Eulogy for Tom
When Jay Cincotta was a young boy, his Uncle Anthony hung himself — but it was never spoken of. Suicide had a stigma in his Italian family and it was years before Jay even learned how his uncle died. Decades later, Jay’s younger brother, Tom, hung himself. In shock and grief, Jay reflected upon how he’d approach this sensitive topic with his own children, his cousins, his brother’s children and the rest of their friends and family in his eulogy for Tom.
This is the eulogy he delivered at his brother’s funeral:
Thank you all for being here today joining my family in celebrating the life of my little brother.
If it wasn’t for Tom, I wouldn’t be here today. You see even as a young boy, Tom was a passionate entrepreneur. Tom was building a candy empire, and in his effort to protect his inventory, he actually saved my life.
We used to have a spare refrigerator in our garage in New York, and being an imaginative eight year old boy with lots of curiosity and no apparent common sense, I locked myself inside it to see if I could get out.
I learned that the light turns off when you close the door. And you can’t get to the latch from the inside. It was pitch black, cramped, airtight and nearly soundproof. As I kicked and screamed, the air got hot and thin. Sweating, panting and crying, I realized I would die and wondered how long it might be before anyone found my body.
Suddenly, there was a burst of white light. I thought maybe it was heaven. I thought an angel had come for me as I fell to the floor gasping for breath and I heard a voice. But it wasn’t the voice of an angel. It was the voice of my brother, Tom, and the voice said, “Jay, were you eating my candy?”
Tom was always clever and inventive, particularly in the pursuit of hoarding and selling of candy. In middle school he once rigged up an oversized jacket with all these inside pockets where he could hide candy and open it wide in front of potential customers, like a guy with a coat full of cheap watches.
Tom was a great athlete. He could have been a pro bowler. I think he even bowled a perfect game of 300 one time. He ran track. He loved lacrosse and played varsity in high school.
When we shared a dorm room at the University of Maryland in College Park, Tom and some of the other jocks would play lacrosse in the long hall using toilet paper rolls instead of balls to bean unsuspecting nerds enroute to their dorm rooms. Like me.
And once, while recovering from a knee injury, he raced me across the quad. Even on crutches he could still outrun me.
As we got older, we both got married, we both had two kids, we both had good jobs, and for awhile it seemed that everything was going his way.
But then it didn’t. Tom became confused. He made mistakes. His life took a darker turn. My love for him never wavered, but our relationship became terribly strained and for years we hardly saw one another.
But recently there was hope. Tom reached out to me, my brother, Doug, and our parents expressing regret and remorse. As a family reunited, we began planning a new beginning. Two weeks ago today, Tom, Doug and I spent a sunny spring day together after years apart.
Tom confessed to me that he realized his mistakes and that he was sorry for them and I truly believe he was sincere. I cried and told him how happy I was to have my brother back. Tom found the Hagarstown Recovery Mission and submitted an application which was accepted. He was about to start a new life, on the road to full recovery and redemption.
When last I saw Tom alive he was living alone in a small house with boxes piled to the ceiling. But good things were starting to happen.
I had hope. I thought Tom had hope.
One day Tom opened a door just in time and saved my life. Last Saturday I opened the door to his house just a bit too late to save his. There was an old rope tied to the doorknob. And when I opened the door I understood why: Tom had hung himself.
I will spend the rest of my life wondering why.
I dialed 911 and the next few hours were a blur as paramedics, then police came and went and people asked me questions and made me fill out forms. Finally, as a dark unmarked van pulled away I found myself alone in Tom’s front yard.
It was only then that I first noticed that his place backed to a public park. It was another bright beautiful spring day with a parking lot full of SUVs and young boys in team colors were playing lacrosse right behind Tom’s house.
They were young and intense and having fun and at a point in their lives where Tom once stood, where all that mattered was the stick in your hands and the ball and the net and the game and all your life lays out before you with all its promise and ripe possibilities.
And there’s always the danger that life can go horribly wrong when you least expect it. And you find yourself in front of an abandoned house. And a lonely cat needing a new home rubs against your ankles. And you’re left wondering why. Why?
I’m talking to you today about me and Tom because it’s the story I’ve lived. But my story isn’t really about me. Or even Tom. It’s about all of us, the people we love, and the urgency of time.
As life whizzes by it’s so easy to miss the preciousness of the fleeting moments of our lives. To forget how important we are to each other and that we have to love one another and love one another well and with all our hearts and not when it’s too late, but long before it’s too late.
Now. When it matters. When love, friendship and heartfelt concern can make a difference.