I struggled with thoughts of where best to post a would-be eulogy concerning my uncle Sean; it is after all a very personal matter, but I think, since many of you have peered into my life of late, it would not be entirely inappropriate to share it here. I think my uncle Sean’s life and death carries a poignant message that can be easily seen by many LC fans. I thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts with you.
My uncle Sean collapsed very suddenly and unexpectedly on the 30th of November 2012; he would not recover. In his lifetime, Sean saw the death of his mother Nancy and his brother Chris, and now leaves behind brothers Tim and Denis, sisters Lynne, Jenny and Kerry. Of Sean’s eight nieces and nephews, I am one. Nephew I may be, but Sean was more like a big brother.
Sean is best known for his career pursuit of comedy. Since I can remember, he sought to make people laugh. As my aunt Jenny pointed out in her eulogy at the funeral, Sean never really made the big-time, but he lived by his own making, never truly compromising what he wanted to do. He wrote, he gigged, he travelled here and there doing stand-up, and made ends meet with commercial voice-over work. I spent a morning with him in 2000 as he went behind the mic for a beer ad, collected his cheque, and cashed it. To me, it looked like easy money, but it was not a frequent occurence. At 52, Sean lived with his dad, Jack, my grandfather. Once that I know of, Sean branched out and made his own nest, but ultimately he would return to roost under his parents’ roof.
Sean had his private side; he loved animals, caring for strays around the neighbourhood, feeding them, and setting up little shelters for them. The day after he was rushed to hospital, the cats gathered out back, in the frost, wondering where their angel was.
Sean instilled in me an interest in numbers and letters. One afternoon in the early 80s, he drew my attention to his digital watch, and the curious happening of the time 3:33:33. He was a dab hand with a pen, drawing cartoons, breathing life into them with script. As a twenty-something, when he lived with mum and I in Toronto for a spell, I sat with him at our dining room table, watching him draw up a parody shampoo advertisement. In the first frame of the sequence, a character had a messy hairstyle, while the voice of an unseen character, a pompous game-show narrator, spoke the line, ‘DOES YOUR HAIR LOOK LIKE THIS?’ I greatly anticipated the mock ad’s continuance, while Sean paused and pointed something out: ‘Check it out, all those words have four letters.’
Sean was obsessive about music. Neil Diamond, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra; when he sunk his teeth into an artist’s repertoire, Sean wouldn’t let go until the curiosity and thirst for knowledge was thoroughly quenched.
Sean was a funny, talented guy, is loved, and missed. But like each of us, Sean had his quirks. He didn’t exist in an empty sphere; he moved around it with us, passing through us, occasionally even rubbing against us. It is uncomfortable to admit in the wake of death, but there were times when we wondered about Sean. When would he truly strike out on his own? Get a place, a real job, and plan for the future? We all have thoughts like this when confronted with someone who, past their thirties, has not knuckled down and joined the so-called rat-race.
It may be a macabre thought, but Sean never needed plan for life past 52. Literally in the snap of a finger, Sean was with us, and he was gone. Life gave Sean everything it was ever going to give. Sean came to the end of his road sitting at a desk, working at a computer.
Dying with Sean are all of our hopes and fears for him. We need not wonder if or when he will make the ‘big time’; if he will strike out on his own, or save for the future. That future is gone and irrelevant; Sean’s book is written. There may be some blank indices with which we can share some of the lesser-known things about Sean, but the fact remains his story has been told.
Sean’s life is by no means a tragic story. Sean lived a pretty good life to the very end. He was — OK. He had people who love him, who now miss him, and wouldn’t take anything away from his memory. It would be pointless now, to suggest Sean should have taken an unhappy job, or that his talks with TV producers weren’t getting him far. Retirement funds, incapacity, prolonged sickness — none apply. How wrong we were to judge his efforts in living. Sean never had to face what we all dread — getting old.
Sean’s life now remains with us and there’s no question that he made us laugh. As my aunt Jenny said, Sean did in fact live a sort of dream; perhaps he knew it, perhaps not, but he really was doing something he wanted. And in that sense, he made it.
Overnight, everything we can say about Sean begins with ‘I remember.’ I remember one warm summer night, splashing around a park fountain, a barefoot Sean carrying me home. In the headlights of my grandparents’ oncoming car it looked as though Sean was carrying a dead me. But he was just saving my poor little bare feet from the pavement — precisely what a big brother does.
An uncomfortable notion it is, that each one of us approaches death every day. We never know when it will strike, taking our friends and family, leaving us with the discomfort of unnecessary thoughts or words — things we wished we’d never said, about things that didn’t matter.
Just as Sean made room for stray cats and other animals, we should keep making room for friends, reserving judgement, because we have absolutely no idea how our lives, or those of our friends and loved ones, are written. Sean’s life and death reinforces the idea that we should all live and let live, remaining quiet in judgement, leaving room for creativity and dreams.
PS — when I last saw Sean for real, in 2008, I was new to the Leonard Cohen tour. I shared how it was a pretty big deal for me, earning really good money as a roadie (for a change). Sean’s answer: ‘You know what would be cool, is if you worked for Neil Diamond!’