This past week marked the final days of a very special friend and family member, Chuck Tomkovick. Although I didn’t know him nearly as much as I had wished, I still feel as though the time I spent with him while he was still around was something rather special.
He was the kind of guy who always had a smile on his face. In fact, the last time I saw him, while he was looking rather ragged from the bouts of chemotherapy, as well as from just battling the rages of the cancer that was attacking his brain, I saw nothing but the bright cheery face you see here.
I had long wondered if he had just mastered the perfect game face, never wanting to show his inner most emotions. After attending his memorial service yesterday and hearing from people who knew him much better than I did, I can rest assured that he was just that cheerful of a guy.
And the notes that rang out from this group of fellow friends and family members continued to chime that what I knew of this man was all entirely genuine, because that’s who he was, genuine.
Although many times that we actually found ourselves together, you could believe that we exchanged nothing more than pleasantries, even those moments felt as though he was interested in nothing more than knowing precisely how I was doing, as he shot that ever-present smile even brighter in my direction. He was a man who was excited about life, even up until the very end, and wanted to share that excitement with everyone.
My children knew him even less than I did, considering they were more prone to playing with their cousins during family functions than they were to hang out in the grown-chat-areas. Of course, Chuck was frequently playing with his son as well, so maybe they did know him better than I thought. . . all the same, there was an interesting moment that I shared with my daughter as I told her we were going to Chuck’s funeral.
I had been under the impression that my wife had told her about Chuck’s passing, never once actually thinking about broaching the subject myself. My daughter has been very interested in the subject of death for some time now, finding it difficult to understand the idea that someone could be gone for forever. We visit my grandfather’s grave somewhat often, since it rests just down the road from our home, and that almost always causes conversations about why he is under the ground. She talks to her mother often about my wife’s grandparents, who have all passed on, frequently talking about how sad it is that they are gone and that she never got to meet them.
So, when I arrived at daycare yesterday dressed in my suit, she looked puzzled, asking why I would be so well dressed. When I said we were going to a funeral, she looked even more confused.
We removed ourselves from her friends slightly and she sat on my knee as I reminded her who Chuck was and told her of his death. She first asked the requisite, “why did he die?” to which she knew the answer but follows her kneejerk reaction of asking why about anything that hits her by surprise. But then she asked why we would be going to his funeral.
This caused me to pause for a moment, as, well, I didn’t really have an immediate answer.
But then I thought about Chuck and reminded her of the kind of guy he was, to which she immediately responded with how sad that it was that he was gone. And then we talked about what it’s like when other people we love are gone, about how we react when her grandparents head back home to South Carolina, or even when mommy and daddy leave for a few days (which has only happened a couple of times in her life). She responded with notes of how sad it is when those times happen and that she’ll miss them, and want to give them hugs and kisses and all sorts of other love.
Using this base, we then talked about how to react when someone goes away before we have the ability to give them hugs and kisses and whatnot. We talked about how we could be sad about their leaving, which we both agreed would happen, but that it can’t be that way always.
She then realized that we were saying goodbye to Chuck by showing him love in the only way we had available. And suddenly the idea of Chuck’s funeral wasn’t as sad. Knowing that Chuck was a happy guy who was always positively looking toward the future, we talked about how important it was to gather with other people who loved Chuck and remember him together, in an effort to say goodbye.
She still admitted it was sad, and wanted to ensure she gave big hugs to Chuck’s immediate family members, but she also felt a bit happier about the experience than she did when I first announced to her what our evening plans were. And, of course, once we got there and she saw all of her cousins and family members, most of that was forgotten and she went on to have a great day.
Which is, of course, exactly what I believe Chuck would have wanted her to do.
So, my daughter, who has been questioning the concept of death for quite some time now, has finally seen first hand how people react to it. . . and, well, her interest waned in the subject. But, I believe the concept is slightly more resolved in her mind. And even if it isn’t, she did get her chance to say goodbye to a man that I believe touched the hearts of everyone he met.
Good bye, Chuck.
Have a good one.