Special people enter our lives all the time, and it’s best to hang on to them when they do. For me, young Zebb is one such person. Last July, on the day of my father’s funeral, Zebb’s eulogy for Dad eclipsed anything anyone could say, so no one else did. What Zebb offered was plenty, and it was perfect.
Zebb and my father became close the previous summer, in Henderson, Kentucky, where my father and Rose spent part of the year and where Zebb lives. By then, Dad’s disease was becoming pronounced, and Zebb spent a lot of time helping Rose and sitting with Dad.
On the morning of the funeral I was in a dither. Frankly, I would have rather been anywhere else that particular day, and I’m sure Dad would have understood. But there were obligations, and though I wasn’t looking forward to making a bad attempt at saying something, I figured I’d speak from the heart then let it go.
That changed when Zebb spoke. His thoughts were as honest as anyone’s, and his voice was as sure as tomorrow’s sunrise. He was just 15-years old, and he was speaking to a full room of mostly strangers. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when he finished.
I think it’s proper, seven months after my father passed, to share what Zebb told us that day. Thanks Zebb. This meant very much to me.
“I first met Jim when he married Rose, and ever since Jim has been a great friend, a great role-model, and all-in-all someone I have been inspired to be like.
“He was very important to me, and made a huge impact on my life. He and Rose would come to Henderson for the summer. I found myself at their house more than I was my own. Jim and I spent countless days and nights talking, laughing, and one of Jim’s favorites—watching TV. Those were some of the best days of my life, days I will cherish forever.
“All of the good times we shared accumulated many great stories and memories. Memories that I hold close to my heart and memories that will last a lifetime. The laughs we shared, the endless advice and wisdom and knowledge I gained, the movies we watched, the game shows we guessed at, the enormous amount of food we ate, the times he bragged on his family, the times he talked about his dog Keoke and all of the times I heard ‘Rose’ when he just wanted her to be near.
But the memory that sticks out the most is one that took place last year, on one summer night. It was just Jim and I. Jim was particularly hard to understand this night. We were watching TV and he was asking me how my day went. As the hours passed, it was time for me to go home. As I headed out the door in the most clear voice he looked at me, reached to give me a hug, and said, ‘I just want to thank you for being my friend.’
“I’m so lucky I had the privilege of meeting and knowing Jim. As long as I’ve known him one thing never changed: No matter the circumstances, no matter if he was in the best shape of his life or the worst shape of his life, he always had the most bright, uplifting, heartwarming smile you ever saw. I’ve always seen him treat people with love, with respect and care. Those are traits most people don’t have. And getting the honor of being his friend is a very special thing. Not often does a 76-year old man call a 14-year old at the time his friend. And that means so much to me.
“There are a lot of things I don’t know about Jim, but one think I do know is that he was sure proud of his family, his kids and grandkids. I’ve heard Jim say nothing but the nicest things about you all. He loved you very much. I also know he loved his dog. Jim and Keoke were just alike, no matter how much pain they were in Jim always smiled and Keoke always wagged his tail.
“It will be very difficult to speak of a lifetime of memories, but in a lifetime I’ll never forget what Jim meant to me. I hate that Jim is gone, but the fact is Jim is no longer in pain, sorrow, or grief or suffering. He is walking and talking like never before. The ways of the world are far behind him. One day we will see him again. And because we know that, we can cry with hope. The hope of knowing this is not the final goodbye.
“This week has been a hard one for all of us, but he wouldn’t want us to cry. He would want to laugh at the good times shared. Talking with Jim’s family, I know he left a legacy to be proud of. And his legacy will live on. Although he is gone from this earth, he will live eternally in our hearts. He was a great Dad, friend, husband and grandfather. We may have not been bonded by blood, but we were bonded by love, and I know I’m going to miss him a lot. You just can’t replace old friends.
“So until next time, I miss you, I love you, and I can’t wait to see you again. Zebb.”