Charlie’s Eulogy

I knew immediately what had to be done when he died.  I had to deliver a eulogy.  There were three emotions surrounding my preparation, delivery, and reflection of Charlie’s eulogy; anger, fear, and guilt.

ANGER:  Some people offered to do one in my stead, but there was NO CHANCE anyone other than me was sending Charlie off to heaven.  “This is MY son.  I will be responsible for his eulogy.”  I remember initially being offended by the mere mention of someone other than me writing and delivering the eulogy.  I quickly realized that they only had my best interests at heart and weren’t sure a father- any father- would be able to have the strength and poise to deliver one.  Which brings me to another thought I have about it.  I remember writing and practicing it in between intense bouts of sobbing, hyper-ventilating, and sleepless nights.  I was so angry.  Angry seeing Vanessa in such intense pain.  Angry thinking of deadbeat, abusive, and cruel dads that still had their sons.  Angry at dads that took pride in not changing diapers, doing late night feedings, or anything else that may distort their delusional view of what makes a man a dad.  (Hint:  It’s way more than putting food on the table or buying mommy expensive jewelry and pedicures.)

FEAR:  What if I fuck up?  What if I cry the whole time and can’t talk?  What if it sucks?  In case you don’t know, I am easily my biggest critic.  I was so afraid of not being able to get through it but not as afraid as I was of it sucking.  You all know what I’m talking about too.  The kind of speech that you’re wishing to end for the orator’s sake.  We’ve all seen at least one, and they’re usually a best man or maid of honor speech.  I wanted nothing more than to leave people with good thoughts of Charlie and not some mash-up of bad stories and aimless run-ons.  I had one shot.  I needed to nail it.  There was no other option.  (As I walked in behind Charlie’s casket, I kept my hand on it the whole way up.  My entire focus and attention was on his casket.  Nothing else.)  When it was time for me to get up there, I remember walking up to the pulpit, looking out into the crowd for the first time, and thinking, “Fuck me.  This place is packed.”  My adrenaline kicked in.  I swallowed the huge lump in my throat.  Looked out to the crowd.  And gave the best and only speech of my life.

GUILT:  I can still physically feel everyone standing up to give me a standing ovation.  I was able to feel the weight leave the pews as everyone stood up and the applause echoing around me on the altar as I hugged Vanessa.  I was able to write and deliver the best damn eulogy I was capable of and I was bursting with pride because I nailed it.  And I never hated myself more than I did in that moment.  Later that day I remember my Uncle Tom acknowledging what I had done in front of my family and friends at lunch.  I remember being ashamed of the death of my son being a catalyst for the first time I’ve felt proud of myself.  In the days, weeks, and months following I received sporadic emails and letters telling me of how moving and inspirational the eulogy was to others.  Each time my guilt grew exponentially.

I’ve since grown to know that it’s ok to feel proud about what I was able to do for Charlie that morning- thank you Dr. Ken.  Because that’s who it was for, Charlie.  I wanted to do my best for him and I did.  It’s ok to be proud of myself for giving the 400+ people there an insight to the depth of my love for Charlie and what a special kid he was.  I’ve also been asked how the hell I was able to do it.  I seriously cannot tell you how I did it.  I guess I was literally in the zone.  I’ve never felt how I did before, during, or immediately after I gave it before or since that day in my life.

Below is the written version.  (I ad-libbed a few lines while I was up there so it’s slightly different than the oral version.)

I’d like to begin by thanking our family and friends for providing unwavering support during this tragedy. We’d also like to thank Donna Stopa for caring for Charlie and Danny like they were her own.  We’d like to especially thank Dr. Frank Belmonte who watched over Charlie during his greatest hour of need.  Knowing that you personally carried him to the morgue, watched the autopsy, and waited for him to be picked up provided us with great comfort. Thanks again. 

The thing about Charlie, is that no one can exactly explain THAT THING about Charlie.

But everyone KNOWS, everyone FELT, that THING about Charlie. And it was this THING that made him so special and easy to love.

It was this thing about Charlie that would solicit comments from complete strangers about how sharp and quick he was.  A geek squad technician was setting up a blue ray player at my Mom’s house two weeks ago.  Charlie, of course, was right in this guy’s face showing him which cords went where, how to put the DVD in, and reminding him that he had to clean up for CC. The guy turned to Charlie and said, “You’re going to be a mayor someday.”

