For My Brother Robert Sean Hilligoss: Fly on Brother, Fly On

Sean at wedding

By Ryan Hilligoss, Eulogy presented at Sean’s funeral September 28, 2015

I would like to open with a poem by William Wordsworth.

 Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind
Thanks to the human heart by which we live
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears

William Wordsworth, Ode on Intimations on Immortality.

In his book Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Thoreau was writing about whether we as a person are destined to conform to the norms and values of the society around us, or whether we blaze our own path through life in our own way. As we all know, Sean was unconventional and non-traditional in every which way. If you look at life as a concert on the stage, not only did Sean march to a different drummer, he heard a stage full of 100 drummers each in their own style, that only he could hear, much to our own puzzlement and bewilderment. He heard the driving back beat of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley’s rock and roll. He heard the Chicago shuffle of the blues in Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughn. He heard the freeform jazz rhythms of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. And he heard the Texas swing of his friend Dale Watson. And to all these, Sean marched to his own beat, in his own way. And usually that way was his way or the highway with him tearing down the road on some mission, with us standing on the road’s shoulder scratching our heads on what just happened as we watched his taillights disappear down the road thinking, oh that’s just Sean, he’ll be back to pick me up soon, won’t he? Sean….hey Sean……He’s coming back to get me right?

Sean with Dale Watson, his favorite country and Americana artist

Sean with Dale Watson, his favorite country and Americana artist

A few things about Sean you may or may not know. When we were kids, our grandfather Barr had colorful nicknames for each of us. Kevin was Tevin, I was Barski and Sean was called Shagnasty.

L-r: Tevin, Shagnasty, Barski and Hubert Barr

L-r: Tevin, Shagnasty, Barski and Hubert Barr

When he was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 3, he didn’t understand, nor could he and all he heard the doctor talk about was the word sugar. With the Sean laying in his hospital bed, the doctor said he would only live to be 25 and a big tear rolled down his cheek, knowing what this meant for him even at a very young age. After the doctor left the room, Sean asked my mom if it was because he ate too many Hostess Ding Dongs.

Sean black and white

His first car was a yellow convertible 1972 Ford Mustang which he quickly damaged by blowing the engine while he may or may not have been out racing in the streets.

While playing Little League, he was playing catch and started to day dream while looking off into the blue sky, promptly took a ball right into his eye for which he got a tremendous black eye, quit that team and never played baseball again.

The Hilligoss Wrecking Crew: Ryan, Sean, Erin, Kevin and Joel

The Hilligoss Wrecking Crew: Ryan, Sean, Erin, Kevin and Joel

We all worked at our parent’s Brown’s Chicken and during his very rebellious days, took exception to some orders from our father, quit on the spot and took a job at Central Hardware for a few years while he cooled off.

He had a good friend named Brian Sharp who passed away from an accident, Sean was devastated and spoke often of him throughout his life.

Brian Sharp

Brian Sharp

When he was about 12, he broke our mom’s brand new sun recliner and promptly fixed it with masking tape and said, “Oh, she’ll never notice.” Boy was he surprised when she got home and tried to lay down.

Around 1990, he adopted a German Shepherd/Malamute which he and I promptly named Spanky and took care of together while we lived at home.

Sean and Spanky

Sean and Spanky

Sean took me to see Joe Cocker and Stevie Ray Vaughn at the Fox Theater in August of 1990 which was Stevie’s second to last show before passing away in a helicopter crash.

Ryan's wedding

He was a collection of contradictions. For someone who was a germaphobe and did not like his food to be messed with, he loved nothing more than to mess with other people’s food.

His most common complaint was, “How come no one told me, I wasn’t invited,” which was ironic since he was famous for making plans and not telling anyone.
I’ve only been talking for a few minutes at this point, but if he were here, he would be embarrassed with all this attention and would tell me to put a sock in it, get it together and get back to business.

When we were all kids living at home, we spent all our time together playing whiffle ball with the neighborhood gang, riding bikes, and just generally tormenting each other. During the snowy days of winter, we would go sledding for hours and hours until all of our layers were soaked, go back home and dry off and then promptly go back out again until we got in trouble for being out too late. As Kevin got older, Sean and I were left to our own devices and our favorite activity was to go off walking in the woods behind our house. Like the true explorers we were, we would walk off into the unknown wilds of Godfrey, walking along a creek that runs behind our neighborhood and all the way over behind the Godfrey water treatment facility and points beyond. Each time we would go out, we would go further and further, pushing the boundaries of our endurance, always looking ahead to what would be up around the next bend in the trail. We may have stayed out too late, often returning as darkness fell, but we always made it home.

Sean and Ryan, Godfrey, Il 1980

Sean and Ryan, Godfrey, Il 1980

In the summer, we would pitch a tent in the backyard and camp out under the stars. We would talk about things, laugh, share our deepest fears and highest hopes, and try to solve some of the mysteries of life as best we could in our young minds. The highlight of each of these sleep outs was once the lights were off in the house and mom and dad went to bed, Sean and I would slip out of the tent and go on adventures around the neighborhood and around Gilson Brown, walking and scurrying around under the cover of darkness, never causing any harm, just out playing as kids do, living out parts of a movie. Fast forward 30 years to last weekend. Sean took Audrey and Anna Lynn to the Apple Fest and afterwards came back to our parent’s house. Dad drug out our old tent from the garage and set it up in the front yard so the girls could play in it. They got into it for a few minutes and then wanted to get out but Sean decided to crawl into the tent with them and they wrestled and tickled each other and laughed and carried on for a long time. He loved his girls with all his heart and tried to pass down the good things from his own childhood. As we move from childhood to adulthood and take on new roles in life with careers and family, it sometimes is easy to get lost amidst daily life and lose track of what is important, but with a little help from our families and friends, we usually can find our way home again.

Graham Ronald Hilligoss with his Uncle Sean, 2008.

Graham Ronald Hilligoss with his Uncle Sean, 2008.

As we go through life, we collect a wide assortment of human souls around us, whether they be by blood or friendship, and once they are gone from us, they can never be replaced, no matter how hard we might try. Sean was many things in life to many people including a son, brother, nephew, uncle and most importantly, a father, just to name a few, but what I will miss most is my friend. So instead of saying goodbye, I will just say, I will see you further on up the road my friend.

Robert Sean Hilligoss with his girls Audrey and Annalynn, 2015

Robert Sean Hilligoss with his girls Audrey and Annalynn, 2015

I would like to close out with this from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass:

I depart as air…

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want to see me again, look for me under your bootsoles

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,

But I shall bring good health to you nevertheless

Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged,

Missing me one place, search another

I stop somewhere, waiting for you.

Dad with Sean balloon

Godspeed Seanie

Fly on brother, fly on

Fly on brother, fly on

Songs Played at his funeral, selected by brothers Kevin and Ryan

Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole

Pilgrim, Steve Earle

Amazing Grace, Elvis Presely

In The Sweet By and By, Johnny Cash

In The Garden, Elvis Presley

How Great Thou Art, Elvis Presley

I’ll Fly Away, Jason D Williams

Blood Brothers, Bruce Springsteen