Remembering My Brother
I am one of those people who is blessed to have an incredible relationship with my brother (Bill). I’ve had a few firsts in my life because of my brother. Like the first time I became an uncle, or the first time I took an actual week long multi state motorcycle trip. I’ve now had my last ‘first’ with Bill which is because he passed away on April 6th 2019 and for the first time in my life I was asked to write and deliver a eulogy. It’s not a job I wanted but it’s also a job I would never turn down because it meant a lot to me to somehow let others know the awesome man he was and how much he meant to those around him.
I am thankful for everyone in my life that has been so supportive. I thought that some of you who didn’t know my brother but knew how much he meant to me might enjoy some insight to the life of my brother.
Eulogy: Bill Yetman February 27, 1948 – April 6, 2019
William Peter James Yetman. A loving husband, a dedicated father, the coolest brother, the best Papa to his grandchildren, a caring friend, a proud veteran, a rabid Boston sports fan, a witty comedian, a great storyteller, a wise mentor, a gifted healer, a loyal friend, and arguably; the most interesting man in the world.
- If he were to visit the dark side of the moon, it wouldn’t be dark
- He lived vicariously through himself
- He was allowed to talk about fight club
- He was the life of parties, some that he never even attended
Billy was born in 1948 and from an early age the first things he developed were a smile and a wicked sense of humor. Both of those things stayed with him through his entire life. He kept everyone around him laughing and as a result we all enjoyed life a lot more, simply because he was in it. Some of my earliest and laughable moments were when he would grab my sister or me and hang us by our feet over the staircase balcony while swinging us back and forth all the time telling us that if we ever told Ma that he did it, he’d drop us! We never told until we were a lot older and realized that if he had dropped us, she’d have killed him.
I can remember one time coming to the dinner table with a scratch on my leg. While it didn’t seem like a big deal, our mom decided it was. So, she told Billy to take me up stairs to the bathroom and bandage it. Apparently, Billy didn’t think the scratch was a big deal either. But Mom won the argument and off we went to the bathroom to fix my leg. Within seconds Billy is ripping through all the cabinets for every piece of gauze and all the ace bandages, even the toilet paper. A few minutes later my entire leg from my toes to my upper thigh is wrapped tight and I can’t even bend my leg. He has to help me down the stairs and I hobble into the kitchen to watch my mom freak out and Billy laughing explaining that he took care of my leg.
Growing up, we had a parakeet. How did we get it? Well as many of you know my brother joined the Navy. He served proudly and it was as much a part of who he was as anything else. So, what does that have to do with a parakeet? Well silly that’s because he couldn’t find a parrot. You see, while he was in the Navy, he got leave unexpectedly. When he realized he could surprise us, he came home late one night unannounced. It was dark and rainy, and he decided that if he was a Navy man, he should be a pirate. So, we opened the door to find him standing on the porch in his peacoat with an eyepatch and a parakeet on his shoulder. And that’s how we ended up with a parakeet in the house.
In high school Billy joined the Braintree Drum and Bugle Corps. It was there he became a stalker. You see when he was 18 one of Marcia’s friends Bee was also part of Drum and Bugle. She invited Marcia to come along one night. Billy saw her and was smitten and asked her out. She accepted and they started to date. But then as things got serious Billy started to get cold feet. He told his friend Jay that he would not be dating Marcia any longer. Jay, who was no slacker, proceeded to ask Marcia on a date. While Billy said he was OK with it clearly, he was anything but. So, he followed them around from a distance the entire evening stalking them as they went out. A nd when Jay dropped her off at home and gave her a kiss goodnight Billy pulled in right as he left and asked Marcia to go steady with him. She said yes and the two of them have been inseparable since.
If you’re here, it’s likely because you love Billy. Or maybe, just maybe, because you heard they were pouring Jack Daniels after the service. But nobody loved Billy more than Marcia and he felt the same way about her. Both served as a model couple for Erica and Bryan and you could not count all the ways that they would show it. It was a million small things always happening around them where they each would do things to make the other one comfortable or happy. Marcia has always been the more conservative of the two, yet when needed, Billy could count on her to be a partner in crime.
