“The last good time always comes, and when you see the darkness creeping towards you, you hold onto what was bright and good. You hold on for dear life.” Stephen King, Joyland
The Last Good Time
What you see above are the last two photographs ever taken of me and my brother Sean who passed away two months ago. Throughout our lives, we were probably photographed a thousand times at various stages by many different people. Birthday parties, family celebrations, Christmas, family reunions and everyday occurrences. These were taken on September 12th, at a 40th birthday celebration in Farmersville, Illinois. The other people you see are our good friends Mike and Cindy Murphy. I can’t remember now what Sean was talking about, but whatever it was obviously made me laugh and drew in others to listen to the tale.
I found these pictures while sorting through some of his personals in the weeks after he passed, and they took my breath away since I had honestly forgotten they were taken. After looking at them for some time, I was reminded of a line from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, “The memory of the moment and the possibilities inherent in that moment are everlasting.” What was possible in that moment is that Sean and I would find a way to reestablish a deeper connection after having lost each other for some time in the prior years, caused by our mutual stubbornness, political debates gone awry and various disagreements. As kids, we were the closest of friends, spending countless hours, days and years together and creating thousands of moments of inherent possibilities, as childhood provides. As the years passed, things changed for each of us with getting married, having children, careers, and other responsibilities and hobbies.
The last weekend I saw him started Saturday night at the birthday party of one of our father’s good friends Courtney Murphy. Sean and I sat together and ate and talked for a while before he saw someone he had not seen in a few years and who was from a different social circle than everyone else there and they talked for a long while, reconnecting. Before we left, we went to talk to Mike about his upcoming adventure where he would be participating in his first Iron Man competition, including swimming which he is not proficient in. We joked that David Hasselhoff would be waiting on shore to rescue him.
The next day, we met at Rolling Hills golf course for a quick round of 9 holes on a beautiful, sunny, and mild day. It was me, Sean, Kevin, dad, our uncle Rick and Mike Bolling. Except for Kevin who can actually golf, we all played poorly but enjoyed the time and day together telling stories, cracking jokes at each other’s expense and listened to dad pontificate on all matters of history, current events and family. Afterwards, we stopped at McDonald’s for a cool drink and argued over who had won the round. Tempers flared, especially between Sean and Mike over who took more penalty strokes, who lost the most balls and which putts counted. Later that night, me, Sean and our parents shared a meal together before I left for home. As we walked out and before getting into our cars, Sean and I said to each other that we would see each other later. The moment was an example of both of us trying to be better people, to forget all the ill feelings over the last few years and to make a new beginning. One of the many things I’ve learned since his passing is that it is easy to be hurt by people’s actions and words which in turn makes you want to avoid those people and the ensuing opportunity for more disagreements. But in the end, it’s not worth the lost time and lost moments and we need to find a way to be more kind and understanding and loving to each other. I’ve learned to try to forgive and forget and remember what is truly important in life. Regret can sometimes be the only thing we hold onto as we go through life and that is a heavy thing to carry.
Back in 1998, we lost our fraternal uncle Ronald Edwin Hilligoss who died of a heart attack while walking through Lambert International Airport in St.Louis en route to returning to Phoenix, Az after he had attended his class reunion in Arcola, Il. At his funeral, one of the speakers read the poem, The Dash, and it struck a chord with Sean and he spoke of it often. I think he learned a thing or two from it and tried to live his dash the best he could. I think we can all learn a thing or two if we remember during trying times that the special dash between our birth and death only lasts a little while.
The Dash by Linda Ellis copyright 1996 I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end. He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years. For that dash represents all the time that they spent alive on earth. And now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth. For it matters not, how much we own, the cars…the house…the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash. So, think about this long and hard. Are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that can still be rearranged. If we could just slow down enough to consider what’s true and real and always try to understand the way other people feel. And be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before. If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile, remembering that this special dash might only last a little while. So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash… would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent YOUR dash?
All You Got Is Lifetime: Go
Since Sean passed, I’ve learned and often times just been reminded of obvious truths that I’ve lost sight of while getting caught up in the everyday tasks of living my life. Here are a few of them:The world is a beautiful place, even in the darkest of times, if only we have the time and patience and vision to stop and look around. Just like Babe Ruth said, swing big with everything you have. Hit big or miss big. Live as big as you can. We’re only here once so you might as well give it your best shot. Take care of yourselves while also taking care of each other. What else are we here for? If you love someone, let them know. You never know when or if you will see them again. If you see wrongs around you, take action and try to right them. Be careful with your words, they might be the last you speak or hear. In the immortal words of musician Warren Zevon who was given a terminal cancer diagnosis and was asked how the news had changed his perspective, enjoy every sandwich.
Another large lesson I’ve learned and hope to pass on to anyone reading this and willing to listen and take it to heart concerns our personal affairs. I know it’s a difficult topic since death is not something many of us want to think about or talk about, but whether you are 25, 45, 75 or 90, it’s there waiting for all of us and you never know when something might happen. Get your personal wishes in order including funeral arrangements, financials, wills, etc. The process can be fairly simple if you chose to handle on your own and can still be fairly simple if you see an attorney. It may cost some money, it may make you uncomfortable at the time and may force you to make some tough decisions, but your family and friends left behind to carry on will thank you. Trust me, I know from personal experience.
We will find strength in what remains behind
To friends and family near and wide. The Robert Hilligoss family thanks everyone for all the support and kindness that has been given to us during our time of tragedy. For all of the phone calls, messages, food, time spent, condolences and distances travelled. We lost our son and brother and friend, and we mourn him and grieve but we will move forward with Sean in our hearts. After all the physical, worldly possessions are gone, all that is left are our friends and family, our souls and memories. We are only on this earth for a brief time so please, be kind to one another,be loving, be grateful for the time we have and take care of yourselves while also taking care of each other. Grace, mercy and forgiveness can help a man walk tall. So walk tall, walk on.
Thank you for reading.