The following speech was made at the 10th year Celebration of Life for Billy, the summer of 2022…..
Many thanks to all of you here tonight. Our amazing Family and Friends, always close, supporting and loving us, we are very blessed with each one of you in our lives. Ten years have gone by in an instant, yet so much has happened. Engagements, Marriages, Babies, New jobs, new homes, as well as new friendships. Yet, no matter where our journey through life takes us, the one thing that will always take us back home to the past and some of our greatest memories is when we think of Billy. I couldn’t have imagined living 10 days without Billy’s physical presence, much less 10 years. But thanks to of all of you, we have found a way to navigate our loss with Love and a deep connection that will always be deep rooted in our love for Billy and each other. The annual Fishing Trip that was originally suggested by the crew, has become a lifeline in keeping Billy’s kindred spirit alive, and keeping our family out of the hole of darkness and despair.
It’s hard to think of Billy without seeing his great big smile, or his duck lips (before it was a thing!) I can still hear his voice and all the silly voices he would make up. Turning our Pain into Purpose has been a life raft in this storm. Presenting the Scholarship at the MHS each year, brings me right back to all the memories created from Birch Lane through the years. I think of the crew and the close relationships you had, and still have! I know in my heart that Billy would be so very grateful that all of you have stayed so close to our family.
The Scholarship continues to light the way for many students, and it also enables those who apply to get to know Billy, his family and friends…..many of the students’ essays reflect the inspiration they have received from visiting the Anchors of Love website and actually seeing how Love and Gratitude has become the Anchor in our loss.
Speaking of Anchors, it was from the time I saw the huge Anchor made of flowers at Billy’s wake from the crew that I followed the universe and embraced this symbol. The Anchor will always remind us that Love never dies. That Gratitude will guide us through the most difficult days of our grief, and Hope IS the light knowing that we will all be together again one day.
Each one of you are so very special to us, and once again we can’t thank you enough for your Love and support. Enjoy the night, and remember how much Billy loved a party, loved to laugh, dance and be silly.
As November 9, 2017, marks 5 years ago that Billy transitioned to the afterlife, I thought I would share some of the knowledge and wisdom that I have aquired from the intense pain which is balanced daily with “hard love” (yes, that is a song reference from Needtobreathe).
I have learned that the beautiful souls who come into our lives as a result of our tragedy, or those friends we consider family that remain in our lives after tragedy, are on our path for a reason…whether we are here for them, or they are here for us. We are learning from each other and we are connected in this classroom of life.
I have learned that as different as we are from each other is how differently we grieve as well. I have made the choice to grieve rather publicly with facilitating our GRASP bereavement group. My main reason for starting this group was to help others understand that the Disease of Addiction is not a choice. Those who have died from Addiction Disease should be mourned and remembered with love, dignity and honor. Those with eyes of judgement looking at the addicted as a weaker being with no morals, display an ignorance that cannot be disputed.
I have learned that although we are not taught about death in school, and our culture considers it “taboo” to discuss death, we will all learn in time when the sharp stinging heartbreaking pain of losing someone we love will affect our life in ways we never imagined. How we choose to handle this heartbreak will make all the difference in how the rest of our life is lived, as well as how our loved ones are remembered.
I believe it is in this pain that we can be transformed, if we allow ourselves to “feel” all of the emotions. Our courage brings tears, and in the tears we evolve….and just maybe our purpose in life changes. Perhaps the gift of Billy’s life was to do just that for so many.
There is no doubting how much we miss his love, his smile, that crazy sense of silly humor, his kindness and caring, his genuine sincerity, his loyalty, his truth and vulnerability…..all that was Billy. But, I find a deep strength in knowing his life was not in vein….No life is lived in vein. Our culture has this preconceived notion that a well lived life is a “long” lived life. A life with little pain and much wealth, success and happiness is a life that has been blessed. Let me be the first to tell all of you, that blessings come in many forms. Blessings come in the pain and heart ache, blessings come in the trials and sorrow, blessings come in the gratitude and love.
