I’m blessed for many reasons, and one of them is having my older brother Jimmy to whom I’m very close. And for almost as long as I have had Jimmy (aka Chopper), I have had his large pack of friends who have stood guard as my non-DNA brothers. This group includes Ricky, Dougie, Twomey, Charlie and until last week, at the too-young age of 56, Eddie.
I have known Eddie since I was 7 — at least 45 years. He was Jimmy’s first friend when we moved into our new house in South Tampa and he lived down the street, although at times it seemed like he lived with us. Eddie was always there. He was the first one who came running to tell us that my brother had broken his arm at school; the one who playfully tossed me around like a rag doll so many times that our dog finally bit him to protect me; the one who recorded “So Happy Together” with my brother on a cassette recorder, pretending they were singing sensations, while I sat and watched, thinking they hung the moon; the one who told his parents he was going to his summer job, but who actually just came to our house everyday and fought with my sister over which game show to watch. One morning, my mother awoke to find Eddie at our dining room table eating tenderloin from our refrigerator. With a smile on his face, he said, “Good morning, Mrs. Burt. This roast beef is great!” Mama just shook her head.
A Member of The Club
After my parents divorced, for some reason our house became the social hub. My sister’s, my brother’s and my friends filled the house — much to Mama’s delight (truly) — so much so it became known as Club Burt. For many years, Eddie was a fixture.
Eddie was larger than life. I’m not sure how tall he was, but as a former basketball player, he was well over six feet and his personality was 10 times that size. Everyone knew him. In his eulogy for Eddie, his dear friend Doug reminded the congregation that Eddie was voted most popular in high school and least likely to write a book about Jesus — which is what Eddie did after a conversion experience at age 49.
Growing up, my brother’s friends were always good to me out of devotion to my brother. But over time, I developed my own friendships with them, each for different reasons. Eddie and I reconnected over faith and the arts. After I performed my show How to Draw a Nekkid Man (formerly known as I Will Be Good) down in Tampa — to which Eddie and his entire family came, breaking my heart in the good way — Eddie gave me great advice about my show, my book, and my creative business even as he pursued producing a film based on his own book, 33 Hope. We talked about the relationship between artistic and financial freedom (best advice: worry over money = red flag that you are not trusting God) and we talked about the importance of creating work that helps people see what they can do with their potential. He generously shared my blog posts, and we cheered each other on through Facebook.
In an Instant, Everything Is Different
The day Eddie died, I was at my computer, deep into my memoir manuscript but still not satisfied, and I thought to myself, “Gosh darnit, Eddie was right. I have to go much more emotionally deep into this book then I do in the show.” About two hours later, I got the call he was gone. One minute, he was at his own computer, working away on his own creative endeavors. The next minute, after a few slight chest pains, he was no longer with us.
This song says it best: “I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees.”
As the news began to sink in, I immediately wanted to find everyone I loved and hook them up to heart monitors and then just stare at them, trying to somehow control the situation. It was the same after my father died suddenly 16 years ago. Daddy just went to sleep and died, which was great for him but left the rest of us reeling. I was living in Ireland at the time. When I came home for the funeral, I stayed nearly seven weeks, listening each night to make sure my mother was breathing, constantly checking on my remaining family, deluding myself that somehow my proximity would protect them from death and would spare me more heartbreak. At some point Mama very wisely said, “Honey, you can’t keep us alive by staying here. You have to go back to Ireland.”
I didn’t expect Mama to attend Eddie’s memorial service, even though she loved him dearly. At age 82, she tends to avoid heartbreak as much as she can, having seen enough over the years. But she went to the service and when I asked her why, she simply said, “Because Eddie was a charter member of Club Burt.”
One Step at a Time
Now, as the Book of Common Prayer says, Eddie rejoices on another shore while we are left gasping and staggering with grief for his beloved family and ourselves. What are we to do? I will leave with words from Anne Lamott’s book, “Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers.” I think Eddie would like it.
I admit, sometimes this position of gratitude can be a bit of a stretch. So many bad things happen in each of our lives. Who knew? When my son, Sam, was seven and discovered that he and I would probably not die at exactly the same moment, he began to weep and said, “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to be born.” This one truth, that the few people you adore will die, is plenty difficult to absorb…We are hurt beyond any reasonable chance of healing…And yet the world keeps on spinning, and in our grief, rage, and fear a few people keep on loving us and showing up. It’s all motion and stasis, change and stagnation. Awful stuff happens and beautiful stuff happens, and it’s all part of the big picture.
In the face of everything, we slowly come through. We manage to make new constructs and baskets to hold what remains, and what has newly appeared…And at some point, we cast our eyes to the beautiful skies, above all we’re wallowing in, and we whisper, “Thank you.”
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