Written by Mark Sangster, Craig’s brother.
This is the first eulogy I’ve had to deliver. I wasn’t sure of the protocol or expectations. When you Google eulogies, Internet experts recommend covering where the deceased was born and the names of their loved ones left behind. Talk about where they lived and what they did for a living. Perhaps mention their community work or military service. And splash in some personal details like their sports teams, hobbies or other interests.
All of these example eulogies followed a formula that summarized the deceased as if their life is the final line in an accounting ledger. Born August 4th, 1971 and died at the age of 50, July 4th, 2022. Account closed.
Life isn’t mathematics. A person’s time on Earth is not a sum, a score in a game, or bank balance. A person’s life is not defined by their job, their car or the square footage of their house.
Likewise, a person’s life cannot be encapsulated by a set of dates. Dates are measures of time, but they cannot count how a person lived, how they touched others, or how they left the world a better place than they found it.
You see, it’s not the dates that matter. It’s the time in between. I would like to read a poem by Linda Ellis that best captures this sentiment. It is called “The Dash”.
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 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?
So, how did Craig spend his dash? Well, he didn’t serve in the military, graduate university or own a house. He didn’t drive a car, get married and have kids, or play tennis. He didn’t live a formulaic, what some would label “normal” life. But I can say for certain, “better than most people,” is how he spent his dash.
When Craig was born I was four, and living in Toronto having emigrated from Scotland. I have this vague memory of a dingy hospital with my father explaining to me that Craig would not be normal. In fact, he told me that Craig likely wouldn’t live very long.
Yet, the years pushed on, and Craig didn’t fall to the predictions of his doctors. Tireless workers supported him, (and many of them are here) and he found his own rhythm and made his own life. Craig loved life and laughed often.
As brothers, we might not have had a “normal” sibling relationship. I must confess: sometimes I am secretly grateful. Let’s be honest, with that cheeky charisma and wandering hands, he’d have be stealing my girlfriends on the regular, getting away with murder, and leaving me to clean up in his path of destruction!
We had a good brotherhood full of laughs and shared moments. One time, my friend and I took Craig to the zoo. I was worried He would be scared as we blasted down the 401 in an open-top Jeep. Not Craig, he was cheering and “Vrooming,” and laughing as he hung out the side of the Vehicle while I fought to prevent him from falling out!
And like all brothers, we had our version of sibling rivalry. Craigie had a collection of dolls and animals. And I used to attempt to torment him by tying his doll to a rope, and throwing it out our upstairs window onto the driveway. I’d haul the doll back up and repeat the process. He’d laugh louder every time his doll hit the ground! He cheered me on wanting more!
On one instance, I tied the rope too short, and the doll swung back and smashed a window in the garage door. My mother came home to find the vandalism, and immediately blamed the neighborhood kids who regularly played street hockey!
While I may have had the upper hand in our rivalry, he got his own. He was fond of crawling into my room every morning to wake me by whacking me on the forehead. One time, he stole a Costco-sized can of coffee beans from the kitchen and somehow dragged it up to my room to dump on my head! I don’t how he did it, but I had to concede it was well played.
On Christmas mornings, I’d send him into my parents room at 5am to wake them up for an early look at Santa’s deliveries! And our hijinks continued, hiding behind the curtains at bed time only to scare the wits out of my mother as she walked past.
Our roughhousing continued into our middle age. I remember one Christmas a few years ago at my step-sister’s house. My mother and Craig were already there, along with the Clarke family members. I arrived with my wife, Michelle, who was meeting them all for the first time. In, we walked to family introductions and then I promptly went to my brother, put him in a headlock and started giving him noogies, and then took his hand to “knock, knock” on his forehead as I said over and over, “why are you hitting yourself, Craig?”
Appalled that her husband would abuse his disabled brother, she was further mortified to find everyone else playing along with our antics! And Craig was howling! He loved it. Craig didn’t see himself as disabled. So why would I? After all, affectionate roughhousing–that’s the glue that binds brothers!
And so it went. Craig was always getting up to mischief, often goaded by me, as my mother struggled to retain decorum. I’d encourage Craig to pick up a Brussels Sprout from his plate and throw it across the Thanksgiving table. Or take a spoonful of mashed potatoes and give them a good fling at his table neighbor. And to everyone’s delight (not my mother’s, of course) he would.
And yet no matter how mischievous, Everyone who knew Craig forgave his naughtiness and the chaos he created. His laugh was contagious and his eyes glowed with an impish fire. His middle name was mayhem, yet everyone loved him for it.
So, to come full circle: We will never know whether Craig understood the concept of time, let alone calendar dates. But he spent his time well.
He saw all the Broadway shows from a box seat. He traveled in First Class. He sailed on Lake Ontario from the Yacht Club.
As the poet wrote, “Would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent your dash?” Craig would be proud. I am proud. I am the man I am because of him. He taught me compassion and humanity, and to see people as more than a number on a ledger. For that, I am grateful.
And his reach went beyond his immediate family. And I’m not referring to his pulling the hair of WheelTrans drivers!
He brought light to all those around him. He showed us a life absent of regret. He taught us to find independence with what you have and not handicap yourself with what you haven’t.
That’s what Craig did with his dash. We should all be as lucky. And if he were here, he’d surely ask, “How are you?” We’re good, Craig. In no small part because of you.
In his final moments of Craig’s life, my mother and I were at his hospice bedside. The Fourth of July fireworks were playing on the TV in the background. As the celebration from our neighbor’s capital began its crescendo, Craig drew his final breath. How fitting that my little brother was able to steal the show, one last time.
We again thank you for celebrating Craig’s life. We will be serving drinks and refreshments. But before we do, please join us singing Craigie’s favorite song, “YMCA” by The Village People.