A Eulogy For John

On September 10, my friend John Ma passed away at the age of 50 after a 10-month battle with brain cancer. Today at his funeral, I read the following eulogy:

You could always count on John.

Whatever happened, whatever the circumstances, John always seemed to know what to do.

Whether he was your son, your brother, your husband, your father, or your friend, you could depend on John to be one of your foundational supports.

***

On our wedding day, Alisha and I knew two things.  First, lots of things would go wrong.  And second, we wouldn’t have time to fix them.  So we turned to John for help, because I knew a third thing: We could count on John.

I gave John an envelope of $20 bills, and told him, “Whatever problems come up, take care of them. You’ll know what to do.”

I don’t know how many emergencies John had to deal with that day, and that’s the point. We could count on John, and thanks to him, we enjoyed our wedding day.

My mother told me that she saw John many times that day, making sure things ran smoothly.  Over these past months, she’s often told me that she’s had John in her prayers.  And she’s watching the video stream today, mourning with the rest of us.  In those few hours she spent with him, she recognized how special John was.

That’s how John made everyone who met him feel.

***

A few years ago, John and Mary organized a special birthday weekend for John.  They rented a house for us, and we spent our “guy’s weekend” playing basketball, watching basketball, and playing cards.  It evolved into an annual tradition that I insisted on referring to as “John’s weekend,” even though John, of course, deflected the attention.  That was just like John; he brought people together but, as with anytime someone praised him, he didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.

Because John and I got up early, we got to spend time together those weekend mornings, times which are now cherished memories for me.

This year, John apologized to us for having to cancel the weekend because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  When we finally gather for “John’s weekend” again, he’ll still be bringing us together.

***

John loved to bring people together.  Jason and Marissa both remember many times that they went to their Uncle John’s house and ate the food he cooked from his customary place at the gas grill. And then, when he had finished making sure that everyone had enough to eat, he would join the rest of us, often with Julia or Nathan close by–that is, when they could tear themselves away from their Uncle Poe.  John never sought to be the center of attention–except when unleashing a truly terrible pun that would prompt Richard’s trademark grimace and groan–but he was always there, always listening to everyone, ready to deploy his sharp wit when the opportunity came.

***

Other than being with his family and friends, John’s favorite place was probably the basketball court.  I spent many, many hours on the court with John over the course of 23 years.  Like his basketball idol, John Stockton, John always knew what to do there too.  He led us on the court, just like he led us off it.

The last time we ever played basketball together, I tore my Achilles tendon.  This was especially bad because Alisha was in Ohio for a week, taking Marissa to the fencing Nationals.  Of course John knew what to do.  He drove me and my car home, then he and Mon Ping took me to the hospital to get treated.

After my surgery, I rehabbed and went to physical therapy so that I would be able to play basketball with John again.  I still haven’t played since that day.  But when I finally play again, I’ll think about John, just like I will every time I see a gas, or hear a terrible pun.

We all miss John, but we’ll think about him every time his memory brings a smile or helps us know what to do.

We will count on John, as we always have, as we always will.

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