It was this thing about Charlie that made people chuckle and shake their head in disbelief as he walked away. I watched this happen from another room just last week at a one year old birthday party.  Charlie walked into the tv room where my friend’s father-in-law was sitting by himself watching a basketball game. Charlie walked right up to this man, whom he had never met before, and said, “I can’t wear big boy underwear on long car rides bc I’ll fall asleep and pee my pants. And that’s not good!” As we were leaving, this man- who has many grandchildren of his own- said to me, “Your Charlie is something else.”  It made me swell with pride because I recognized that Charlie just showcased this THING that no one can explain. He truly was something else.

I remember one morning as I took Charlie to school at Donna’s on my bike.  He kept asking me to go around the block one more time- even though I had already taken him at least five extra times.  We finally pulled up the alley and met Donna in the backyard.  I asked Donna how she felt Charlie was going to react to sharing our attention with a new baby.  And Donna said to me, “He’s just so tender.  He loves everyone and everyone loves him.  He’s going to be a great big brother.” After I gave Charlie a big squeeze and a kiss goodbye, I remember riding away with tears in my eyes bc of how proud I was of what kind of a person he was becoming.

This thing I keep mentioning. This aura. This spirit. It was contagious. He had an uncanny ability to make people feel so alive while he was around them.  I remember going to the pool over the summer. Whenever it was rest break, he would beg me to jump off the diving board. As I would walk toward the end of the board and begin to jump, I would watch him mimic me along the side of the pool.  He would even jump in the air as I went airborne. Every time I popped my head out from under the water, he would immediately start yelling at me from the side of the pool, “Dad, can you jump off the diving board?”  He would wait for me at the ladder, grab my hand,  and then pull me back to the diving board to dive off again.  Another Dad that was watching us said, “I could watch him all day.”  I would literally spend the entire 15 minute rest break jumping off the diving board, which is exhausting, just so I could see his beaming smile when I emerged from the water. And if I could, I would spend the rest of my life doing the same thing so I could see that smile just ONE more time. 

This thing about Charlie was on full display this past Christmas. He stormed into our room and yelled, “Santa left us presents!” He didn’t say me, he said us.  As we were opening our presents, Charlie stopped and sadly said, “But we didn’t get Santa any presents.”  What 2 year old stops unwrapping gifts bc he’s concerned he didn’t get a present to give in return?  A tender one. One whom has that special THING.

This thing. This appetite for life couldn’t be contained. He always wanted to be in on the action. A couple of weeks ago, I was sleeping and I remember getting the feeling that someone was staring at me. I opened my eye and there was Charlie, nose to nose with me. He said, “Dad!  I got a great idea!  Let’s go eat cereal and watch Mickey!”. It was 3am.  So I told him to come into bed with us and go back to sleep.  Which he did without a fight, but not before he kicked ME out of HIS spot in MY bed.

Vanessa and I were blessed to have a front row seat to the Charlie show 24/7. And we cherished every second of it, which has made this soul crushing experience a little less difficult. We never took one second for granted.  Even before he was taken from us, people who have been close with me my whole life commented on numerous occasions about how much better of a person Charlie made me. (I used to ask these same people why they didn’t say the same thing about Vanessa.  And they all said she was already better. . .  Still not sure what that means.) Now that he’s gone, even more people are reiterating how big of a positive influence he had on me.  It gives me strength to try to move forward.

This thing I keep going back to is what I will always cherish and try to use to fill this gigantic void in my soul. A major part of us died as Vanessa and I felt his beautiful body stop breathing in our arms.  I need his spirit to guide me to become a stronger husband to Vanessa and a even stronger father to Danny.  I need that thing.

I keep replaying a recording I have of Charlie asking me a question that I need to answer.

(play recording: “Dad, are you down there?  Can you come up here?  Dad?”)

I am down here Charlie. And no, I can’t come up there. But I would give the world to be able to do so.

Everyone here loves you. Mommy loves you. And I know that you want me to deliver this message to everyone. (play recording: “I love you!”)

Good bye my Charlie. I love you.

