18 June 2020

Eulogy for My Big Brother

Me, Tev, and our youngest brother, ~high school

I get emotional when I talk about deeply meaningful things. And that means this speech might be ten minutes of me standing here weeping in mournful silence. So I brought my new wife up here with me, and she’s going to read whenever I can’t. Losing Tev has been so hard for me, and I’m grateful to have had her companionship and support as I’ve suffered through this loss. 
Now let me tell you about my big brother Tevya. He was born on July 4, 1981. Ever since, that holiday has been extra special for me and our family because it’s a time to celebrate the things Tev loves, including fireworks and cheesecake. 
He was the oldest of eight children and was the best of big brothers. In so many aspects of life, he led the way for me and our siblings, blazing a trail through many of the difficult unknowns that life had in store. As a kid, he led the way through scouts, for example.

Dad, me, Tev

At a court of honor, Uncle Ted once shared a Bible verse with Tev and I: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Even back then, I recognized that my big brother had vision. He could see a wider perspective than me, which made him a resource I depended on. Of course we still got in plenty of fights along the way, often on the basketball court. And he recently told me that one of the worst insults I ever hurled at him was when I said, “You betrayed Neverland.” The truth is that, if not for Tev, I never would have glimpsed Neverland in the first place. And he, with the epic scope of his vision, was one of Neverland’s noblest.

He taught me most of the important things a kid needs to know, like how to find the best GI Joe guys at yard sales, and how to build Legos way outside of the specs. He was an avid reader from a young age, with a penchant for historical works, and I think reading had a big impact on widening his perspective. I remember him blazing through Louis L’Amour books and wishing I could keep up, which I did not, but it left me with a firm conviction that reading was important and that I could have the same perspectives as my brother by reading. When Tev was in his pre-teens, Dad brought home an old work computer, a Tandy 1000 or something, and we’d load floppy discs into the front, click that latch down over the top, and boot DOS games like Mega Man and Black Cauldron that ran so slow they were barely playable. It sparked Tev’s fascination with technology, which continued throughout his life. He was the go-to tech expert for many of us here. He also grew into a movie aficionado and loved Indiana Jones and Star Wars, which became central to our sibling culture. In fact, I’m wearing my Luke Skywalker socks right now in Tev’s honor. He admired Spielberg and Lucas in particular, and that led Tev to become an amateur filmmaker and media guru.

Tev served a mission in California’s Long Beach from 2000 to 2002, setting a valiant example for six of his siblings to follow later on. After returning home, he resumed his college career at BYU-Idaho. There he established a group of friends that became a support network for me and some of our other siblings when we came to college after him. A few of my best friends today I met through Tev. At school, he still dabbled in filmmaking and also earned a degree in History, developing his love for past cultures and events. He was named after a character from the musical Fiddler on the Roof, a man who talks to God, and Tev was that sort of man too. His name also created a special place in his heart for Jewish culture and their ancient temple rites in particular. He became a gospel scholar, and he published many of his findings and thoughts in essays on SacredSymbolic.com, a site he created and through which he shared personal and heartfelt insights with friends and loved ones. He loved learning, and that passion connected him with other people. As we became adults, he introduced me to many of my favorite books, including The Anatomy Peace.

This picture of him and me playing Ultimate with his face turned away really haunts me. 

While at school in Rexburg, Idaho, he met Jill, his lovely wife, in a family home evening group he and I were in while roommates. He’d always been shy and often spoke candidly about his struggle with social anxiety. That meant he hadn’t gone on a ton of dates before meeting Jill, but he quickly won her over with his sincerity and goodness. In fact, he surprised some of us by finding such a catch as her on what almost seemed like his first try. There was certainly some daring, some courage, required to pursue her, but I’m confident he could see the victory beyond the struggle, and that drove him forward. After a few months of courtship, they were married for time and all eternity on December 29, 2007, in the Boise Idaho Temple. 
Together they began adventuring, and they moved a few times between Utah, Idaho, and Washington. Tev often talked about a book called Essentialism, which he lived by, and that made the vagabond lifestyle a lot easier. He and Jill loved the outdoors, and together they saw many beautiful hikes across the US. They also prioritized relationships with their immediate and extended family, making lasting memories with all of them. It was very clear to me that he had his priorities right.

