April 04, 2004

Sean O'Connell

Read at the Memorial Service

March 3, 2004

Dear Ray,

I just poured myself a glass of YOUR Knappogue Castle. I say “yours” because I bought it for you and Sophie the week after you left our home after coming down for my 40th birthday party at New Years. I know how much you both enjoyed it as we sat up talking and laughing. I was going to give it to you the next time I was up in the Bay Area…but as things turned out I waited a bit too long to make the trip. Your beloved and I will just have to share a glass from time to time in your memory.

Ray, I write this letter to express things about your life and also, my absolute sorrow and anger over your death. Whether you knew it or not, you were a beacon, a guiding light, to me on how to be a great man. Many times I marveled at your abilities as a devout husband and father. I cannot remember a time when I saw you angry or sad; or ever hear you curse, use sarcasm or a condescending tone; raise your voice or give an ill favored look to your wife or daughter, etc. I know that perfection to humanity is an unattainable goal but you my friend were the closest thing I ever saw to it in the way you always carried yourself. Unassuming, self effacing, always a big smile or kind word. An absolute, 100%, glass is always half full, attitude. You could find the positive in almost any situation. You have set the bar so high as to the proper way to be a man, husband and father that with a step ladder and tip toes I may some day be able to graze the bar with the tips of my fingers if I am lucky and try hard enough.

I still have a long way to go, though, and your passing has left me sad and angry. I know that you could probably find a positive aspect in all of this, if I could only speak with you one last time, but I find it an impossible task. All I see is the sorrow and devastation to your family and friends at your untimely passing and a question that will forever go unanswered…Why him? The voice that I ask the question in is hard and glaring and filled with anger and anguish. It is directed to the heavens with a rhetorical air because I know that no answer is forthcoming. As what little faith I have hangs by a thread, I look into the face of your beautiful daughter Rose, my own beautiful daughter Haleigh and the countless multitudes of beautiful children and know that there must be a GOD … but my same selfish questions loom…Why him? Why now? I just hope that whatever angels shoes you were called up to fill were as big and important as to justify the huge void and crater your passing has left us here on earth.

I will miss you my friend and brother. My first real memory of spending time with you and when I first started to get a glimpse of what my twin, Sophie, already saw in you was at your “bachelor party”. I do not know if I ever told you this but when you asked if I would go to your bachelor party I immediately accepted. Although I did not know you extremely well at that point you were my Sophie’s main man and future husband so I said yes. Also figuring that it would be like most other bachelor parties…Vegas, clubs, gambling, cigars, booze, etc. When I finally got the itinerary for this big bash I have to be honest…I started trying to figure out a way to bail out. River rafting, camping, fishing…with all guys…you have got to be freakin’ kidding me. But, I had made a commitment (along with the thought of facing Sophie after flaking) were the deciding factors in my decision to honor the engagement. I look back now and am so glad that I went. Your friends and family were as genuine as you were; there were fun and laughs a plenty; sleeping, cooking and partying outdoors were amazing; consuming most every bit of single malt scotch in the Yosemite valley in a weekend was a challenge worth repeating; fishing with a hang over was much more gratifying than I would have ever given it credit for; and fresh grilled trout, on stale baquettes with butter are an underrated culinary delight which more people should try. I will never forget that trip for the rest of my life and can rest assured that it will never be duplicated.

Ray, there are so many things that I do not know. For example, I do not know what you had for breakfast last Wednesday morning; I do not know why you did not sleep in when you looked out the window and saw the weather; I do not know why you climbed up that scaffold; I do not know what your thoughts and fears were during the last hours of your life. What I do know is the love you had for your family, your beloved wife Soph and your little Rosebud. Your absolute devotion to both of them. I know that Sophie will be alright, although it will be quite some time and a long and difficult road ahead, but she is strong and you will help her along the way. During these difficult and sorrowful times a lot of empty promises can sometimes be made. Then as time and memories fade, so do the promises. Ray, I will make just one promise to you. Your Rose will be loved and supported by me as long as I still stumble upon this earth and a heart beats in my chest. The substitute father line starts behind me and I am sure Richard, Bill, Blaise, James, Andrew, Dan, Jordan, and all of the many male family members and friends will stand up and make sure that she never misses a father/daughter dance, school play, soccer game, field trip, etc. They say it takes a village, well we will put that old cliché to the test. I know, that you know, I am more of a room service and taxi kind of guy but I promise you that I will make every effort to pitch a tent, put a line in a stream and make sure that your little Rose gets out into the wide open spaces as much as possible. I could never hope to fill your shoes for her my friend, just bring a lot of fathers love her way whenever I get the chance. Also, when the time comes I will make sure that Cameron, Jack, Dean and William are put on “Gazoonie duty” to properly haze and abuse any suitors who dare brave the front door of the O’Neal household.

Well my brother, it is decision time. Pour another glass of Knappogue and probably get into trouble or head off to bed and be in relatively good shape for your memorial. Guess I will save the bottle and bring it to the Club and have a group toast to you. My only hope is that I will have enough. Judging by the amount of lives you touched in your 37 years they may need to add an extra wing to the Club to accommodate the crowds…and I may need to track down a few more bottles for the toast. You are an extraordinary man who will be sorely missed by all who had the fortune of crossing paths with you. I count myself as one of the lucky ones who was able to spend time with you on multiple occasions and to witness your love and devotion to life in general…but most of all to family and friends. I will miss you terribly my brother, but look forward with hope that every time I look in your daughters eye I will see a bit of your spirit and lust for life in the gleam and twinkle…and I will smile and be made whole once more. Love. Sean.