My brother-in-law, Bill McGowan, passed away unexpectedly last week.
And when grief is raw and overwhelming and waiting to be consoled, it’s deceived by distractions and wasted on words.
The tick-tock of talk and the diversion in our walk are no match for it;
Pointedly piercing your heart, grief cuts you to the core and brings you to your knees.
It can’t be cured!
It has no mercy!
In the silence of its solitude, grief can work through you with the most intimate knowledge of your pain–if you let it.
Grief can link your vacant feelings of vitality with your heart’s ability to embrace vitality, again and again.
If you let it,
Grief will reconnect, reshape and restart your heart.
Molding and mending memories that remind us of life’s fragility.
Memories that see the sun but feel the darkness.
That challenge us to reach through the darkness and the slivered shadows of light that lie beyond the layers, to a place of radical reverence and pure joy.
A place where Bill lived in his heart everyday.
That was his gift to us; it will always be his gift.
Radical reverence for life and the pure joy of living it.
So, if grief is a necessary process to losing someone–at any time, I will pray for the willingness to accept mine–eventually, and allow grief to visit until it feels directly proportionate to the reverent joy we all felt when Bill was alive and we had the pleasure of his company.
That’s when I’ll know it’s overstayed its welcome.
Spoken by Andy Vear
Written by Mo and Andy Vear
While Bill was busy blotting out the sun during the eclipse last week, we were getting lost in the darkness of his sudden death.
He was my brother-in-law, and one of my dearest and closest friends. And now, his constant companionship has been replaced with a new, unwelcome companion:
We are stricken with it.
Heart-broken by it.
And lost in it.
Bill was life force.
With a soul so big, it couldn’t even fit inside his own body.
His body was just a container that carried his spirit through his journey here.
It brimmed with generosity and joy, strength and tenderness, compassion, grace and gratitude.
And it carried his servant’s heart with an immeasurable amount of love.
His container was so full of an abundant love for life–and for Sherie–and their family, and their family’s family and their family’s family and their family’s family, and for all of their extended families–and so many friends, that it burst from his body.
Bill’s full heart of love couldn’t be contained.
The very essence of who he was and how he lived as he went about celebrating his life full of love, was ready to go Home.
So, in spite of our heart-wrenching grief, we’re going to celebrate this day the way Bill celebrated all of his days:
With hearts full of love, and joy, laughter, grace and gratitude because we have tons and tons of gratitude for the time we got to share with him.
I don’t remember a time when Bill wasn’t part of my family, or when I wasn’t part of his.
My first memories of him are hanging with he and Sherie and our family on our front porch in LaGrange.
He was always trying to sneak kisses from her when my parents weren’t looking, but I was looking.
Even after he said: “Beat it, kid!” and I ran inside to look from behind the window, I’d sneak back out to bug them some more.
I don’t remember any holidays without him either, especially Christmas; he always gave the best gifts.
One year, when I was four or five, he gave me a Porky-The-Pig pajama set.
I don’t think I took it off until the following Christmas when he gave me a Tootsie-Roll pajama set.
Bill was just a big kid at heart.
He made going to the grocery store feel like an adventure and every adventure feel like Christmas Eve; you couldn’t help jumping in with both feet.
But he was a competitor–as fierce as he was honorable.
He never minded taking your money on the golf course or all the poker chips, as he bluffed his way through “Texas Hold ‘Em, because he loved the bragging rights more than the money.
He loved being with his family and playing games, and laughing–mostly at himself, especially when he was with his eleven grandkids.
There was a quote that I found on his desk last week that read:
“Life is too important to be taken seriously.”
Bill lived by this philosophy.
One time, at the cottage, he was filling up his boat with gas but the spout didn’t fit correctly, and Bill was stubborn–many times–to his detriment.
He was determined to fix it.
It was a gas can, after all.
But before he could figure out how to be smarter than the gas can, it spilled all over his swim trunks.
Within seconds, he was half-laughing, half-crying and butt-naked doing a canon ball into the water in the hopes that it would keep his balls from burning up.
We couldn’t see straight, we were laughing so hard, but no one laughed harder than Bill.
His child-like heart never left him.
It was his grown-up heart too.
And it was the biggest, kindest, most generous heart of anyone I’ve ever known.
But Bill had a rare form of generosity–maybe, the rarest kind of all.
He didn’t just spoil you with stuff–although his stuff was pretty cool; stuff wasn’t what mattered to him–or to Sherie.
His rare form of generosity was attention.
The kind that looks into your eyes and sees into your heart.
The kind that listens to your soul and leads you to looking and living life in a way you might not have, otherwise, lived;
Or even tried to live.
The kind that never tells you what to see or how to see it or, how to feel it–or even, what to think of it.
Bill’s raw, genuine attention made you feel like you mattered.
