Family photo: Greg, on the left, is the middle child with two older sisters and two younger brothers. The youngest had not yet been born when this picture was taken. I, the oldest, am in back.
My brother touched many lives in his 49 years. His outgoing nature, his ready smile, his ability to talk with people and share part of himself with those he came across - these made an impact on people. His sudden death affected a great number of people. Childhood friends, coworkers, bikers, cyberfriends - many have felt compelled to write tributes to my brother, then share them. Since we were in the same department at work, I received this email that a work associate sent to her coworkers:
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I finished writing this over the weekend and wanted to share it with you.
September 24, 2008
To Friends of Greg,
Some people touch your life in unexpected ways and leave you with a lasting gift. I knew Greg only as a work colleague and only for a few years, but to know him at all was to count yourself his friend.
What struck everyone immediately about Greg, of course, was his love for his son. When he spoke about Luke, Greg's face beamed. This little boy with all his special needs was perfect in Greg's eyes. And, just as his love for Luke was inspiring, Greg’s love for life was contagious. He made his teammates laugh in a way that put work problems in the proper perspective.
The large number of non-Ukrainian-speaking friends attentively making their way through the beautifully chanted service at the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Epiphany last Monday was a testament to the kind of person that Greg was. He was adventurous and told of stories of the kind that, to my mind, "guys" like to tell: his Pacific experiences in the Coast Guard, his nights on the Bristol ski patrol, his motorcycle trips.... But, he could talk with equal enthusiasm about personal relationships in a way that many men in our culture cannot: his parents, brothers, and sisters – the "whole bunch of us crazy Ukrainians," as he affectionately called his family; his son Luke, who cannot walk or talk but would joyously crawl over to his father and babble happily when Greg came into the room; his upcoming wedding plans with Cindi, the beautiful woman who seemed his soul mate in so many ways and with whom he looked forward to spending the rest of his life.
As his love for Cindi grew, it seemed to flow over into his other relationships, even in some surprising ways. Not too long ago, he told me that he loved his ex-wife. At the time, it seemed such an unusual thing to say that I remember it almost word for word. He said something like, "I love her sort of like a little sister. We get along great now. Her husband is so good with Luke, and she's a wonderful mother. She and I...we just weren't good together."
The only shadow that I ever saw fall on Greg was the worry that he would not have the financial wherewithal to leave for Luke' care after Greg’s death. Probably all parents of special needs children worry about that. But, certainly, Greg's death must have seemed to be very far in the future on September 11th, when he was hit by a golf cart, struck his head, and lost consciousness. A golf cart? How could a golf cart fell a man like Greg, an expert skier, a man who "swam with the sharks" in his Coast Guard days?
"Impossible," his friends thought. "How unfair!" "Why," everyone asked themselves and each other.
Why? Why would a compassionate God take such a vibrant man, one whom so many people needed: his son, his aging parents, his fiancée, his siblings, friends, and coworkers. As human beings, we will never know the answer to that. We probably shouldn't even try. Yet, I'm the type who always wants to know that there is a pattern there, even if I can't fathom the weave.
Greg loved his life, and he loved the people who were part of it. He had fun, but not at the expense of other people. He made sacrifices without even considering them as such. He had his priorities right. He didn't just "make the best of a bad situation," he instinctively saw the good in every situation and he celebrated it. So, why would God take someone like that so abruptly and prematurely?
I don’t know. But I can't help thinking that maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with the idea that we are all sent into this world to learn to love one another. Maybe Greg just learned the lesson faster than most of us do. "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
Our memories of the way that Greg embraced life and danced with it are his legacy to us. This is the gift that we can carry into our own lives if we have the courage to do so. Let's not let Greg down.