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Bucket List Life

The following is adapted from the eulogy that my husband and I read at Richie's service:

Richie sometimes expressed the fear that he had not done enough – that his life would not leave an impact on the world. He would tell me that he had not ‘done anything great’ so he worried his life would lack meaning in the end.

What I always told my son is that he lived life greatly and that in living as he did - his life had deep and profound meaning for many, many people. I wish Richie could have seen the many people who attended his service, or the many people that have reached out to us since and told us "knowing Richie changed my life". I hope that somehow he now knows and is able to see the great impact that he had on the world.

Richie had three philosophies in life that we want to share with you:

1. Be Brave

Richie had moments when he was afraid. He was rarely afraid of dying, and lacked any fear of his disease no matter how hard we tried to instill some self preserving measure of apprehension. But he did fear hurting people he loved, he was afraid that by leaving us all he would break us. I promised him often that the years I got to love him for would always be worth the years I would miss him …

Richie loved with absolute abandon.

He never held himself back – if he loved you, you got all of him, unfiltered and without walls. It always amazed me because life had not taught him to be unguarded. Richie spent many years of his childhood in foster care. Before we became his parents he had gone through a failed adoption where a couple had declared intent to be his ‘forever parents’ and then changed their mind.

We met Richie when he was 13 in a brief two hour meeting when the four of us – Nick and myself and the two boys would be asked to determine if we were ’a good match’. We then started visiting on weekends – a few hours, a day, an overnight – testing the waters before becoming a family. We had only known Richie a few weeks when he told me “I think I would like you to adopt me”. The courage he showed in that moment has stunned me ever since – he was 13 years old, and had no reason to trust anyone at all but he still was willing to be completely vulnerable and ask me to be his Mother. I have heard this same theme over and over from his friends, from everyone he loved – Richie loved without holding himself back. He would want us to continue to be brave, to love each other with abandon and without holding back for fear of being hurt.

2. Live Life Fully

Richie packed more adventure into 23 years then many people see in a whole lifetime. He was 19 when he had what would refer to as ‘the defining hospital stay’ – he developed an overwhelming pneumonia and spent five weeks in the hospital. Three weeks in he told us that he ‘didn’t know what he was fighting for’ – he didn’t think he would live long enough to finish college, to have a full time job, he didn’t want to get married or have children, so what was the point? We told him to find his ‘why’ – and gave him a poster board to write a bucket list on. We told him that whatever he put on that board we would help him to make happen – but that he would have to fight to be well enough to do the things.

We heard many times from medical people that he was ‘fatalistic’ – that our families focus on living by a bucket list was perhaps questionable. The thing about it was that it was never about the limited time we all had – our bucket list life has been about seeing how much life we could pack into whatever time we got and living focused on the joy and the experience rather then on the end that we all knew would come too soon.

Bucket list item number 1. Go to Cambodia.

Why? Because he had seen a TV show about Ankor Wat and it looked ‘cool’. So go to Cambodia he did. With an entire backpack full of medicine and a portable battery operated nebulizer and a complete disregard for any of the medical people who wondered at the wisdom of backpacking South East Asia with CF.

Bucket list item number 2. Volunteer in some big way.

In 2016 Richie and Eleanor travelled to California for a weekend to take a group of children in foster care to Disneyland for a day with the organization Together We Rise. They flew out on a Thursday, spent Friday at Disneyland and came home on Saturday. He was on IV antibiotics at the time so he just packed it all up and took it with him and walked around Disneyland with his IVs attached.

Bucket list item number 3. Work in a national park.

In typical Richie style he chose a national park at 8000 feet elevation. We cheered him on and then quietly panicked back home as he drove off to his big adventure. Three weeks in he calmly called us – it was one of those very typical Richie calls ‘Listen don’t worry …. (pause) … I might be in a helicopter, see I needed to be medevacked’ ….

Richie lived his bucket list without any regard for the obstacles in his way. He embodied the “Going on a bear hunt” style of life: "Can't go over it, can't go under it, we'll have to go through it."

3. Lets get weird

Richie’s favorite t-shirt was a florescent tie dye shirt that says “Lets get Weird”

Richie never had a problem showing who he was – he didn’t really care what anyone else thought. He had a sense of humor that was dark and strange and we would laugh at things that made everyone else enormously uncomfortable . I think he used his odd senses of humor to get people so uncomfortable with his condition they would start laughing and find a way to get more comfortable in the mess of it all.

We talked a while ago about where he might be to be buried. He wanted to be cremated and we talked about scattering his ashes and he told us to ‘take him along’ when we go places but also made us promise to put some of his ashes under the dog tree. We have a tree in our front yard where two of our dogs ashes are buried and he was insistent that he wanted to be ‘buried with the dogs’….he really didn’t care when I told him that was a weird thing to ask for.

As Richie got close to the end I kept memorizing every sentence he said – I wanted to be sure his last words were remembered so I could share them. I was waiting for something poignant and meaningful and enduring.

I should have known better.

Richie’s last words were typical Richie : “Did I eat enough vegetables?”. A few hours before he passed his friends sat with us at his bedside and laughed at those words. Which is exactly what he would have wanted – as we sat in a hospice that was calm, and peaceful with pipe music playing in the hallways – we blasted dub step in his room and laughed at just how weird Richie could be.

We know many people will remember our son. His life was brief but so powerful. We hope that you will remember his philosophy of life too: Be Brave, love one enough with abandon. Live life fully and blast through any obstacles that threaten to get in your way. And be weird, be you, no matter what any one else thinks. And make sure you eat enough vegetables.


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