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15 thoughts on “Charlie’s Eulogy

  1. Oh–Bryan– you should be proud of yourself. We can’t take away this unimaginable hurt from you and Vanessa but please know that there are so many members of your family that would if they could.God bless you and Vanessa –we love you, Aunt Peg

  2. I think doing this is a great idea. I wish there were words for both of you that could make things somewhat better, but we know there’s not. God is carrying both you and Vanessa in the palm of his hand every day. And with the Grace of God he will show you how to walk through this, like only He can. Know that there is not a day that goes by the your family is not in my prayers. Bryon as far as this making you a better person I don’t thick you needed any improvement, you were and are a good person. This will only make you stronger. And some day you will be helping others get through this.
    With all our love
    Michael, Carol and Family

  3. Do you remember the musical notes that accompanied the “extraordinary” scenes in A Field of Dreams. Those same notes played loud and clear while re-reading Bryan’s eulogy. Very special stuff! Uncle Tom

  4. B- You stepped up to the plate when your family needed you most! No one expected any less.

    I still have you Christmas card on my bathroom mirror and use it for inspiration. My thoughts are with your family every day.

    M Angarone

  5. Bryan! Vanessa and you had to go on on this painful road forever.Why? We will never know. I see Vanessa often and I am so amazed how strong she is! My words will never express how sorry I am for you. I want you to know that that I pray for you everyday, because that is the only thing I can do for you. My kids never met Charlie , but they love him so much (we visit him every week at All Saints). I guess that is there way to keep him alive in our hearts. He was a beautiful child , who now is an angle looking over us. You have to keep going, and I think this is a wonderful way to honor Charlie. God bless you!

  6. Bryan I can remember back to our st. Paul days together and u were such a timid little one then. After what u had the courage to read on the alter I would definately say you r more than a strong man. Your courage and strength is extremely admired. Our love for Charlie is huge and our memories together will always be cherished. Gavin talks about Charlie all the time and he is a huge part of our family conversations. Thank god Gavin is a “rain man” because there isn’t a single moment with Charlie he has forgotten. Gavin couldn’t be more proud to wear his “charlie” shoes as he calls them. He tells everyone Charlie gave these to me because he doesn’t have to wear shoes in heaven. Your entire family is a part of our nightly prayers and Charlie is on our sons dresser smiling away in gavins red jeep. We will never forget the warmth of his smile. He will always be a part of my sons life and so will all of you. Thank u so much for sharing him with us. We love u and will always be here for all of you. Love the Georgas family

  7. Bryan-you are such a proud father and listening to your amazing words about Charlie are so heartwarming…we certainly miss him everyday. Gabriella says good night to Charlie every night–she waves at the window and we say good night to Charlie and that we love him. We are so very lucky to have had Charlie give us a glimpse of how special life is–he continues to inspire us everyday to smile & laugh more, enjoy our family & friends and live life to it’s fullest. We love you, Vanessa and Danny so much and are always here for you…there aren’t words we can ever say to make you guys feel any less sense of pain, but just know that we are always here to have a shoulder to cry on, a body to hug and spirits to help relive the memories of Charlie and cherish fun moments in the future. Love you guys! V

  8. When I heard you give Charlie’s Eulogy I didn’t think I would ever be more amazed by your courage and strength. I was wrong. This tribute to your beautiful son is beyond belief. Today you were right Charlie WILL always be your son. Although you and Vanessa have experienced more pain than we can comprehend, I hope you will also always feel joy that you were blessed with a son named Charlie.

  9. As I read these beautiful words I am moved to tears just as I was when I heard them the first time. I wish I had the courage to speak at my Steven’s funeral.
    I thought that your special send off to your beautiful son was the most courageous thing I had ever seen. Reading this again only makes me know I was right. It takes very special people to survive in the club that we unfortunately share.
    I look forward to reading your blog. Remember, as we say, “if you always remember me, I will never be gone.”
    Much love to you all.

  10. We too are living with the devastation of the sudden death of our little boy. It will be 20 months on Sunday but feels like only yesterday. Reading your words made me think about the words we said at our son’s funeral, we carried his casket and the thought of having to be here without him gets more painful each day. My husband said there is absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel, you just get used to living in the dark, the dark which on many occasions is unbareable. My thoughts are with you.

  11. Holding back the tears from my work desk in London. I feel exactly the same about my beautiful daughter Anni who was cruelly taken away from us without warning after being ill for a few days and then dying from a brain tumour. This happened in January this year, she was 2 months and 2 years.
    I will read as much of your blog as I can.
    Bill

    • Hi Bryan, I got your mail, but only just received a notification informing me that my replies were nit successfully delivered.
      can you confirm your mail account address or provide another please.
      really appreciated your response it wad incredibly kind of you to take the time
      Bill

  12. Hi Bryan, I got your mail, but only just received a notification informing me that my replies were not successfully delivered.
    can you confirm your mail account address or provide another please.
    really appreciated your response it wad incredibly kind of you to take the time

    Bill
    wjwright75@yahoo.co.uk

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