I mentioned Tev’s vision. It’s something I have always admired about him. He never let his perspective be constricted by what was plausible or by what could readily be seen in front of us. When we were kids, he and I were building Star Wars Legos long before there even was such a thing. We built X-Wing starfighters with pieces that had never been designed to sit at an angle like that. And then one day he got this big idea that he pitched to me: “I want to build a Y-Wing,” he said, “one that is to scale for our action figures.” That was much bigger than a Lego guy. I immediately responded with practicality: “Won’t that make it almost as big as our bedroom?” “It won’t be quite that big,” he said. And with that, he and I got to work, putting it together with cardboard, Bic pens, and duct tape. Although we never quite finished the project, his vision left on me a lasting impression. It didn’t matter if something was hard. What mattered was whether you had the vision to pursue it. And he maintained that same creative vision throughout his life. To me, being an entrepreneur always seemed ideal but much too risky. But not for Tev. He had too much imagination to let fear stop him. He built several successful online businesses, including one called wpXPRESS where he created, maintained, and serviced websites for clients around the world. It was not an easy feat, which made his victory all the more impressive, but he got that business to fly. Pursuing that pushed him out of his comfort zone in many ways, socially in particular, and he became a poised, graceful guest on podcasts and other forums. Having seen his struggle with social anxiety up close made this another especially noteworthy success. He earned the respect and admiration of his partners, employees, and clients. 
For years he dreamed of living a Tim Ferriss lifestyle and having the freedom to work from anywhere in the world. It was another epic dream that most people might consider unrealistic and out of reach. But Tev went for it. In 2019, riding the wings of his entrepreneurship, he became a “digital nomad,” and he took his family on an unforgettable adventure across MesoAmerica for nearly a year. It is another example he set that I will never forget and another way I have been inspired to be like my big brother. 
Tev’s most important calling in life was to be a husband and father. As the oldest of eight kids, he’d gotten lots of practice with children. When he was a young father, I watched him interact with baby Colter, and Tev was the most tender and kind parent I have ever seen. He taught Colter to be the same kind of caring big brother that he had been. Tev was and is proud of who his kids are turning out to be.

Then abruptly, unexpectedly, suddenly, Tev was called away. And we have been left to struggle with the grief of seeing such a hero depart from our midst. Since that dark day, the words of an Irish folk hymn have kept coming to mind, and they feel like they are Tev’s own words: “But since it falls into my lot that I should rise and you should not, I’ll gently rise and softly call, goodnight, and joy be to you all.” I keep thinking about him constantly, and I feel heavy sorrow in the void of his absence. It’s scary.

I used to get scared at night when I was a kid. I’d be down on the bottom bunk, with the covers pulled tight around my face, with only a small hole left so I could breathe—a barely safe place. And my big brother Tev’s voice would come from the top bunk, and he’d tell me it was going to be okay. He’d tell me I didn’t need to be scared. To be honest, I didn’t believe him. The monsters in the darkness were too immense. I couldn’t imagine eventually getting over it as he told me he had done. I felt sure I’d be just that scared forever. But he turned out to be right, and I stopped being scared when I got a little older. 
Now that same thing just happened again. I feel scared. The void left by his absence seems like a monster in the darkness, too immense to escape. From my perspective, my small, mortal, hurt perspective, I don’t see how I’m going to be okay with him gone. And I’m sure that same feeling is amplified for Colter and Ellie and Lorelai and Ezra and especially Jill. It feels like it’s going to hurt this bad forever, that life will be just this scary forever. Because all we can see from here is that Tev is gone.

Tev gave a speech with "Memento Murry" as the punchline, a great joke and a chilling reminder.

But he taught me an important lesson during our epic Lego battles, as the light side and the dark side went head to head. He said, “The good guys always win.” 
It usually gets pretty dark in every story, and it seems for a moment that all is lost. But Tev was right. The good guys always win. And if we could see things from where Tev is now, we would see that. 
He loved studying the temple. He taught me that the ceremony represents a path leading upward. In the ritual, you cross through a veil, leaving one place behind, and you enter a celestial room, meant to represent heaven. If you’re thinking that means a cloud or a pyramid of gold, you’re not thinking big enough. You need vision like Tev’s. Think of Gondor from Lord of the Rings, a massive structure, and multiply that by the mythological Greek Empyrean and Valhalla of the Vikings. He’s in a place so grand and so epic we can’t hardly conceive of it. And from there, his perspective is different. His vision is wider once again. He can see all the way from one end of eternity to the other. 
And I’ll close with what I think he would say to his family if he were here: “I know it hurts. A lot. And it’s okay to feel that pain. I’m feeling it with you. It’s going to be hard for a while, the hardest thing you’ve ever faced. It will seem like a long time too. But if you could see what I see, if you could only read the whole story like I can now, you would know that it’s going to be okay in the end. The good guys win in the end. They win. I can see it from here. Everything will be okay. And in the meantime, I’ll be with you, like Obi-Wan, guiding you on your hero’s journey, till you make it here too.”

Tevya’s friends created a campaign for loved ones to show their support for his wife and family: https://www.gofundme.com/f/to-honor-tevya-washburn

No comments:

Post a Comment

What was your favorite part of this post?

— J