Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A tribute to Brian - March 17, 2010, 1 year later

Brian Edward O’Neill

November 2, 1972 – March 17, 2009

I have struggled for many weeks about this post's focus on the 1-year anniversary of Brian’s death. I decided to have it be completely and totally about BRIAN. Not about how the boyz and I are doing. Not about how his family is doing. Not about life in general.


Son, Brother, Friend, Employee, Husband, Father


Brian was the son of Ed and Jan O’Neill, born in Hong Kong while on international assignment. Brian was an adventurous and inquisitive child giving Ed and Jan many scares. He nearly drowned twice while jumping into a swimming pool before he could adequately swim to save himself. He stuck his finger in an electrical socket as a toddler warranting a trip to the ER and adorning himself with a lifetime scar on this thumb. He always flirted with danger with his love of all things extreme – skateboarding down mountainous terrain at the age of 4, climbing walls and hills with cliffs beckoning on the other side and choosing ice hockey and BMX racing as his two favorite sporting activities. Ed and Jan spent countless hours and many years of vacation money to keep Brian involved in those activities. Brian was excellent in hockey with his small team of only two lines consistently winning over opponents with twice the budget, matching warm ups, and 2 times the line up. His team won State his junior year. His senior year, he made the all Illinois team. When asked, Ed and Jan have no regrets about the sacrifices they made to allow Brian to play. He loved it and they loved watching his talent. It was their life at the time.

As a son, Brian was always compassionate and empathetic to the family’s issues, but also gave them a run for their money - breaking windows, coming home with gaping wounds and occasionally staggering in after a late night.

Even though Brian is their son, Ed and Jan continually learned from him. Watching him gracefully handle life in his health and his illness, they, in turn, learned to handle life with the same grace. (Truth be told, though, Brian learned to handle adversity through the example of grace exhibited by his Mom and Dad.) Brian was a continuous source of pride for Ed and Jan from birth through death.



Brian was the 5-year younger brother of Sean. Brian and Sean were some of the best of pals despite their age gap. While living in Asia, it was Sean that pulled Brian from the swimming pools TWICE when he couldn’t swim enough to save himself. It was often Sean that was showing Brian the ropes on how to teeter on the edge of danger and certain injury on those skateboards and bikes. Brian was Sean’s best man.

Brian was the 8-year older brother to Michael. Brian was Michael’s mentor and example. Michael admired Brian and longed to spend time being like him and being near him. Brian and Sean both tormented Michael to an extent as big brothers are supposed to do, like smashing his invisible friend, manipulating him into making milkshakes and hanging him on doorknobs. Despite their age gap, Brian and Michael grew a strong brotherly bond and a great friendship. Brian always joked about Michael being his little brother then his “bigger” little brother. Brian was the shortest of the 3.

The 3 O’Neill brothers shared a wonderful reciprocated respect for each other. They enjoyed each other’s company whether it included listening to countless hours of music discovering new bands, attending concerts together (once Michael was finally old enough to tag along), playing Euchre, camping, fishing, shooting guns or discovering a new microbrew. They were GUY’S GUYS and were very good at it. They were constantly there for each other urging the other to try new things and covering the other’s back when push came to shove.

The last time Brian fell in March of 2009, Michael picked him up. The last time Brian needed to be moved but was unable to stand or walk, Sean held him up. It was just as it always had been, but not so metaphorically this time.



Brian was ALWAYS surrounded by many friends. This was no accident. So many friends surrounded Brian because Brian was easy to be friends with. He was the guy that didn’t idly wait to be invited to a party or drive around to find the party. He WAS the party. He was the guy who would make the first few phone calls to get people motivated to get something started. He ALWAYS got something started. And if something was already planned and started, he motivated everyone around him to be excited to have a good time at it. He was loyal and funny and fun. Everyone loved being around Brian.


Brian worked for Caterpillar for his entire post-college career. He had several different positions within Caterpillar. Brian was well respected in the workforce. He worked hard, but made time for relationships. He tried his best and always followed through. He was dedicated and thorough. He was willing to learn and took all forms of criticism well. As he grew sicker and lost his ability to speak fluently and use the right side of his body, he continued to work. While the job was not as demanding as some of his other assignments, Brian took it just as seriously and dedicated just enough of himself to it to perform well and still allow his body time to recuperate and heal. In doing this, Brian gained even more respect in the workforce. While his speech failed him, he learned to patiently listen to what others had to say because he could no longer interject. He gained new perspective on when it was worthwhile to talk and how to be concise. In his illness, he showed what dedication and effort truly encompass in merely showing up each day with his continuous positive attitude and outlook.


