My Brother Eric
Last Monday, February 23rd, my oldest brother Eric passed away at 53 after a 9 (!) year battle with pancreatic cancer. Below is the eulogy I gave at his memorial service on Saturday. I’m posting it here because most of you never had the chance to meet Eric, and that’s a shame. Maybe by reading this you can have some idea of just how awesome he was.
My brother Eric was ten years and ten days older than me, so by the time I had a functioning memory, he was pretty old. My earliest memory of Eric goes like this:
When I was seven, we lived in Annandale, Virginia. There was a park at the end of my street, and one day I was playing there in the creek by myself.
(I think this set-up–a boy of seven allowed to play at a public park by himself–really calls into question my Mom and Dad’s parenting skills.)
I was making mudballs in the creek when a couple of older kids came along and ask me to make a mudball for them.
“Extra gooey,” the kid said.
Feeling cool that the older kids were talking to me, I complied, making an extra gooey mudball, finely crafted by my gullible seven-year-old hands.
Proudly, I presented the mudball to them with both hands in front of myself, and said, “Like this?”
And that’s when one of the kids slapped my hands upwards, sending the mudball–extra gooey–right into my face. The guys burst into hysterics. I started bawling and ran home.
Eric was there with a friend and said, “What happened?”
Somehow I managed to tell him of my violent assault–heh–and he told me, “Go upstairs and take a bath,” then to his friend, “Let’s go.”
Later, Eric told me that he and his friend went down and beat those guys up. And I felt much, much better.
Now, did Eric really go beat those guys up? At the time I certainly thought he did. Now, I’m not so sure. But it doesn’t really matter, does it? What matters is that that was my big brother doing what I think a big brother should do–protecting his little brother.
And really, in my mind, that’s what Eric always was: the quintessential Hollywood, big brother. Here’s just a small sample of the things he did for me, his little brother:
*He let me sit in his room and listen to his albums when he wasn’t home. Eric’s basically the reason my brain is basically a jukebox of every Billy Joel, Queen, Elton John, Cheap Trick, and ELO song.
*He introduced me to The Twilight Zone, Monty Python, Mad Magazine, and Stephen King. (I’ve always said I read as much as I do because Eric read a lot.)
*He constantly took me to movies when I’d ask. We go in his orange Ford Pinto, which we all know is a fiery death trap of a car, but my parents let him have one, which isn’t surprising considering they let me play in parks alone at seven.
*Took me to arcades
*He played countless games of backgammon, chess, and Uno with me. Unfortunately, being a good big brother never extended to him letting me win.
*In 1985 he took me to my first concert – Weird Al Yankovic.
*He invited me visit him in North Carolina when he moved there after college.
He did all of this and more, and always without complaining or grumbling.
If you need more evidence of what type of person he was, look no further than that fact that he moved less than half a mile from my parents. On purpose. Talk about taking one for the team.
Eric was always walking the dog up to our parents’ house and helping them out with chores they couldn’t do. In fact, he was the only one of us who could put their sliding screen door back on it’s rails I. have no idea who’s going to do that now.
And for the brothers, including myself, we all sort of knew Eric was in charge. His opinion mattered most – well, maybe not mattered most like he was right, but that he held the most sway because, well, he was Eric. I’m guessing we all wanted Eric’s approval. I know I did.
His wife, Kathy, and daughters, Rachel and Kelly, were Eric’s life. He was incredibly proud of each of them. I never heard him say a bad word about any of them. But if you know his daughters and how awesome they are, you know that probably wasn’t hard for him. Eric gets some of the credit for that. Most of it though goes to Kathy who is incredibly patient and kind. He just loved her immensely. Kathy’s so great that she could’ve picked anyone she wanted to marry. But she picked Eric, and that says something about him.
But I’m not romanticizing Eric here. He definitely wasn’t perfect. Among his flaws:
* He was a terrible golfer. In fact, it was in golfing with him that we learned about Eric Math. Eric could tee off into the woods, take a drop, put it in the lake, be on the green four shots later, three putt, and take a 5 on the hole. Eric Math.
* Bandanas. Eric wore them constantly. And we’d always see him and roll our eyes saying, “Eric’s wearing a bandana again.”
* I know for certain I never saw him wash a dish after a family meal. I’d be scrubbing away after Thanksgiving or Christmas, and Eric would walk by and drop his plate in the sink and go watch TV. This happened every year. I guess being the oldest brother comes with that privilege.
* He may some highly dubious Fantasy Football draft picks.
* And that mustache he seemed to sport for about fifteen years was definitely a questionable choice. Unless you’re a 70’s porn star, which he wasn’t. And least I don’t think he was.
But really, if that’s your list of faults at the end of your life, you’ve pretty much done things right.
What’s been nice about planning for this, is remembering all of the little things, like:
* Eric once saved Jay’s life weightlifting.
* He was struck by lightning.
* He almost drowned as a child.
* He could do a spot-on Bob Dylan impersonation.
* He hated Ray Liotta
* He could blow spit bubbles off his tongue
* He was the best man at my wedding, and vice versa.
* He worked at an ice skating rink, pizza parlor, a moving company
* He loved Virginia Tech football and the Washington Redskins
* He broke his jaw while in college “jogging”. I putting “jogging” in quotes because that story was always really suspect.
* He played on the 1978 Annandale Atoms, a football team that finished the season ranked #1 in the nation.
* He received a commendation from the state of Virginia for a fish he caught the only time he ever went fishing.
I could go on and on. So could anyone close to him.
I’ll end with this story:
If you haven’t noticed, Eric and I have the same hair cut. Years ago, he stopped going to the barber shop and bought an electric head shaver. He suggested I do the same, and eventually I did. I was home alone the first time I tried to use it, and it only took me two minutes to screw up my hair to a laughable amount. I knew if I just kept trying to fix my mistakes by myself, I was going to continue the butchering, so I did the only thing I could think of–I called Eric.
He was sick at this point, probably in his second year of his cancer fight, and had his good days and bad days. From how he sounded when I called, it was probably closer to a bad day.
I said, “You’re home? Can I come over? And then after we agree to never discuss why I was there.”
He said, “Okay.”
When I got there, he looked at me, told me to get into the bathroom, and then shaved my head, fixing my mistakes, proving, once again, even when he was sick, he was what he always would be–an older brother looking out for his little brother.
In the nine years he was sick, Eric never gave up, never complained, and never stopped being a good role model for everyone. What better guide to life can someone give you?
So, farewell, Eric. We’ll miss you, brother. You were one of the great ones, and you’re gone far too soon.
(Eric on the right, me on the left. We’re either doing scissors in Rock, Paper, Scissors or dumb, suburban white guy gang symbols. You pick. That may be the only time I’ve ever worn a bandana, and ever will.)