After a three-year fight with cancer, my brother-in-law, Rick Murray, passed away last week. He was only 47-years-old.
I’m posting the speech/eulogy I gave for two reasons. The first is simply because I like to have an archive of my writing. The second, more important reason, is that I feel as a society we are really bad at dealing with death. When I went looking for inspiration for his eulogy, I was aghast at the crass websites I found. One honestly had a WAV file that played “Don’t Go” when I hurriedly tried to click away from the jaw-dropping tackiness. Thankfully a friend of mine had posted a eulogy he wrote for his father. As well, I recently witnessed my dear friend give an amazing speech about her husband at his memorial. They inspired me. Hopefully I can inspire someone.
The reason we’re here today is twofold. We want to take comfort in one another after the passing of Rick. But it’s important for us to remember that though we grieve, we also should celebrate his life. I’m having a hard time imagining mine without him in it. He was a brother-in-law in name, but really a brother to me. I’ve been lucky to know him since I was fourteen or fifteen.
He entered my life when he began dating Sharon, my sister. That was all thanks to some matchmaking done by my cousin, his friend – Adrienne. After one friends’ cottage weekend, he and Sharon started spending a lot of time together. I thought he was cool because he had a motorcycle and would take me for rides down hilly Chicopee road.
The motorcycle. It was the first hint that much more lay below Rick’s reserved surface. He was shy and quiet, but only until you got to know him. He also had this wonderful, playful side, which would appear at random times. I’ll never forget when he figured out that his intimidating, professional-looking camera would secure him press access to the Royal Winter Fair. He printed out a phony company ID for himself, ensuring he and Megan spent a lot of time behind the scenes. Also, Rick loved to tease. I lost count of how many times he poked fun at my food choices or called me an American once I moved to San Francisco.
He was understated, making his playfulness, I feel, more fun. When I was still working in Toronto, every month or so, I’d get a call at my desk around 11:30 in the morning. It’d be Rick. He’d say “Hi” and ask how I was doing, the sound of car static in the background. I figured out that this was his way of seeing if I was free for lunch after he finished with a client. If I had a meeting or something, I’d admonish him for not giving me some advanced warning. He was nonchalant, saying we’d just get together the next time.
One of my favourite examples of Rick being unruffled is when he had to go and sell pool supplies at a nudist colony. I was all over the craziness of that and pelted him with questions. Did he have to have a business conversation with someone who was nude? Did they expect him to dis-robe? Rick calmly answered “No” to both of those questions and merely said it was like any regular call.
I must confess that for a while I was mystified he was a successful sales guy. In my experience, all people in sales were loud and fast-talking, often brash – the very opposite of Rick. I soon realized it was his determination, stubbornness, helpfulness, watchfulness as well as his ability to listen, which let him succeed.
I really liked that Rick was a keen observer. If we were out at a family dinner, he was quick to notice odd behavior by other clientele or the staff, much to our shared amusement. He always knew what to get Sharon and Megan for their birthdays and Christmas, happily giving me suggestions if I was at a loss. Those suggestions showed how much quiet attention he paid to their interests and hobbies. I never took Rick for a romantic, until one wedding anniversary. He asked a local artist to paint Sharon’s present: Pioneer Tower, where he had proposed to her. And she tells me that when he wasn’t commissioning paintings, he was always a loving husband, never forgetting to get her flowers for special occasions.
Rick and Sharon have been married twenty-two years. For me, the best symbol of their relationship—aside from wonderful Megan—is the colour of their kitchen. It’s a shade that can best be described as Deep Rose. I don’t know any other guy who would have agreed to it, but that was Rick. He was laidback. He knew it was important to Sharon, so he didn’t sweat the small stuff. He was her calm. She, his dynamo. Together they valued family and home. Whenever Megan saw them hugging, she’d squish in and make it a group hug. I know Sharon wishes that she and Rick could have at least doubled their years together.
She’s asked me to say on her behalf that Rick was a very good listener and he knew that most times she talked enough for the both of them. In all their years together, she never heard him say a unkind word about anyone. And if someone needed help, he was there. Also, he never complained about anything. In his three-year fight with cancer, he remained strong, positive, and courageous.
It was wonderful to witness him become a dad. From Megan’s earliest days, he was always calm and patient. He was encouraging, wanting her to explore, even if it meant the odd scrape or two. He was her champion when she clarified that the horse on her Christmas list was real (after we all gave her toy versions). He recognized her passion and helped her become not only the great equestrian, but also the gentle woman she is today. It’s no surprise that he too liked handling the horses, playing in the mud at barns and being around all the other animals.
As I write this, I realize my partner, Paul, treats our son in some similar ways. And Paul too is more introverted, with a strong playful current. I guess those traits work well for strong-willed, talkative Schaffer women.
Rick and I did a lot of our talking over email. At least once a week, we’d exchange some message, whether it was just catching up or I re-stating my Canadian-ness after he sent me some mocking article about the States. Or we’d continue our ongoing political debate, with me defending the left and him upholding the right. He was conservative. I’m liberal. I love to travel. He loved to stay at home. We were very different. I think that’s why we cared for each other the way we did. I already miss seeing a new message from him in my inbox.
Of course, we’ll all miss him. At the beginning of this speech I said I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it. I believe he’ll still be there in some way. He lives on in each of us, with our stories and memories. Let’s remind each other of them.