Brian was faithful, romantic, real, complimentary, supportive, and loving. He made sure I knew he loved me but didn’t overdo it. He constantly encouraged me and instilled confidence within me. I don’t know how to put this adequately into words. I have had many people over many years tell me that most people in a lifetime do not reach the level of intimacy and love in a marriage that Brian and I had even early on. And we only grew from there. I could not tell you anyone on this earth that I would have rather spent time with than Brian. He made me laugh, cry, think, dream, reminisce, plan, and smile all in the same day. We had a good life together. He helped me learn to enjoy the moment and believe in the good of life. He personified optimism. I may have brought him to his faith in Christ, as he told me, but he helped me grow in my faith.


From the moment we decided to try to have children, the best word I can think to describe Brian’s perspective on the entire process and parenting would be patient. He was patient and trusting of God’s provision during inseminations. He was patient during both rounds of in-vitro. He was patient during the adoption processes. He was patient and calm during the 72-hour waiting period till the first waivers and papers were signed. As a daddy, he was patient and calm with almost all discipline issues and temper tantrums. He was the teacher and the leader of the boyz way more than I was. He obtained the highest level of respect and admiration from them. They adore(d) their daddy.

While they have little memory of Brian prior to his recurrence and his resulting problems, what he instilled in them prior to that and what he exemplified in how he handled his illness is powerful. On more than one occasion, when I have tried to get the boysz to stop doing something dangerous for fear of losing a limb, they have retorted to me how “yes, you can tie your shoes (or button your shirt or play catch or, or, or…) with only one hand” . When they respond with such comebacks, I have no choice but to knowingly smile and nod knowing Brian did exactly that (while praying they do not actually have to live life with the loss of a limb to prove it). He showed them that you do not pity yourself, but you use what God has allowed you to have and you use it to the best of your abilities.


Brian was truly a great man. He was remarkable in childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and into his death. He was witty, dignified, hard-working, dedicated, intelligent, thought provoking, enjoyable, inspirational, athletic, patient, and eternally optimistic. His mark on the world is obvious. Heaven’s gain is the earth’s loss in that I can only imagine what else Brian could have taught us had he continued to live. However, in his death and memory, Brian continues to inspire us today.

Looking back on his life, as trite as this may sound, I mentally repeat this phrase that I have heard uttered by SOOO many when referring to Brian, “Man, THAT guy was absolutely amazing.”

 I will tell you that he loved the Lord. Without that, he would have been less amazing.



  1. Blessings to you, today.

    What a beautiful post. I can only imagine how hard it was to compile. And what a selfless way to honor and celebrate your husband's life. You are an inspiration. And so is he.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. Still tears and prayers. Karen W.

  3. Such a beautiful tribute to a truly remarkable man. How blessed you all are to have known him. He really does sound amazing.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Well said. Hugs to you and your boys and family today.

  5. Thinking about you, Brian and the boyz today.


  6. beautiful. Wish there were more like him.

  7. I'm so sorry I never got to meet him. Looking forward to seeing him face to face one day in Heaven.

  8. Wow, what a man! Thank you for sharing so vividly and eloquently.

  9. wonderful tribute, wonderful man. Thanks for sharing...and awesome picture of Brian!

  10. What a wonderful tribute. Brian truly does sound like an amazing man. I continue to lift you and your boys up in prayer.

  11. Fabulous post Angie......blessings to you.

  12. I'm sure he knew that you thought all of this about him when he was here--what a blessing for both of you.

    Here's to celebrating Brian's life.

  13. That was awesome Angie. Truly Awesome! What beautiful words for a wonderful man. I too wish there were more like him.

  14. Well said God bless :o)

  15. Beautiful tribute to an amazing man. Thank you for sharing him with those who never had a chance to meet him. God Bless you and your boys.

  16. What a tribute to the one you loved. God bless you and your boys as you go forward with your life.

  17. Angie,

    Someday. Someday I will get to hug you. Someday I will hold your hand, as I've done virtually for so long. Someday you'll see the tears and laughter in my eyes and feel the beat of my heart that has for so long been inspired by you and by Brian.

    This, this was perfection.


  18. Betsy FrederickMarch 24, 2010

    Beautiful tribute Angie! Such an inspiration to all of us. Blessings to you and the boys.

  19. A wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Loved re-reading this!