Last month, on the first anniversary of the day I met him, my friend Stephen died. He was 23. What follows is a transcript of the eulogy I delivered at his funeral, and a selection of photographs of him that haven't been published before.
How futile words seem, in the face of such a tragedy. How easy it would be to break, under the weight of such a tragedy. When we experience loss like this, the foundations of our lives are exposed as fragile.
In the first days of grieving, I tried to read a book: “what’s the point of this?” I asked myself. I saw awesome landscapes and beautiful architecture: “what’s the point?” I asked myself. I pushed away plates of lovingly prepared food; I couldn’t find meaning in taking the photographs that are my life’s work. But then. But then I fell into the arms of my friends, and the point of everything else came slowly back to me. I realised then that love is our life’s work. Love is the foundation that does not break under the weight of tragedy. It is made stronger by it.
We who are gathered here today, and the many friends who couldn't make it: we are united by love. Love for each other, and love for this angel, this great and gentle soul, our beautiful Stephen.
He was so loved because he was so easy to love. He brought out the best in me by being the best himself. When I was angry, he showed me how to be calm; when I was reckless, he showed me how to be cautious. When I cried, he showed me how to laugh.
My Mum never met Stephen, but she heard me talk about him all the time. And once my Mum asked me to do something for her - a silly wee favour, whatever it was - and I said “Ach, it’s not important” or “Can you not do it? I’m busy.” and she said “You would do it for Stephen, wouldn’t you?” And she was right, as mothers always are. I would do anything for him. Anything to see that smile and to hear that silly laugh. I doted on him. That sounds like what a parent does for a child, but the truth is I was the child. I wanted to please him like a kid who wants to impress his dad. Whenever there was a serious problem, whenever there was actual trouble, he was the one who looked after me. I would often embarrass Stephen by telling him what a wonderful father he would one day be.
How sad that a man of such unusual kindness and sensitivity, such keen intelligence and talent, should be so suddenly spirited away before he had given this world all he had to give.
We who are left behind: we must take the standard of generosity and compassion with which he lived his life; pick it up, raise it high, carry it forward. With the love that he gave to us and inspired us to give, we can help each other to heal and to grow.
What a load of cliches.
They are. You’ve heard this all before: it’s all just stuff that people say to each other when we lose someone. Stuff like
Life’s too short.
Makes you appreciate what you’ve got.
We have to love each other now.
You know what, though? They’re all true. And there’s a way to make them concrete: to change them from banal phrases you’ve heard a hundred times, and to bring them to life. I know this because, in these past two weeks, I’ve done it. Everyone must find their own way, but when I tried to apply words like that to my life, a life without Stephen, this is what they said to me: “There are people you love that are no longer a part of your life. Whatever the reason for that, if you still love them, get them back. If you hurt them, tell them you’re sorry. If they hurt you, tell them you’re ready to forgive. If you’re too proud, swallow it. If you’re too scared, conquer it. Because this is it: these are our lives. They’re miraculous and precious and fragile. They’re all we’ve got, and they’re over far too soon.”
We are all dipping our toes into the water of eternity. Stephen wasn't with us long, but the ripples he made will continue to flow, and they'll do so through us. Stephen taught me how to love without expecting anything in return; to love because love. That's what I intend to do now.
When I discovered you
You revealed a better me
My task now that you are gone
Is to retain it