Once, when Erica was around 13 or so she had a large sleepover with a bunch of friends both boys and girls (they were being watched). They took over the living room and had sleeping bags, blankets and settled in on the furniture. They decided to watch a scary movie. The lights are low, and they are all glued to the screen. What they didn’t realize is that Billy had a private office behind the living room with a door that led outside. He recruited Marcia and she helped dress him up with an outfit that included a fake blood-stained shirt, the Jason hockey mask, basically the works. Then he gets his chainsaw (with the chain removed but the bar still attached) and sets himself up in the office. Just when the movie gets scary Bill rip starts the chainsaw, busts through the door throttling up and screaming. It was total pandemonium as kids ran over each other to get out of the room. One kid went out the front door so fast he ran right through the screen door. After things settled down and they wiped the pee off the floor they had a good laugh, and this became another one of the hundreds of EPIC stories of Bill the practical joker. I asked Marcia why she helped. She simply said because he told me I had to.
You might wonder with a sense of humor like that how people could fall in love with him. To appreciate that, you had to know the rest of Bill. Other than being funny and filling our lives with laughter and joy he was also one of the most caring persons you would ever meet. But before we go there, I want to mention that he did get more graceful with age and kept his humor while giving fewer heart attacks. When I asked Erica’s husband Tom what he remembers most, he talked about him having so much fun with the grand kids in the pool tossing them around and laughing. Or running around the house with a small pony on a stick singing I’m a little pony and having the kids follow him around in a chorus of I’m a little pony. This differs from when Bryan was just an infant and Bill decided to play peekaboo. So, he crouches down behind Brian’s crib and rises and says peekaboo. He repeats this time and time again. Bryan laughs and is enthralled. Then like the 10th time he goes down and comes back up with a mask on. I think Bryan may have passed out. This could explain a lot about his behavior.
Erica saw her dad as always strong. He taught her to be strong and she gets her loyalty traits straight from her Dad because Bill was loyal to a fault. Bryan saw his dad as his hero. Seriously, he was Super Man for Bryan. Bryan is also one of the most caring persons I know. Like Erica with her loyalty I am quite sure that Bryan learned to care about people as a direct result of watching his dad do the same time and time again. Not all heroes wear capes. Unless your Bill. Then, you wait till the kids are around and then put on a cape, put some underwear on your head and then teach them all to run around the house being Captain Underwear!
As an uncle he was a tease, as well as the first person to make sure all the nieces and nephews were OK. My oldest daughter remembers him running around chasing them screaming needles as he’d threaten to poke them. They would scream and run but eventually it ended in laughter. But if anything was wrong, he’d be the first to find a way to help from being understanding when my oldest Jennifer came out as queer to helping Cindy come out of her shell as a young teen. He found ways to include Samantha in the love by making sure she was OK when she was upset and gently chiding her by working the term Duckless into countless conversations which is another story. Ask any of the nieces and nephews who their favorite uncle was, it was always Uncle Billy.
I remain mostly at a loss for words when I think about how much Billy meant to me as a brother. Ginny and I are adopted. And I promise you, you could not find a brother who loved us more fiercely than Bill. I’ve since met some of my other actual siblings and while they are wonderful people, I love Bill more than all of them combined. I learned from him that family is so much more than blood. He gave me some of the best life advice that I was sometimes too young or stupid to take. Like teaching me you can never un-call someone an A-hole. It was a valuable lesson that took too long to sink in, but it eventually did. Or not to take my career advice from a 12-year-old when we were trying to decide if we should move or not. If I was ever in turmoil, there are only two people I could turn to, my wife or my brother. And I probably called Billy as much or more than her when it came to talking out challenges because he knew what it meant to be a good husband or a good father.
I started this eulogy with a joking reference to the most interesting man in the world. But Billy really was that kind of guy. One night he got a call from the hospital because a young person needed immediate surgery and they needed an anesthetist NOW. Billy jumped in his Mustang and peels out and heads to the hospital. Along the way he’s speeding and runs a red light. He picks up a cop on his tail with the blue lights flashing and the wig wags. Does Billy stop? You already can guess that answer. No freaking way. He continues to speed with the cop on his tail, fishtails into the hospital and stops at the entrance and runs in. He’s greeted by the attending OR nurse who gowns him up fast and he runs into the OR right as the cop is tearing into the room. The nurse informs the cop that Bill is helping save the life of a kid in the OR. So, the cop goes back to Billy’s car, parks it nicely and comes in and drops off the keys. These are the kind of stories Bill generated throughout his life.
