The support demonstrated by friends, neighbors, co-workers, friends and family has been overwhelming. I don’t want to give it short shrift and will talk about it when we’re really done with the ceremonial aspects of our grief. But today at the funeral, Uncle Jim and Deb both gave stirring eulogies that I wanted to shared for those who could not attend.
Delivered by Jim Upton, Robbie’s Uncle
It’s a difficult task to sum up a life in a few minutes and it seems particularly hard in this case. Robbie’s death just doesn’t make sense to me. He was a great kid, a person who looked to help everyone around him. He contributed his services to this very church, to the town, and to everyone who crossed his path. He just bounced through his life spreading kindness so I don’t understand why this path was chosen for him.
Having witnessed his struggles over the last eight months, I can tell you beyond doubt that under his slightly geeky, goofy exterior, he was the strongest and bravest person that I have ever known. Robbie never wanted his illness to be a burden on anyone around him. Throughout his ordeal, Robbie kept his sense of humor and had a great attitude. After his surgery, as he came out of sedation, among his first questions were, “Did the Mets win last night?” and, “Who pitched?” For the record, they had won but I’m not enough of a baseball fan to remember who pitched. When he wasn’t feeling well, he didn’t dwell on it or publicize it, he was just quiet. When he felt well, he was the same old Robbie, talking and joking, just without the hair. Before he was even diagnosed, he was in such pain in the middle of the night that he moved downstairs to the family room so that he wouldn’t wake anyone up. He never wanted to be any trouble to anyone. Just a couple of weeks ago, he insisted that Deb and Bob leave him alone and go out to dinner for Bob’s birthday.
As a child, Robbie was an interesting character. He was absolutely gorgeous as a baby, always sweet and good-natured, but he literally never stopped talking; he talked for hours straight without a hitch. He was, in fact, the inspiration for a child’s game that I invented one day called “Who can be still and quiet the longest”. Um, he lost… Bad… If I close my eyes and think of Robbie’s spirit, I see a fuzzy, fluffy pink pompom bouncing off the walls. His defining characteristics were kindness and love, with just a bit of hyperactivity thrown in for fun.
I look around and I see evidence of the love that he gave in all of you, the many people who cared about Robbie. I see people from the hospital who tried so hard to make him well and then at the end, tried so hard to at least make him comfortable. I see friends that he’s had for so many years — Brooke, BFF doesn’t begin to describe the relationship that you had with him. And my heart breaks when I see his family. Robbie has 12 cousins, my two boys among them and they loved him and looked up to him as a role model. He leaves behind a sister and Kate and Robbie had a relationship closer than any other that I’ve seen between a brother and sister. And Deb and Bob, no one should have to go through what you’ve been through these last months and I can’t imagine the pain you feel. All I can say is that you clearly raised Rob to be a wonderful person and the proof is all the people here in this church with you right now. Thank you for raising him to be the person that he was.
So what’s the lesson here, why was Robbie put amongst us for such a short, intense time? Why is he gone now? I won’t pretend to know the answers. We may never know and even if we do, it may take years to figure it out but that doesn’t mean that we have nothing to learn from him. Robbie was a role model in many ways and we can honor his memory by taking a moment to understand what we can learn from him. His strength of character, his bravery in the face of his fatal illness and his selflessness are all things that we can learn from. Robbie, during his illness, decided that his future was going to be working with cancer kids. Rather than hiding from his disease, he was going to embrace it and serve as a mentor and a role model for children with cancer. Look around you and see all the people that he has touched and don’t ever think that a 20-year-old can’t have an impact on the world. He has already inspired action in people. Robbie was a regular volunteer at the Community Theater, and first of all, if you haven’t been past it today I would urge you to take a drive down the Post Road and read their marquee. They have scheduled a bone marrow drive for him for Friday. It can’t help him now, but now it will be in his memory and may serve to save someone else’s life. If you haven’t done so already, I would urge you to register as a bone marrow donor. It doesn’t hurt and it could save someone’s life. Let’s spread the word and make this drive huge, Robbie would have liked that.
I’ll leave you with this – In the face of this terrible tragedy, I am absolutely certain of two things: First is that Robbie’s actions in life, and especially during his illness, tell me clearly that he does not want us to be paralyzed by his death. Selfishly, I’ll miss him and his loss will leave a hole in my life, but I know that he would be much happier knowing that he inspired each of us to imitate even a small level of his kindness to others instead of us having our lives ruined by his death for even a short time. And the second thing that I know is this: Anyone who knew Robbie knew not only what a wonderful person he was, but also that his Faith was strong and if you believe in Heaven at all, you know that he’s there right now.
