Today was CJ’s funeral – it was a grand send off at St Mary’s in Ipswich. Before he died CJ asked if I would give his eulogy. I said I’d stand up in church and start and we’d just have to see how far I got with it. So I thought today I’d share with you my thoughts on the life of my best friend and one of the most genuine, amazing men I’ve ever met:
It was Winston Churchill who said, I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.
And I can’t help but feel this relates a little for our Chriss as well.
In the past couple of months Chriss and I spoke about the sorts of things he’d like me to say here today. He instructed me I’m not to drone on and he wants a simple speech and I’m simply to stand up and tell everyone why I loved him.
Chriss even indicated a preference for a somber speech, which, as I explained to him, would prove to be a little difficult because I always found Chriss extremely amusing and the vast majority of the time I spent with him I was smiling.
The fourth child of Rob & Mary Clark, he was born right here in Ipswich in 1968 on the 1st March. In his mother’s own words he was “a shock to the system.” And in some ways I don’t think that ever changed.
Chriss loved animals, and dogs in particular. He had some great ones – Whisky, Snoopy, Duke, Gilmore and Fletcher.
Apparently Rob, Maree & Chriss would bring home any strays they found roaming Lowood for food and attention, much to Mary’s frustration. The family used to think there was a sign for animals at every entrance to Lowood saying, “go to the Clarks if you want to be fed”.
Growing up, Chriss said when things started to twirl he’d take himself and his beloved dog Whisky to the reservoir, and sit there and watch the sunset. By all accounts, Whisky and Chriss were inseparable. Chriss would bounce Whisky endlessly on the trampoline. Or dress poor Whisky up in all manner of costumes, like a witch, and the dog would just take it. Whisky was also very protective of Chriss. Trish was telling me how Chriss’s Dad tried to go near Chriss’s bike once and Whisky wasn’t having it: growling at Rob until he backed away. But then in my experience Chriss always seemed to evoke that level of devotion.
And I think the way people are with animals is almost always a fair indication of the character of a person.
This is borne out, I think, with some letters which have come to light since Chriss’s passing: Letters which Chriss had tucked away: Letters from people he’d visited who were unable to get around and others who for years he’d driven to visit unwell loved ones. Letters thanking him for his kindness.
And while these good deeds may have gone unnoticed by many of his family and friends, I don’t think any of us are surprised to hear of them. That was essentially who Chriss was – a caring and compassionate individual who was always prepared to go the extra distance for the people he cared about.
Chriss attended Lowood state school for years 1-7, then St Eddies for 8-10 and finally Downlands for his final two years of schooling.
By Chriss’s own admission, when he came to Brisbane after he’d completed his education, he took to it like a fish to water. The lights, the music, the coffee, the lifestyle. He was in his element.
I was 18 when Chriss and I met through a mutual friend and, despite my having attended a boarding school with 2000 boys: despite attending 3 primary schools and 2 high schools: despite living in an all boys college at Uni, I had never in my short life met anyone quite like Chriss.
Chriss was the staunchest of friends.
You see, you could always count on Chriss to see your side of any argument or perceived slight. I mean, how dare anyone short-change his friend. The hide of them. The incompetence. The nerve. Chriss would not only see your side of things, he’d renew your wrath (had it started to wane) and would more likely lead you to new heights of indignant self-righteousness.
And if it was one thing Chriss knew about it was indignant self-righteousness.
Chriss has been my best friend almost since the day we met. Visits from Chriss were eagerly anticipated by my whole family. And at the heart of it I think that’s essentially who Chriss was – a great friend and a great listener.
And then there’s the things Chriss loved, like the colour Purple.
And to the end, Chriss loved to read. I remember a trip to the town of 1770 when Chriss was reading Stephen King’s book IT. Apparently it’s pretty scary. I know this because Chriss refused to be left alone and kept waking me up to walk him to the bathroom.
Chriss loved games and cards inparticular. 500, canastar, cooncan. There was his love of kites and camping.
Chriss was also a great story teller. Recounting a tale of poor service in a cafe soon became an epic of Greek proportions, with she the rude, ignorant coffee-troll, or Susan as she’s likely to have been labeled, and Chriss, the poor son of a country baker, playing the role of victim. The slight might be anything from poor froth to drab décor, but heaven help her. I loved listening to these stories from Chriss, and often by the end of a night the back of my head would hurt from laughing so hard and for so long.
Family was so very important to Chriss. I mean, according to him he single handedly raised Tristan, Aidan, Rhys & Kyle.
When Chriss would come and stay with us he’d always catch me up on the family. What Maree and Sis were up to. How Mate was doing. He’d talk about Michael, Bruce and Kay. I’d hear about Damien and Aaron, and Thomas, Rachel and Lauren. He’d go through each and every one of his nephews and nieces, and his latest joy, his grand niece, Keira and let us know how they were doing: Their schools, boyfriends, girlfriends, careers, the band. He’d talk about Sonny. He’d reminisce about Brown.
I’d hear about Dennis, a Christian Brother, who Chriss claimed would also enjoy Chriss’s stories, even if they were a little different to the sorts of stories he was used to.
And Chriss would give me the latest on his good friend Michael. Michael – who was there for Chriss tirelessly through his last illness and was I think Chriss’s greatest friend.
Although I’ve been removed from a lot of you for so many years, through distance and family commitments, I feel close to you because Chriss made me feel you were all still very much in my life. He had that gift of keeping people connected.
Aside from keeping this fairly brief and simply telling everyone why I loved him, Chriss had one further instruction for me today, one more personal message for the most important woman in his life. He said, and I quote. “Mary is a woman designed to be a mother, but Chriss isn’t a boy designed to be mothered. Mum, I realize at times I’ve been difficult. I just need you to know how much I love you. And thank you.”
Finally, I’d like to share a Hebrew proverb with you which I think sums up my thoughts on Chriss’s all-to-short life – Say not in grief: ‘He is no more’, but live in thankfulness that he was.
Much as I regret that Chriss has left us, I will forever be thankful he was a part of my life.