I feel weird writing this. This is my sixth draft.
Friends of the blog (if any) know I end up writing a lot of eulogies. Some of them are for celebrities and semi-celebrities I’ve never met. Some are for personal friends and family members that I still desperately miss. Some are for people I’ve met a couple of times that in some way impacted me. I guess Collin Loveless fits best into the last category…but there’s some history there that makes that feel wrong too. It’s probably most correct to say that Collin and I had met when he was very young, and I was older-enough that we didn’t hang out. I knew his parents and brothers way better. Collin died at the age of 26. But in my mind, when I heard he was dead, I saw a nine-year-old. The beard in the obituary surprised me.
I can’t claim to know who Collin turned out to be, first hand. I attended his memorial service on Thursday night, and I think I would have liked the guy he turned into. (Why did I go to the memorial for someone I barely knew? Because it was the right thing to do. If my attendance confuses you, you may be unfamiliar with the concept.) I know that when he was a kid, he was a ball of fire and happiness. It sounds like he didn’t lose that. It sounds like he was a good man, and a good dad, and a good friend. People tend to misremember the dead–stripping away their flaws–but those who eulogized Collin at his funeral (both on and off stage) shared about a person who was great to be around, but also internalized a lot of things and worked hard to process things into his life in a way to still make them positive. That’s probably the fairest picture I’ve ever seen painted of anybody at a memorial. Personally, when I die, I hope one of my best friends will use the word “asshole” at least four times in my eulogy, if only jokingly… But the word people kept using for Collin was “love.” Consensus seemed to be that he processed everything into love–even the bad stuff. Y’know, I always thought his family got saddled with an unfair last-name.
Collin spent the last night of his life at a going-away party for a friend. It was told at his funeral that at the party, he talked to a complete stranger about how much he loved his family, his friends, his job, and Jesus–he was upbeat, fun, and positive to the point that the stranger contacted his church upon hearing of his death the relay the story. Collin Loveless got onto the highway after that party and was hit in a head-on collision by a 52-year-old guy going the wrong way, with his lights off, who’d crossed three lanes of traffic. The guy who hit him lived.
There’s a lot that’s unfair about that. There’s a lot that’s unfair about every death. Auto-fatalities rarely make sense or are fair…and I’ve been tired of hearing about them for a very long time. Which brings me to this…
At the funeral, I bumped into Shawn Huckaba. Well… “Bumped into” isn’t accurate. I saw him about 20 minutes before we talked (I was in line to see the family) and he didn’t know I was there. The line was so long that they stopped it to start the service and asked those of us still standing to wait until afterward to pay our respects–fair enough. Once I walked out of the line, I walked right over to where Shawn was sitting. I came up alongside him and said his name. His eyes got really wide and he hugged me as tightly as I’ve been hugged by anybody. In 2005, Shawn lost his wife, two of his children, and his brother and sister in law in one morning in a car accident. My “Things I Meant to Say” record was largely shaped by that event–and in a lot of ways, it’s colored my writing and even worldview ever since. At Collin’s funeral, I got the same hug from Shawn that I did in 2005. I had to fight my instinct to say, “God Shawn, I’m so sorry” again. “I know. I’m so glad you’re here. Angi would be so disappointed that you cut your hair…” God, that was ten years ago.
Some moments are indelible.
Shawn’s doing okay. So is Alex–Shawn’s son who was at camp on the day of the accident. We talked about meeting at something happy next time. I hope like hell that it happens. If anything makes sense coming out of a funeral, it’s that sometimes people who’ve been apart for too long find each other again.
Collin’s family were all very kind during the memorial. They must have been exhausted. The visitation started at 4:00 and by the time I saw them it was 9:00 and there were probably still 50-100 people behind me. I hate that about funerals…and yet I still stood in line. Every member of the Loveless family greeted me with a smile and a lightheartedness that you always forget can still exist at a funeral. Tyler seemed a little short of breath and unsure of what to say to me–he’s a good guy and had good reasons to be out of things to say that night. I tried to keep it brief with everyone in the family, but wish I could’ve talked for an hour with Tyler–I used to give him bass lessons. But no one should lose their brother and then have to figure out what to say to me at 9:00. …or let’s just stop that sentence at “no one should lose their brother.”
A lot of religious platitudes were thrown around. It’s what people know. I try to avoid them when someone dies in an accident, personally. In my mind, it’s too short a journey from “God knows everything” to “and yet he still didn’t help.” But that might just be me. I’ve got to say that it bothered me that I heard more than one indication that this was “part of God’s plan.” I don’t like that God. I don’t like the God who plans on someone getting hit by a wrong-way driver on an otherwise lightly-trafficked, late-night highway. I don’t like the God who planned for someone to have a gun in her hand and have someone hit her wrist and the gun goes off and hits her in the head. I don’t like the God who plans for a man to be upset that his wife wants to leave him, so he puts a gun in his mouth. I don’t like the God who plans for a family to be on the way to Six Flags only to be hit by a dump truck and drug down the road, mangled to the point of no-recognition by the end. I want to say this clearly… THAT God can burn in Hell.
The God I like–the one that exists–is the God that does have a plan, but also knows the difference between a plan and a reality. I like the God who HAD a plan. But it was a plan for ALL of the days that Collin and Becca and Patrick and Angi and Joshua and Jacob and Amy and Brett and others were SUPPOSED to live. The God who gave us the freewill and the uncertainty that allows us or others to fuck that up. The God who HAS numbered our every day, but who maybe is sometimes cheated by people who fudged the numbers. The God who watched the accident (or the suicide) happen and when the victim–because of Jesus–walks into the pearly gates says, “I had SO MUCH more for you, and I’m so sorry this happened. This was NOT my plan. You were supposed to have SO MUCH longer…” THAT God is able to show compassion and mercy and to help us heal. That God doesn’t have to explain how a five-year-old dying fits into his grand scheme of what-the-fuck-is-going-on-anyway? The God that writes an ending is a shitty author. The God who weeps with the mourners while the story continues is GOD.
And you can’t compress that into 45 seconds at a memorial service…
Sorry… This doesn’t really seem to be about Collin anymore, does it? And I know a lot of you will want to scream Bible passages at me that make it sound like I’m all kinds of wrong. I want to shout other verses at you, too. The difference is I’m not going to do it. So there.
Let me bring this back around…
I said before that I didn’t know Collin very well. And that’s true. But his death still resonated with me, and maybe that’s all I needed to know. Some people have an impact even from a distance. I said on Facebook that I’m sad for the kid I knew and I regret not getting to know the man he became. That feeling doubled during his memorial. I feel cheated that his life ended and I didn’t get to spend much time in it. I doubt that I crossed Collin’s mind at all in several years. We weren’t even Facebook friends. I feel like if we had been, maybe I’d have looked up to him. I’m very sorry that his family has to miss him. I’m very grateful that Heaven is a thing and that God won’t keep them apart forever.
Until then…try to live every day God PLANNED for you, folks. Because you might not get all of them.
…see why this took me six tries? …and why I should’ve taken a seventh?