We buried my Dad’s younger brother Michael Andrew Ryan at Good Shepherd Church in Camp Hill, PA Tuesday. We honored the man who was a friend to so many, the father who was the most partisan of advocates for his two great kids and the husband who grabbed his wife’s hand and held it tight through a thousand and one adventures these past forty-three years.
I’ve always been close to my Uncle Mike. We were both second sons in our families and enjoyed that unique vantage point, free from the ice-breaking responsibilities of the firstborn and thus more prone to joking around. As a kid, he and my Aunt Joyce foolishly volunteered to take me down for a week at the Jersey shore and it proved as much a halcyon vacation for me as it did a cautionary warning of the demands of parenthood for them. Every Thanksgiving, he’d smoke his L&M’s and follow the college games closely on TV, until I eventually learned what a ‘bookie’ was. During my tight college days, Uncle Mike always found an excuse to pass through South Bend around dinner time and leave me with a fist full of twenties. And the night before my wedding, with my father-in-law’s admonishment to take it easy ringing in my ears, Uncle Mike had me, my Dad and my brothers down round the pool of Santa Monica’s Pacific Hotel, sharing stories and drinking an endless stream of Heinekens until three in the morning.
His was a life of inclusion–he always had room for another place at the table, another friend in the crowd. One of my favorite stories in the online obituary came from a couple who met him when their car broke down on the way to Hershey Park. Uncle Mike stopped, helped them get their car fixed, then invited them over to the house for a swim and a drink. That was so him.
At his eulogy, his childhood friend said Uncle Mike “was always ready for today” a sentiment that feels so true. It’s a quality I pray I deliver to those around me, something so important to leave behind. It’s all summed up in this poem that was also quoted in the eulogy. I’ll admit, it may ring as cheesy to some and perhaps it is. But the truth is, when you’re grieving the passing of someone so filled with life and love and the simple appreciation of the everyday, this isn’t cheesy, it’s true.
The Dash Poem
By Linda Ellis
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end
He noted that the first came her date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not how much we own;
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show apppreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash
would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?
Uncle Mike lived the dash exceedingly well. And as I was leaving with my parents to catch my flight back to Chicago, my Aunt Joyce pulled me aside and said “You know your Uncle Mike really loved you.”
On a day of such profound loss, it was an extraordinary gift. And from his widow no less (not surprisingly, my Aunt Joyce is every bit Uncle Mike’s equal).
But in the end, I’m just another person standing in a long, meandering, talkative line of people who loved him back tenfold.
God bless you Uncle Mike. I miss you already.
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79