Tribute to Jeff
(Read at Jeff's funeral)
Jeff and I are two years apart. Therefore, we were constant playmates growing up. Looking through some old photos this week, it was fun to think back on all of the things that we used to do together. We used to build tents in the living room and play all day in it. He was always organizing some kind of baseball tournament for us all to play in in the back yard. We traded baseball cards and planned surprise parties for our parents. I used to love emptying out our toy box and spend time playing inside of the toy box itself. One of my favorite pictures of the two of us is one where we were both sitting on the kitchen floor and we were eating the rest of the cake batter in the bowl. I wasn’t even two years old then, so Jeff was feeding me the chocolate and we both had it all over our faces.
Because of his unique sense of humor, Jeff had a way of coming across very serious and then hilarious all at the same time. Sometimes when he would tell a story you never knew if he was serious or not until he delivered a punch line at the end. He had a way of doing or saying something unexpected at just the right moment to make me laugh. I can remember when we were younger, going out to play in the snow. While Tommy and I were building snowmen, Jeff made a full size snow sculpture of a toilet. We both attended Malone College and had a couple of classes together. In the one class, we had a professor who didn’t like us to be distracted and got upset if we weren’t paying attention. Of course, Jeff would try his hardest to make me laugh in that class, and would always reach over and write things on my notes. There were times in that class when I heard very little of what was being taught because I was concentrating on not laughing for the whole hour. Jeff had a remote controlled fart machine that he loved to use on people and make them wonder what was going on. As recently as last week, he would ask it to be placed under his bed so it could be set off when the nurses would come check on him. Even up to the very end, he kept his sense of humor.
As my older brother, Jeff was always looking out for me too. In college when I was taking calculus and realized that I was in over my head, there were several times that I would call him to help me understand what I was trying to do. And the one time after he helped me, he even gave me a couple of dollars so that my friends and I could go out and buy donuts, since he knew I had no money. A couple of years ago, my car broke down and I again had no money. When he found out, he actually gave me one of his cars– to keep. And again, as recently as last week, he wanted to make sure that I knew that I could drive one of his cars if mine ever broke down. A couple of months ago I went through some of his computer files to try to find all of his website updates. One file that I pulled up ended up being a prayer list that he had saved on his computer. There in the list of things that he was praying for was my name. In the midst of his suffering, Jeff was praying for me. Of course, he wasn’t perfect and didn’t always look out for me. When we were kids and it came to who was going to hang their coat on “the good hanger” or eat cereal with “the good spoon,” it was every man for himself.
Jeff had several passions in his life. He loved to run, he loved to teach, and he loved his family and friends. Throughout Jeff’s illness, he received a lot of support from a lot of people. At one point, after realizing how many people were praying for him and supporting him, he said, “I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I feel like I am the most loved person in the world. I have a family who loves me, I have friends who love me, and I have a church who loves me.” Jeff knew the value of his family and friends and didn’t take them for granted.
When I think about Jeff being in heaven now, the picture that I have in my head is him running. I know the Bible says that he is doing other things too, but I picture him running. He loved to run. I never heard Jeff complain about his sickness. The closest I heard him come was when he said that he hoped he could run again. As Jeff was breathing his last breaths, Gwen prayed over him Isaiah 40:31 that says that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” As soon as we knew that Jeff was gone, someone made the comment that he was running now. The next morning, I went to church. We sang a song called “I Am Free.” It was such an amazing experience to sing that and realize how free Jeff was at that moment. The chorus of the song contains the line “I am free to run,” and was repeated several times. I had never heard that song before, and I claimed it as God’s assurance to me that Jeff was OK, and not only was he free, but he was able to do what he loved to do.
Throughout this past summer, whenever I would visit Jeff, I would always tell him the same thing when I left. I always told him, “I’ll be back to see you again Jeff. I don’t know when for sure, but I’ll see you again.” The one time I told him that, he responded differently than he ever did before. His response was, “Just make sure it’s soon.” It turns out that those were the last words he ever spoke to me. And because of our mutual faith in God, I know that I can still tell him now, “I’ll be back to see you again, Jeff. I don’t know for sure when, but I’ll see you again.” And the first thing I’m going to ask him is “Was it soon enough?”
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