I recently began using an acronym F.E.A.R : Face Everything and Rise…….in the wake of our journey through Brian’s illness. Billy’s courage facing an illness that we knew so little about will always haunt my rational brain. However, there is a place in my soul that knows his physical life and gentle spirit, did not deserve a lifetime of suffering. Billy lived, loved and made some amazing friends. Forever friends are not easy to come by, but Billy knew the value of the bond with his brothers and sisters. Our family has been so grateful through these years to become a family with these beautiful souls, always connected with our love for Billy. And a very special thank you to all of our loving friends, FB friends, and family who have remained close by our side with love and support, we will always be forever grateful for your presence in our lives.
Nov 9, 2013
The Mayan calendar predicted the world would come to an end in 2012. Hurricane Sandy arrived, and left in her path a wrath of destruction unraveling our peaceful existence; recorded in history as one of the worst storms to hit the Northeast US. It would be during this time of darkness, with no lights, no heat and everyone in turmoil….that Billy would be called into the arms of God. Remembering back, even with our minds in the state of shock, it would somehow feel poignant that our lives would be permanently changed with the lives of so many others… a connection of a greater source.
As we gather here today in our love for Billy, we are so fortunate to have our dearest family and friends by our side. We thank each one of you with all of our love and gratitude. Your love and support has been a beacon in this “The worst of all storms.”
As painful as Billy’s passing is we have learned many difficult yet very important lessons. Loss is an unyielding and determined teacher. If you can endure the process, the destruction and transformation – like the pounding surf, it can form beautiful shapes. It is a difficult daily choice of surrender and what is. But, if you allow the process, there are revelations, new found knowledge and a keen insight in discovering what is being revealed here and now.
Billy has taught us how to grow emotionally strong to deal with the reality of his passing, and to move into a greater insight and greater love. Although I believe this to be true, it’s not always easy to see, as some days try to pull me into negativity and self-pity wondering why the joy of having him with us was taken away. It is here that I look to my faith. A belief that we are here to love, learn and to grow (spiritually). A belief that our great love is a blessing; the inner strength that it provides speaks to me telling me not to make this hard for him. That he wants us to embrace life keeping him close by our side. A belief that this life, and our world is good, in spite of the evil and devastation that it reveals. Like pieces to a puzzle falling into place not apart. You cannot impose your desire on these pieces, they may not go or fit where you want them, but they fit where they have the most impact. If you allow the lessons and experiences to teach and mold you… that is the blessing of faith.
I have carried the weight of a million questions in my heart and mind; not knowing that Billy inherited the genetic predisposition to the brain disease of addiction, as well as heart disease haunts me daily. Like any mother trying with all of her strength and power to protect her child… Why didn’t we have more time? Why didn’t we know more? My faith speaks to me and tells me it was not meant for Billy to live in agony, as he was given life here for a greater purpose….nor were we meant to know more. Just as we were not meant to know that our first born child Brian would have special needs. If we were given all of this information before hand, we might have missed the most amazing wondrous experience of all – becoming parents. Having the joy of loving three beautiful lives has been a blessing to us, for our love and understanding of life has grown to a level that has made us richer beyond all materialistic things. And it is the strength of this love that will never break the bond we have with each other and with Billy.
And to Chrissy…. While the pain in our hearts has been excruciating, we have learned the value of tears. The ability and strength to cry is the key to unlocking grief. To bring yourself to a place where you are most vulnerable and allow the grief process to transform you, let the tears flow like rain….brings you to a place where you feel the love lift you higher than ever before. We will never stop crying, whether it’s on the outside or inside, for our hearts will always have the pain of missing Billy’s physical presence… and that’s ok. But I believe down to the core of my soul that he is with us every day, making his presence known with all of his might, guiding us on this new journey.
I know this because I have been able to survive this “The worst of all storms.”
As parents, we know that each one of our children hold a very special place in our heart. Larry and I were blessed with three very special and loving children. Each of them has given us a unique genuine insight and awareness of just how wonderful this life can be. We have been given the honor of raising and loving them with all of our heart and soul.
