The first eulogy I ever gave was for a close friend. He was my cousin Mary Celine’s husband, Tom Beemster. Tom died on May 3, 1994, after many months of hospitalization from an illness that was never fully diagnosed.. He was 49 years old.

I don’t have a copy of the original eulogy. It was written quickly and without any prior experience. But it’s probably the eulogy which best described the character of the person I was eulogizing. It was a simplier eulogy, without all of the seriousness that crept into my later efforts.

Here’s the gist of it.

- Mike - 4/30/07

My name is Mike Vrtis.
I’m not a blood relative of Tom’s.
But Tom and I have shared countless wonderful hours together.
And lots of no-so-wonderful hours together too.
Technically, Tom was a “cousin-in-law”, married to my cousin Mary Celine.
But he was more like a “brother-in-friendship.”
We were part of just about every important event in each other’s for the past 25 years.

I had known Tom’s family through St. Willibrord parish.
And his family had often used our cottage in Michigan when Tom was younger.
But Tom was almost 6 years older than me, so we really didn’t know each other growing up.
That changed the night Mary brought him as a date to a gaming night that Mary and her sister Rosal, and I would hold at the house of another friend, Charles Hoefeyzers.
Ironically, I brought a date, Terry Marcisz, to that same game night.
Our game group changed permanently from 4 to 6 players.
A few years later, Tom would marry Mary Celine.
And the year after that, Terry would marry me.
The four of us were all members of each other’s bridal parties.
Besides game nights, Tom quickly became an addition to all of our family functions - birthdays, holidays, trips to the cottage, and just “get-togethers” - which seemed to occur just about every weekend.
This went on from that first game night until his final hospitalization.

There are three aspects of Tom’s life the deserve special attention.

The first is that Tom was a traveled a LOT.
The army took him (unwillingly) to Korea.
And throughout his adult life, Tom seemed to be taking trips all the time - and everywhere.
To the east coast. To the south. Out to California. Down to the South West.
In cheap motels . In fancy resorts. In tents in campgrounds.
I imagine there were some nights he slept in the car.
Usually willingly and eagerly.
But sometimes grumpily.
Overall, though, Tom did a heck of a lot of traveling.

A second aspect of Tom’s life is that he was a GROUCH.
There’s no denying it.
If Tom was unhappy, he never “put on a happy face”.
He’d grumble under his breath.
Or he’d drop a “not-so-subtle” hint.
Or he’d come right out and COMPLAIN!
Don’t get me wrong, though.
Being a grouch isn’t a sin.
Think of Jesus, when his mother asked him to do something to HELP the bridal couple at Cana. What was his reply?
“Woman, how does this concern of yours involve me??”
To his own MOTHER!! What a GROUCH!
BUT -- he ended up turning the water into wine, just like his mother asked.

Or think of the parable of the man with two sons.
The father asks both of them to do something for him.
One son says “Nope!”
The other one says, “Sure.”
But the son who said “Sure, Dad, anything for you” DID nothing.
While the GROUCH, who said “No!” felt sorry and finally did what his father had asked.

Or think of Jesus again, outside the walls of Jerusalem, COMPLAINING in frustration,
That, despite his best efforts, the city rejected him.
Heck, you’d think that Jesus would be nice enough to UNDERSTAND and not complain.
Still, despite his complaining, he gave his life for them and for us.

And Tom was that kind of Grouch.
Someone who was not afraid or ashamed to grouch if he felt the situation deserved it.
But someone who, when it came right down to it,
Always did what he knew he should do.

Like Oscar the Grouch, on Sesame Street,
Tom was a GROUCH with a heart of gold.

The third aspect of Tom’s life that I’d like to mention was his love of games.
He loved collecting games.
And he loved playing them.
Board games.
Card games.
Dice games.
War games.
He wasn’t a Bad loser.
But he was a GREAT winner.
He, like most of us, LIKED to win.
And he showed it!
The best kind of wins were when he came from behind and WON in a late game upset.
When Tom was winning, he’d get all excited and clutch his dice, and GLEEFULLY watch as the game progressed toward his ultimate triumph.
(And I’m being quite honest here… I know of no better word than “gleeful” to describe Tom when he was winning. And I know of no other time I’ve used “gleeful” to describe ANYONE.)
Tom LOVED to win.

There’s a game called LIFE that we played quite often.
It’s changed a bit, but I’m sure you’re all aware of it.
In it’s original version, after the first player crossed the FINAL bridge on the road to retirement, that player got to become the “Toll Road” operator, and got to collect $50,000 from each of the other players as they crossed that Toll Bridge to the final judgement place at the end of the game.
We played LIFE a lot. And quite often, the winner was determined at in the final moments of the game.

Now, Tom, the traveler, has gone on a trip that all of us will someday make.

And I’m guessing that Tom, the Grouch, had a few things to complain about when he got to St. Peter’s Gate. Heck, if I had died at the age of 49, after a long and debilitating illness, I think I’d complain too.

But I can also imagine Tom, the gamer, gleefully clutching a handful of Parker Borthers money, and getting a big kick out of collecting $50,000 from each of us as each of us travels the same route over that FINAL bridge at the end of our own individual games of LIFE.

He got there first, and he deserves the right to enjoy it.

And you know what?
I doubt I’ll ever watch Sesame Street without thinking of Tom.

I miss playing games with you Tom.