The following is why I should never be asked to do a speech at your wedding or give your eulogy. Just so you know.
“Thank you, Reverend Andrews, for such a kind introduction. Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming out on such a sad day to pay tribute and remember our friend Thomas. It is indeed a tragedy when someone is taken from us at their prime, so unexpectedly, and in the circumstances that, well... Thomas died under.
Thomas leaves behind his beloved wife Helen. She asked if I’d give a eulogy. Helen, I hope I do his memory well today.
Thomas and I grew up together. We were the best of friends, always up to no good, getting ourselves into all sorts of mischief. I remember snowball fights and that one time we hit that car on the road. The one that stopped. Oh, did we run. Ran for our lives. I mean, you don’t know in those circumstances if you’re dealing with a really cranky person, particularly if you’re eight years old. It’s a miracle our parents never found out.
We got ourselves through high school. Half the time we only passed classes by copying each other’s answers on tests... oh, by the way, there aren’t any of our former teachers here today? No? Good, I wouldn’t want to be answering for something we did twenty years ago.
I still remember the time that six of us managed to get the principal’s car up on the roof of the school overnight. We somehow managed to keep it all a secret for years on end. At least until after Old Man Knox bit the dust. I suppose I shouldn’t use the term bit the dust at a funeral, should I? Well, it was funny, getting that VW Bug up on the roof. His expression the next day when he finally found out where his missing car? It was priceless.
Maybe I shouldn’t have admitted that.
Anyway, Thomas and I went off to the same university. Chased the girls, drank on the weekends, got into our own sorts of trouble here and there. Managed to get our degrees despite our knack for trouble. Got out in the great outdoors every chance we could get. That’s another thing we had in common, aside from the whole getting in trouble thing. Hiking and climbing some of the peaks so close to home.
And then we accepted that dare.
Some people start at it young. Others do it as part of a bucket list when they’re eighty years old. Obviously we were the former.
We were dared to try skydiving.
There we were, twenty years old, totally oblivious to the idea of mortality. So of course we took the dare.
Let me tell you, there’s nothing quite as thrilling as taking a step out of a plane and plunging down into the atmosphere. Well, mountaineering, of course, and maybe sex, but it depends on the sex. Best sex of my life? That Swedish student Ingrid back in fourth year. Trust me, she was a whole lot of fun in the sack, in the shower, in the kitchen, out on the back deck...
Oh, probably shouldn’t be talking about sex in a church during a eulogy, should I?
Right. Sorry. I just get carried away with myself sometimes.
Anyway, we got to like skydiving. Which is how Thomas met Helen, actually.
He did a jump one weekend near Vancouver. She was on the same jump. Her first time doing a jump. They got to talking, hit it off in the plane, and jumped together. You loved it as much as he did, didn’t you, Helen? It’s a thrill. Something everyone should try at least once in their lives. Well, maybe not if you’ve got a deathly fear of airplanes. Obviously not then, because this is a whole step beyond that.
We can at least take solace in the fact that Thomas died doing something that he loved.
We couldn’t have known it was going to happen. Helen decided not to make the jump last Saturday. Pregnancy and skydiving aren’t really a good mix, not after the sixth month, anyway. So Thomas and I headed out for a jump.
I’m a strong believer in packing your own chute. It’s never gone wrong for me before. I wonder though, if I hadn’t, if I’d... well, relied on him to do it, would I be here today? Or would I be in a casket and Thomas giving my eulogy? And by him I mean Harry McCullough. Or Mad Harry, as everyone called him.
Mad Harry, for those of you who might not know, has been working at the flying club for decades. He was due to retire next week. Everyone called him Mad Harry because of the way he flew. Barnstorming at air shows. Crop dusting in ways that made you wonder if he had a death wish. Oh, we also called him Mad Harry because he often said things that didn’t make much sense. Muttered a lot under his breath. Hell of a pilot, but off kilter if you know what I mean. That said, he never had one incident in his life.
Until last Saturday.
Mad Harry packed the chute for Thomas. First time Thomas ever had his chute readied by anyone else. In hindsight, we should have double checked and triple checked. I should have told Thomas to do it himself.
We didn’t think about it. All we could think about was making the jump.
And so there we went. Mad Harry took us up in the plane. Everything’s perfectly fine. We stepped out of the plane and went down, same as we’ve done so many times before.
Only this time it didn’t go right.
Oh, it went fine for me. Pulled my chute, it deployed, and there I was making a smooth descent.
Only I was looking down at Thomas down below, and I could see him pull at the rip cord.
But instead of a chute? What came out of the pack was Mad Harry’s laundry.
I could hear Thomas in my earpiece. Screaming his head off, every single curse word you can imagine in those few seconds he had left. Plunging thousands of feet, going way too fast. Cursing Mad Harry’s name.
Well, at least Thomas went fast.
If you’ve got to die, ideally it’s without pain, but if there’s to be pain, better it’s all done fast instead of slow and lingering.
Thomas slammed into the ground at a whole lot faster than he should have. It took a scraper to get him completely off the grass. Needless to say, there’s a good reason we’ve got a closed casket for him. Trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to see what’s left of him.
Our friend is gone. He leaves behind his grieving widow and a child he’ll never get to see come into the world.
We’re left to wonder why, at the injustice of it all.
And wonder... could it have been us, under other circumstances?
As for Mad Harry? He’s now undergoing psychiatric assessments, going on and on about pancaked jumpers and wondering what happened to his Slayer t-shirt.
Well, goodbye, Thomas. You were the best friend I could have ever asked for. The brother I never had. We’ll all miss you. Especially Helen. But don’t worry, she’ll be well taken care of. You were smart to take out that life insurance on yourself, friend. Ten million dollars paid out in full.
Say, Helen, what are you doing after the funeral?”