It was not uncommon for me to be out with Bill and be stopped by someone who remembered his kindness and help at the hospital when they were nervous about a big operation and he comforted and helped them. Or how he was the only one who could put them to sleep without making them sick. He learned hypnosis in order to help calm people down and make them comfortable. Of course, being Billy, this led to more stories of how he convinced his favorite cousin Linda that her feet were glued to the floor or how he got me to not be able to use my own name.
When people in the neighborhood were sick, they would reach out to Bill for help and advice. Almost any time day or night. And he would always answer the call. He always helped and people always trusted him. That does not mean he didn’t sprinkle humor into those situations, but you knew that even when you were laughing that he was looking out for you. One time a dad in the neighborhood took a fishing trip and left his young son with his mother (the boy’s grandmother). They were out back, and he was helping his grandma hang clothes. She asked him to reach into the clothespin bag and get another pin. Turns out there was a bat in the bag, and it bit the boy! Of course, they called Bill. He shows up and then calls the hospital for some fast advice. When he hangs up the grandmother says, “what did the hospital say Bill”? To which he deadpan replies that the hospital said that ‘we’ll need to drive a stake through his heart’. Anyway, Bill took him to the hospital after grandma stopped screaming at him for the joke and then came home with the boy later. After everything was fine and folks were relaxed Bill got help from some of the neighbors and they put out crosses and strings of garlic on the lawn. That was Billy. You were either laughing hysterically with him or you were pissed. And if you were pissed, it never lasted long because in no time at all he had you laughing again, and you knew with all your heart that he was looking out for you and would do anything to help.
Billy went on three different mission trips that were medical missions. Haiti after the earthquake, and Honduras twice. Before he would go, he’d stock up on extras like clothing and watches or candy for the kids. He’d give it all away and work 12- and 15-hour days for days on end with the medical team helping others. Somewhere in Honduras there’s a Monk with a red sox hat. Why? Because he told Billy he was from Boston. Billy asked if he could give him his red sox hat. The monk explained he was not allowed to accept gifts. So, when he left, Billy turns to the Monk and drops his hat on the table and says I seem to have lost my hat. I hope someone finds it and can make good use of it and then walks out.
Billy had a more nuanced view of God and heaven. Once when we were talking about giving to others, I asked him what drove him to engage like that. He said that other than liking people and wanting to help, he always wondered about heaven and how it worked. So, he had hoped that if he was a good person that when he died God would judge him and see him as worthy because of the good things he did. Being a person of faith, I tried my best to explain to my brother that this is not how we would be judged, and it was by God’s grace and that alone which would determine if we made it to heaven. To which he replied, no sir. I do good things and I get Jesus points! I figure if I collect enough Jesus points, I’ll be OK. We laughed and every now and then the topic comes up and he looks at me and starts chanting Jesus points, Jesus points, Jesus points. The hilarious thing is I am comfortable it worked for him. And right now, as I am down here with the rest of you being sad at his passing, he’s up in heaven sitting at a table next to a lake on a calm sunny day with Jesus. They are having a glass of Jack Daniels and smoking a swisher sweets cigar. He’s looking down at me and laughing. See Chris! I told you, Jesus points!
We are all frequently defined by the things we love. For Bill it was clear he loved Marcia, he loved family, he loved people, he loved laughter, he loved sharing, he loved being a veteran, he loved his country, he loved sports especially Boston sports, he loved coaching, or said differently he loved life.
It’s OK to cry. Lord knows I’m not done crying yet either. But as we gather here to remember Bill, I want you to try and celebrate his life with me tonight. As hard as it is to laugh right now, it would be the thing he would want most. So, when this memorial service is over and we’re all sitting and talking, please share all your stories about Bill with each other. Take turns. Listen to each other. Laugh with each other. Cry with each other. But most of all, let’s remind each other how funny, caring and beautiful he was as a human being. And let’s cement his memory in our hearts forever.