Brian’s arrival, (in our early 20’s!) showered our family with much happiness. It had been quite some time since there was a baby in our family! Inexperienced as we were, Larry and I quickly learned that sleep was a thing of the past, and love would guide us. In the process, we learned true patience and gained a sincere appreciation of the simple things in life, i.e. the wind that blows fiercely as the boat rides wide open! Or the beauty found in nature; Brian’s fascination of the waves breaking on the shore, etc. He reminded us of the innocence of classic movies while we joined him and his love of live concerts and all genres of music! He has brought us down a road where we have had the opportunity of knowing the most special, caring people on this earth.
When our “little girl” Christina arrived, she brought more love and smiles. The maternity ward shook with screams of joy and surprise from Nana, Grandpa John and all of our friends and family! We were under the impression for 9 months that “she” was believed to be a he! From that day forward Christina took us on a voyage of pretty dresses, dolls and tea parties. A trunk of costumes was always visible in our home, as dress up was an everyday occurrence. Drawing and writing, performing in plays, gymnastics, and of course, dance! Many (many) concerts later, shopping at Hot Topic and dying her hair from red to blue, expressing and always remaining honest and true to herself. Her love of animals brought us many unique pets, and her dedication to loving and working with them demonstrates her sincere kindness and caring ways.
A few years later we were blessed again, with our Billy….A “tornado” of fun and humor, keeping us busy with his inquisitive ways and desire to experience everything! The love and smiles were taken to a whole new level. “Hakuna Matata” really was our daily mantra! Christina would raise Billy high in the air as The Lion King theme would play, and they pretended he was “Simba!” Looking back on all the activities and sports Billy enjoyed such as skateboarding, swim team, skiing, basketball, track, wrestling and football, he conquered each one with so much enthusiasm and drive! From Tiger Cubs to Boy Scouts, Roller Blades and Scooters, Trick Bikes and the Mini Bike! Paintball and Airsoft Games were played with strategy and confidence, always looking for a good challenge and taking pride in his equipment. Whether it was arena playing or shooting in the gallery that Larry set up in the crawlspace of our home, Billy was always 100% dedicated. And, who could forget, his endless collections of everything!
We are so grateful for the endless collection of memories we have as well. Billy and his high spirited, energetic passion for life brought us on a journey of so many wonderful experiences that enriched our lives beyond any of our expectations. As I share of few of these memories, I can’t help smile and laugh as a warm feeling of intense love and peace enables me to remember every detail.
Billy’s Christmas lists were always a challenge for Larry and I, but the year his list included a drum set was like a dream come true (for me lol). We had a son who wanted to rock out on the drums! Maybe all of the car rides playing classic rock music were an influence! Needless to say, the house came alive with hours of drum solos. The basement became the hang out for jam sessions, and I would dance to the beat while cooking dinner. When the sign up for musical instruments came around at Birch Lane, of course, he chose the drums. Although he NEVER had any formal training (we were aware of the fierce competition), we certainly didn’t want to discourage him from trying. When he came home and told us that he was picked (along with Adam) to play with a select few, to say we were proud would be an understatement. At every concert we attended, I could see a little John Bonham in the making (I’m only half-kidding!). I’ll never forget the last school concert when the percussion section took the lead in George Benson’s “On Broadway”…..I, of course, thought it sounded better than the recorded version!!
