One week ago today, I was in Bardstown, KY attending the Bourbon Festival when I got a notification on my phone. Helen started a Facebook Messenger group to tell us that our friend, Eric Middlebrook, had transitioned the day before. Eric passed unexpectedly, due to complications from surgery the week before that.
I was stunned. I didn’t tell Ty because I didn’t want to shock her while we were out in public. Eric and Pam are friends we had met at Nexus church. We attended together for years. We hadn’t seen Eric and Pam in a while. But, I keep in pretty close contact with Pam via Facebook. Their daughter Cydney also attended Nexus with us.
My heart immediately broke for Pam and for Cydney. Eric and Pam found each other later in life, after each had started families with other spouses. They cherished each other. It was evident every time you saw them. Eric and Pam seemed to have been made for each other.
Eric is one of those guys about whom it is said: “He never meets a stranger.” Eric led a band of brothers he dubbed “The Good Time Dudes.” This group would go on adventures; hunting, fishing, motorcycling, whatever. Many of Eric’s friends were lifelong friends, from the time he was a child growing up not too far away in Hamilton, OH.
His funeral was held was in a park not far from us. The service was precisely as Eric would have had it. There was a formal portion of the service. But, the dress code was casual. The service was in a shelter in the park. We were invited to stick around after the service for festivities, as Eric would have had them.
I usually do not attend funerals that I don’t have an absolute responsibility to attend. I wanted to be there for Pam and Cydney. However, I knew Eric’s service would have more than enough people there to support them. I was not friends with many of Eric’s friends and felt my presence there might be a bit awkward. Tywana and I decided to go at least for the service to add our presence to what we knew would be a massive crowd there to honor Eric.
When we got there, the line to pay respects to Pam was long, as I expected it to be. The service was scheduled to start in a few minutes. Instead of taking the place of a family member or a closer friend in line, we made our way to a seat. In case I didn’t get the chance to speak to Pam before we left, I checked in on Facebook so she would at least know I had been there.
Several of Eric’s friends eulogized him during the service. No one could remember ever having a cross word with Eric. The stories were all about how much Eric loved every second of life and how he extracted every drop of joy life had to offer out of every second he was here.
The formal part of the service ended, and we were invited to stay for the festivities, as Eric would have had them. As Tywana and I were talking to Helen and her family, I smelled a cigar. Then, I noticed people were walking around with bourbon, in Glencairn glasses. This was certainly Eric’s service, done right! I was reminded of Lukas Graham’s “Funeral” which is to be played at my service.
Pam was available to talk. So, we made our way up to where she was. Having gone through the sudden loss of Shayna, I have some idea of what she’s feeling. There is shock. There is that unreal sensation when you leave the hospital without the person you took in. There is the rejection of this life you did not plan. Tywana and consoled Pam as much as possible. Pam had gotten my book on grief and told me she listened to it twice during the week. I am grateful it brought her some comfort. I assured her that Eric is still here and that I meant that literally. He is right here, right now.
I told Pam to give me a call in a few weeks after everyone has gone back to their routines. She said she wanted to. She wanted to know what to expect. She wanted to know about the signs. Then, she told us about signs she had already gotten from Eric in just these seven days. Goosebumps broke out all over my body as she relayed her story.
At Pam’s encouragement, I went inside to get a glass of bourbon to have in Eric’s honor. I mean, how could I not? I grabbed a cigar that one of Eric’s buddies had brought and Tywana and I mingled a bit. She pointed out that one of the guys there was wearing the same shirt I was wearing.
A few minutes later, one of Eric’s friends noticed I was wearing the same shirt as this young man, and he wanted us to pose for a picture. The shirt is a button-up floral print shirt.
I made my way over to where this young man was standing. We posed for the picture. I extended my hand, and we introduced ourselves. His name is Tyler. Then, someone told me that Tyler is Eric’s youngest son. I had never met Tyler.
The odd thing is that I struggled with deciding what to wear to the service. It was hot, the mid to upper 80s. So, I had to wear shorts. I typically dress to stand out. But, I wanted to be respectful and not wear something that would draw too much attention. The majority of the time, I grab something with barely a thought, put it on and go. I had another shirt on that Tywana said was fine. But, I thought it was too loud. I changed it and put on the floral print shirt.
It wasn’t until after I had left the service that I realized that one of the signs Pam had asked for had taken place there. I have many shirts I could have chosen to wear that day. The odds that Tyler and I would have the same shirt are pretty small. Conservatively, I chose from about twenty shirts. If Tyler chose from half that many, the odds we were wearing the same shirt were very slim. The fact that we both have the shirt is an interesting coincidence. The fact that we both chose to wear it to Eric’s service, I don’t think was a coincidence. When things like this happen, the engineer in me kicks in and try to calculate the “p value”, the chance of the event happening randomly. I can’t say what the odds are of Tyler and me having the same shirt. But, if you multiply that by the odds of us both choosing it on that day, I think the odds are less than one in a thousand, easily Somewhere there is a picture. I hope Pam gets the picture.
Eric, we know you’re still here, and we know you’ll make your presence known. You’re too much of a force not to.