Delivered by Deb
Thank you for coming and joining us in both our sorrow and in celebrating Robbie. He’s undoubtedly watching now and grinning from ear to ear.
What can I say about Robbie? How do you sum up a life, especially the too short life of your son?
First, Robbie always knew his own way.
He first demonstrated that when he was just two and marched from the restaurant at one of the science fiction conventions to our hotel room. He never told us that he was going to prove he knew how to get there, and was so very proud of himself. We, on the other hand, were scared to death, frantically searching for the happy kid.
Ever since then, Robbie has forged his own path, telling us where he wanted to go and the elaborate manner in which he would get there.
He marched through school, zig-zagging his way through the curriculum, a boat tossing at sea, until at the end of freshman year he told us he wanted to attend the Aquaculture magnet school. We saw his enthusiasm and natural interest and were all too happy to place him in an environment where he could grow. He charted his course and found a school that genuinely stimulated him. It was there his fascination with all things pirates began as his class set out onto Long Island Sound, declaring themselves buccaneers.
Robbie had a heart and soul that was as expansive as the stars. He touched the life of everyone that knew him.
He took total delight in the three year olds at camp, playing with them in the sand, teaching them that they were all pirates together, and getting them to call him “Captain Robbie.”
He loved his kids that he taught at CCD. Second grade is an important year for them and he was right in there full of interesting bits of knowledge and advice for them. One boy was struggling with Reconciliation and what to list as a sin; he just couldn’t think of anything. “Mikey, you have a little brother, right?” “Yes.” “I know you have something to confess then. I am a brother!”
Whether it was the kids at his camp that asked to be there for additional weeks just because it was fun with Robbie, or the kids in the hospital who spent hours playing cards or video games with him, he just loved young people. Since he was a big kid at heart, it was a natural fit for him. When he decided that his career would be in Child Life in the hospitals, entertaining and comforting the children, it made total sense.
Of course, that hospital would have to be in Maryland near his sister Kate. They made a pact that they would live no further apart than three hours driving so they could keep an eye on one another. After all, there were boyfriends and girlfriends that needed approving, health issues to be taken care of, and generally they need to be in each others lives.
He had a large cadre of friends and was the brother that many of the girls never had. Heaven help the boy that hurt any number of girls, Robbie was going to be there to protect and love all of them. Many a late night was spent at the diner listening to one or another friend cry, vent, and generally work out the problems of the world together. And it was a two way street. His friends drove miles and spent hours with him when he needed it the most. It’s obviously that they loved him as much as he loved them.
But it wasn’t only young people that he felt close too. As the choir can attest to, he was totally happy hanging out with the older folks as well. There were several women upstairs right now that he would make a point of going over for a hello hug each and every time he saw them.
The last seven months have shown us the kind of man Robbie was becoming. He made friends with his nurses, aides, doctors, and all the other support people he encountered. His room was always distinctively his, from his pirate flag hung by the bed, to the smiley face on the door, the movie and Mets posters and his friends artwork carefully hung for maximum admiration. The staff would tell me that they knew if he was feeling better because he was sassy then. He was well known for pulling tricks like holding his breath when a student nurse was trying to listen to his lungs, or crimping his IV line if there was a drug that he didn’t want. And there were many late nights playing video games or trolling the internet with the night staff. Even the nurses who cared for him while he was asleep reported that he was always so polite when they woke him up.
He was scared, in pain, sick, tired, cooped up. Yet, as his many friends in the hospital can attest to, he didn’t complain, whine, snap or give up. He confided to me a few times that an upcoming procedure terrified him. But, he took to heart my comment that it wasn’t how scared you were, it was what you did then that showed who you truly were. And Robbie was a hero. It wasn’t until last week that he even mentioned that he might be too tired to finish the fight. “Do you want to have the biopsy tomorrow?” “No, but I need to have it, so let’s see what happens after that.”
In the end, his body gave out before his spirit. During the long day on Thursday as we kept vigil, the magnificent staff showed how much they in turn loved my son. We were touched and comforted and astounded at how many nurses, doctors, aides and other staff members came from all over the hospital and even from home to be with him and us that last day. We felt the love that they all have for Robbie surrounding us, making it just a little bit easier to go through that day.
We are all richer for having known and loved Robbie. And, heartbroken as we all are, we will get through this by remembering him and his big, goofy smile, barefoot, in a tree, with a Mets t-shirt.