutely today. It was at his funeral where I first became acquainted with the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want proverb. 

Skyrose Chapel
Sunday was one of those warm beach-worthy days in Southern California even though it was the middle of winter. I slowed my roll as I walked toward the Skyrose Chapel at Rose Hills Memorial Park to savor its beauty against the backdrop of the clear turquoise sky. After I hugged Sarah, silently admiring her composure, I slipped into the last pew of the most extraordinary chapel I've ever set foot in. I suspect I resembled a Bobblehead trying to absorb the exquisite architecture surrounding me. 

When the service began I made sure I had my Captain America tissues on standby expecting a long drawn-out sermon delivered by a well-meaning pastor/clergyman/reverend. Instead, Matt's mom walked up to the podium to give her eulogy and I felt a mixture of awe and sadness. Awe for her courage to speak in honor of her baby boy and sadness for her unbearable pain. I didn't speak at my dad's funeral not because my dad specifically requested no eulogies but  because I knew I would break down before I managed one sentence.

Yet, there were Shannon and Sarah, Matt's sisters, sharing their love and memories of their brother. I laughed and cried with them as I got to know the brother I never met. They shared how they would receive one text from him venting about the excruciating pain he was in and a second text immediately after asking for their shoe size. From the stories Sarah told me I knew Matt's heart was abundant in generosity and thoughtfulness. 

A few of Matt's friends also ventured up to the podium to give their eulogies but judging from their initial reaction when they faced us I could tell they weren't expecting to see a packed chapel. I thought yeah, that's how it's done son!  I've always believed that a great life spent in serving and loving others is evidenced by the number of people who show up for your funeral. It was obvious that not only was Matt well-loved but he reciprocated that love tenfold. 

I almost put my Captain America tissue back in my bag until Matt's husband, Price, started speaking. His soft-spoken words laced with suffering caused a seismic shift within me. Price described how it felt to start over, to learn how to be Price without Matt. I stopped breathing while he spoke. 

I'm familiar with the memories that taunt you once death alters your life. In the most inopportune times the memories that punch you with a straight uppercut are the ones plucked from the mundane ordinary routine you once had. 

When Price described how he missed waking Matt up at 8 a.m. wishing he could still wake up beside him, I was reminded of the things I take for granted. My own dude does the same thing every morning. Even though I work from home and only need to walk next door to my office I would probably log in late every day if he didn't wake me up on time. I made a mental note to express my gratitude to him as soon as I got home. 

Apparently, Matt's love for trash t.v. ran deep and Price often questioned his poor choice in their evening viewing. Now he'd give anything to have another chance to sit next to Matt laughing with him while he watched his favorite trash t.v. shows. Again, another powerful reminder for me to squash the irritation and appreciate the inconsequential quirks of my loved ones. 

Without missing a beat Price urged us to "take a moment to hug the people you love because I envy you that they're still here." There wasn't a person in the chapel who wasn't crying after Price walked back to his seat. Matt planned every single detail of his service which was a true celebration of his life, filled with his family's and friends' tributes instead of an impersonal long-winded sermon. Well played, Matt, well played. I'd fist bump him if I could. 

I drove home after the funeral with a full heart and a long list of convictions to live life better, fuller, vibrant, grateful. Even to the end Matt didn't let cancer dictate his final moments as he went shopping at Pottery Barn on his last day. Legacies effect change and from my vantage point in the back pew Matt's legacy will continue to live on in every single person who showed up for his service. May we all strive to walk in the giant footprints he left behind. 

Price during the dove release