If you were going through a tough time, Bill was there for you–always.
He’d just show up.
Sometimes, unannounced–before you even knew you needed him.
Bill was a visionary.
And always had your best interest at heart;
Encouraging you to do the right thing;
Convincing you there were brighter days ahead;
Cheering you on in your efforts to try.
And, believing in you–when you needed to be believed in most.
I’ve spoken to so many of Bill’s friends and acquaintances this past week.
Apparently, you were only a stranger to Bill until he said hello and asked you your name.
Some said, “He’s the one guy who believed in me; who helped me; who gave me my first big break; my first job.”
From assistants and CEOs to family, friends and acquaintances, Bill worked anonymously to be of service to others and lives got better because of it.
Even the Security Guard, who worked in his building asked me what he could do for us–for the family.
“He made such a difference; I want to make a difference for him too,” he said.
“I think you just did,” I told him.
I have always looked up to Bill;
To all of my brothers–and I will continue too.
It’s going to be a daily, invisible struggle–for all of us.
We are astonished and mystified thinking about the memories that we’ll never get to make with him.
Memories that his grandkids and his nieces and nephews will never get to experience with their beloved “Baa-Boo” and their Uncle Bill.
I will miss that too.
I will miss everything about you, Bill.
Especially, your great goofy grin, your big hearty laugh, and the huge hugs that you gave everyone whenever you saw them.
Despite our new companion, we will try moving through our grief as it visits by putting one foot in front of the other–one minute, one hour, one day at a time.
Knowing this family, we will probably make it a game and call it something like, “What-Would-Baa-Boo-Do,” or “Uncle-Bill-Do-If-He-Were-Here.”
It’s hard to feel reassured, or convinced, that brighter days await, but I have my family–and your family–and their families too–and all of our friends.
We have faith in God’s plan.
I hope I can become at least half the man you were, Bill, as a husband, son, dad, brother, uncle and friend any maybe, someday–not too soon, a Grandpa, too.
I will think of you Magoo, like I always have–a bright ray of sunshine in all of our lives.
That your life force now is like a radiant ray of the sun, in a solar eclipse, moving us up and over and through our grief;
Emerging from its vastness and out of its darkness into the brilliant light of the sun.
And I pray,
That just like a ray of the sun, which, even in complete darkness is never truly separated from its source, we too, will never be separated from our Source.
In that way, we will never be truly separated from you.
So, I’m not going to say good-bye, Bill, because your spirit-ass, is comin’ with me.
Wherever I go, you’ll be there too.
And when I give someone a hug, I’ll give them an extra squeeze for you too because your spirit will live on in all of us–for as long as we live on.
See ya, Mac.
Live it up–on the side of Glory, where your flame burns brightly and your light shines eternally.
We love you.
And by the way?
I grew out of my Porky-The-Pig-PJs, but I think this fits…
The link below, is a video that Bill recorded for his grandkids, the day before he died. (Below that is a photo gallery.)
Bill and Sherie loved being surrounded by nature’s beauty, so in keeping with that spirit, Bill’s celebration was outside at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center in St. Charles, IL, across the street from the house they lived in for the last several decades.
Walking alone or with each other, or with kids and dogs, they loved being surrounded in the summer by its wild flowers and community fresh-gardens, and in the winter, by a soft blanket of snow for some cross-country skiing. Bill’s service began with a traditional bagpipe, as Sherie and all the kids and grandkids put wild flowers in a vase by Bill’s picture. It was filled with his Amazing Grace.
Mayor, Kevin Burns, from Geneva, IL, where Sherie is a long-time local-business owner at Cocoon, attended Bill’s memorial service. The next day, Kevin hung the flag at half-mast, and called for a moment of silence at a City Hall meeting that night.
Thanks, Kevin, for the beautiful tribute!
And whoever thought of slapping some cheese on some incredibly fresh bread and then grilling and serving it from a mobile food truck, is genius! Thanks, Cheesie’s, of LaGrange for the comfort food!
Thank you for your
behind the scenes
support, your beautiful smiles,
letting us laugh and
retreat – and,
for “Fairy Tales.”
And to Bill’s family, and Sherie’s family, and their family’s family, and all of our extended families, and the multitude of friends – near and far, who love each other with kind, caring hearts and warrior spirits; may we be lifted in comfort, prayer and strength, as we carry on… ♥
And to our dearest Nate and Dawn, Kate and Chris, and Lindsey and Rob;
Your friendships and love for Bill and Sherie and each other, and your kiddos – and your own respective families, is a beautiful thing. Thank you to them too, especially Jon and Ann for their quiet grace and helping hands. We are so blessed.
Until next time,
Here’s to knowing we’re not alone and to finding humor along our way; it really is the best weapon against all of life’s absurdities!
Cheers – to being brave and bold and courageous and to jumping into life with both feet…