Saturday, June 28, 2014

In memoriam

We've been here in Austin for a little over a week now. It's been a heartbreaking time, but also good and comforting to be here with my sisters and parents to mourn and cry and talk and laugh and just remember our brother together. We had a memorial service for him last wednesday, which was lovely and sweet. I had not realized just how active and beloved he was in his church community. I feel like there are whole sides of him that I hadn't been aware of and it's a shame to not have noticed until now, but it is sweet and heartwarming to see how much people adored him and what he meant to so many. 

My sister Criss spoke at the service, mostly retelling stories about JC. There were a couple that stuck out to me, that I had not known or remembered but really capture who he was. One was her remembering trying to get him to play house with her-- Criss being the mom, JC being the dad, and her doll being the baby. All would go fine until JC decided that really he was a government agent and the baby was not a real baby but AN ALIEN BABY WHO NEEDED TO BE STOPPED!! I keep chuckling out loud over that mental image. 

As background for the second story, in college my brother had been studying Radio-Television-and-Film at UT, towards the end narrowing his focus to sound editing. In his last semester, after months of feeling unwell, he was diagnosed with a malignant and aggressive brain tumor. They thankfully found it just in time, and between the surgery and months of radiation and chemo he beat the cancer but he also had to relearn how to walk and talk all over again. He also lost his hearing in one ear, effectively taking away one of his passions. 

But Criss remembered a conversation with him where, instead of feeling bitter or angry, he said that he didn't see it as losing the hearing in one ear, but as trading that ear for his whole life. That he could still hear from his other ear (he became a pro at finding just the right place and direction to sit to still appreciate the quality of sound for music and movies through his beloved sound equipment).

I also wrote a few words for the service, though I didn't have it in me to read them aloud (I asked Zach to do so). But I figured I would share them here as well:

Over the past few days I've been looking back at memories of JC that stand out in my mind. I remember him as a kid, setting up his action figures in the backyard into scenes that he would photograph (I smile watching my own sons do the same thing now). I remember him coming to my aid whenever Cristina would pick on me. I remember him making us watch the terrible horror movies he so enjoyed, reassuring me that they weren't really scary because the blood and everything were fake and explaining how they did the various gory effects. I remember him coming home one day with a grey kitten hidden in his jacket-- he had found it under the seat on the bus and couldn't bear to leave it there, alone and helpless. That was not the first nor the last stray cat he would bring home.
I remember going to see him in the hospital after the surgery for his brain tumor, feeling so scared but also hopeful that he would be ok. I remember watching him go through all of his treatment and physical therapy in the months afterwards, working tirelessly to literally get back on his own two feet. 
One of my last memories of JC is from this past Christmas. To say that JC was a Star Wars fan would be a bit of an understatement. He was also an incredibly loving and devoted uncle to his nieces and nephews. This past December JC showed my kids theoriginal Star Wars trilogy, sharing the films he loved so dearly with his beloved nephews. It was such a special moment. 
Now let me tell you a few things I do not remember... With all that JC went through, I don't ever remember seeing him be cynical or bitter, or complain about what happened to him. He had every reason to be angry at the world, but he wasn't. He just kept on going, working to get better physically, then working to make the world better through his volunteering and then getting his masters, wanting to turn his experience into a way to help others. 
I honestly don't know how he did it. JC possessed an inner strength that I cannot fathom. But I realized that in this time of deep sadness and grief, I can find inspiration in his great attitude. I could feel angry and bitter about having had my brother taken from me, from all of us. Or I can view the years we had with him as a gift, as something to celebrate and honor and remember. I can be grateful for the marks he left on this world. I can be grateful for the pleasure and honor of having known him and called him my big brother.
JC's obituary can be found here.

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