I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone on behalf of myself and my family for all your kind words during this extremely difficult time. It was quite a shock to hear of Jeff’s passing on that Tuesday almost two weeks ago.
Jeffrey lived a short life, but spent most of it battling addiction. An addiction that affected not only himself but my entire family. My cousin wrote a letter to my mom the week that Jeff died and I shared it with everyone at his memorial service. I thought I would share it with you since I get asked often about the letter I shared at his memorial. It was beautiful and written with such love behind it.
Caitie woke me up at 4am to tell me the news about Jeff. I couldn’t fall asleep after that. Every time I closed my eyes all I could see was this photo of Jeff and me – a photo taken when we were just little kids playing on the beach in Ocean City. In the photo, we’re wrapped up together in a towel, squinting our eyes from the sun, smiling the enthusiastic grins that only innocence can produce. Behind us, the ocean â€“ the huge, dark Atlantic â€“ stretched the length of the universe and flamed pale in that unknown place where sea becomes sky. We were children, then.
The next day before work I sat in Starbucks and sipped a â€œRed Eyeâ€ â€“ a large coffee spiked with an extra shot of espresso. I was over-tired and miserable. I think it was then that I realized I was in shock.
I remember the music clearly: an acoustic version of The Rainbow Connection. It seemed out of place, but perfect. I asked the barista who the artist was. She shrugged and dismissed me. Outside on Tottenham Court Rd, the big red commuter buses held up traffic, and the people on the sidewalk shoved into one another on their way to work. London, much as I love it, is a tough city to grieve in.
At work I stared at my computer but couldn’t focus. It felt unnatural, really, to be sitting there like a dunce in a swivel chair. Tragedy – death in particular – prompts a desire for connection, and water cooler banter simply wasnâ€™t doing it for me. Instead, I reached out to my oldest brother, Tommy, who I havenâ€™t spoken to for the better part of three years. I sent him an email and told him that I missed having him in my life. I told him about the birth of my son. It was a rambling incoherent message, but in the end I strung together the only three words that matter: I Love You.
At lunch I simply got up and left the office. I walked aimlessly around the city and somehow ended up amidst the tourists and pigeons in Trafalgar Square. People with maps shouted at each other in languages I didn’t recognize I sat on the ledge of one of the fountains and stared at my feet. I thought about Jeff again. I thought about that summer at the shore in ’07. He was all buffed up, looking healthy and handsome. We watched YouTube clips of Chris Crocker and talked about a lot of nothing, which, really, is the best thing to talk about on vacation. His eyes glimmered with playful mischief and something about them triggered a sensory memory so strong that I could have sworn I was eight years old again.
Back in London and my phone rang. My brother John. Had I heard the news? Yes. How was I doing? Fine, I guess. You sure? No, you? Kind of the same as you. Then I told him all I wanted to do was go home and hug my son and rock him in the rocking chair Linda gave us and tell him everything was going to be OK. Of course he’d undertsand none of it, and of course I’d be lying, but I suppose it’s one of those lies that shape this world and make it liveable. To invoke a line from my all time favourite book, All The Pretty Horses, â€œIt was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.â€
John and I said our goodbyes and I found myself standing in Covent Garden, where, much to my delight, I saw the absolutely most perfect Jeffrey-esque thing I ever could have imagined: A street performer wearing nothing but bright pink boxer briefs and a pair of 16 hole doc martens, riding an 8-ft tall unicycle, juggling two knives and a LIVE chainsaw.
Think about that. . .
A man in his underwear â€“ fluorescent pink underwear – in front of a crowd of at least 300 people. Sitting 8 feet in the air. Tossing a revved up chainsaw into the sky and catching it casually, without any apparent concern for his limbs.
Laughter. Showmanship. Peacocking.
I think itâ€™s fair to say these are terms one might associate with Jeffrey. I associate them with him, anyway, but thatâ€™s just my experience.
Please donâ€™t misunderstand me, Iâ€™m not for a minute â€“ not even one second â€“ minimizing the pain he suffered through in his struggle against a chronic disease of addiction. Iâ€™m all too familiar with that struggle to dismiss it. Iâ€™m just choosing to remember the side of him that â€“ once heâ€™d lost the power of choice over his body and its insatiable demand for instant gratification â€“ didnâ€™t hide from the world. Instead, he bolstered himself up and filled his universe with color, humor, and a whole lot of attitude. More importantly, though, he used his own experience to cultivate the rare compassion that forms the basis for the unique connection which bonds all those who suffer from addiction â€“ a bond which, once made, makes love possible, and love, for an addict, is an almost impossible thing to accept.
I wish I was writing you this under different circumstances. It pains me to know youâ€™re in so much pain â€“ you who give everything to everyone else.Â You, who wears her heart on her sleeve. You, the one who has dedicated her life to loving others. Clearly you have a huge heart, but I worry that it can only give so much before it starts fraying at the edges.
Circumstance prevents me being at the memorial on Tuesday. I wish I could be there to celebrate Jeffreyâ€™s life. Heâ€™ll forever be a glorious child in my mindâ€™s eye. And, equally important, I wish I could be there for you. Youâ€™ve always been there for me. Youâ€™ve always been there for me.
And if I were there, Iâ€™d ask you to look around the room, because no doubt itâ€™s packed full of friends of family. And Iâ€™d tell you something you probably already know: that you can fall back and let the people in that room take care of you. They are the lives you touched and they would all of them walk through hell and back for you. Not because they feel they owe it to you, but because youâ€™ve inspired them to live better, to live for others. At least I know youâ€™ve inspired me that way. Could there be a better lesson to learn from oneâ€™s Godmother? To love endlessly and unconditionally? No, itâ€™s the only lesson, and it can only be taught example: Love breeds love.
Iâ€™ll quit preaching now and close with another passage by my hero, Cormac McCarthy. This one is from All The Pretty Horses as well:
â€œâ€¦he felt a loneliness he’d not known since he was a child and he felt wholly alien to the world although he loved it still. He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.â€
Jeffreyâ€™s struggle was the pain. Your unwavering love and devotion to him: the flower.
Again thank you all for your kind words. I don’t think there is any way I could possibly thank everyone that has reached out to us. We are hanging in here surrounding ourselves with each other. Soaking up the next 6 weeks of Family Beach. Something we so desperately need right now.