The first time Billy tried skiing was around the age of 8. Larry and I had skied BC (before children), and we were excited to share this sport with Billy. For this first time, Larry stayed behind with Brian and Chrissy, while Billy and I went with our BBC friends and neighbors to Jiminy Peak. As we followed our group onto the chair lift, somehow we wound up on the top of a double diamond! Billy and I looked at each other laughing and wondering how we were going to down. I went down mostly on my backside of course, while “Big Tommy Burke” took Billy and taught him correct form. From that day on there was no stopping him. His love for skiing prompted Larry and I to organize a yearly Ski Trip to Jiminy Peak with our close friends. Larry, Billy and the “guys” would conquer those double diamonds with ease as well as performing tricks in the Terrain Park. The day, of course, would always end in the heated pool and hot tub! As time went by the Garceau/Kerwin yearly trip evolved, and brought many years of good memories and laughs. The year Billy broke his leg trying Snow Blades for the first (and last) time, 1st run, was a story he would never live down! As soon as the boys began to drive, they held their own ski trips and were fortunate to have the Kerwin’s Compound in Vermont, or the Donahue’s Ski Chalet to stay!
It was a decision to try out for the MHS Football Team that revealed much of Billy’s courage and determination. Without having ANY prior playing experience (most guys played for the Mustangs as young children), there was probably little chance that Billy would make the team, but that didn’t stop him from trying. He made the team and was able to keep up with its demands, playing Varsity through his Senior Year! It was the JV year that Coach Sheedy decided Billy would be called Bill in this “grown up – real world” of drills, accountability and injuries! During this time, we too saw our son take that leap from adolescence to adulthood. It was cold and rainy the morning of the game against arch rival Farmingdale HS, and they had the lead. As the sun began to warm the field, the game began to take a turn for Massapequa. With a bird’s eye view, as we stood on the field behind the fence, we saw Billy “sack” the quarterback! Larry and I yelled loud and proud and gave each other a high-five heard around the world!! Well, at least that’s what it felt like to us. Looking at the photo of Billy in his uniform will always bring to my mind his commitment and fortitude that came from so deep inside.
Most of you know how Bill loved his video and online games. Some of you may remember when Billy was only two years old he had a neighborhood audience watch him play Mario Brothers. Larry set up a home arcade that enabled his small hands to work the game by using large levers. He would play with ease and amaze everyone with his eye hand coordination! As time went on, the challenges of many games and the laughter they generated filled in the space to quiet his enormous amount of energy! Always competitive, he would never give up a game without having mastered it till the end. Bill recently received and invitation by Blizzard Entertainment to compete in The Warcraft Arena Games in CA, yeah he was that good…
As time went by we watched our little boy grow into an amazing young man, and thoughtful son. Learning repairs and improvements from Dad, and always willing to help Mom (as I often looked to him for assistance!). Sharing his love for cooking, always kept me inspired to come up with new recipes. He always kept us smiling with his sense of humor and kidding ways even when the day seemed grey. Teasing and joking while showing compassion and kindness for Brian. Always a big brother (even though the youngest), protector and friend for Christina. He touched so many with his sincerity and his beautiful smile. There are so many good memories with such a great group of friends. Not many 17/18 year olds get to travel together to the Bahamas to celebrate graduation. Good times at the many MOE concerts, camping out, skiing, boating, fishing and the wave runner! How about “wing night” at McGory’s or playing poker at Murph’s, shooting pool and golfing – I realize these are just a few things on the memory list that bring many smiles.
When Billy announced his decision to pursue a degree in health care, both Larry and I were extremely happy and of course supportive. He received his Health Care Provider Certification after taking the EMT course at North Shore LIJ. A few days of Ambulance Duty and Emergency Room at LIJ helped to cement his decision. Medical School was on his “to do” list and I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that he would have accomplished this and all that he set out to do. I will never wonder what Billy would have become, because I already know…. an amazing husband and provider like his Dad… a loving, caring, nurturing father, who by the way would have helped cook many meals – he was a natural in the kitchen!
This website was created to celebrate Billy. As we cross each other’s path in life, we come to realize that our relationships and memories are the roots of our existence. The love we have for each other doesn’t end when our physical lives are over, the connection remains deep inside these roots. Although our lives are changed and saddened without his physical presence, we find solace in knowing that our lives wouldn’t have been the same without him. Billy’s courageous fight against a brain disease that only half our society understands, will fuel our purpose as we continue our lives bringing awareness to those who are affected. And while it’s expected for us to mourn the fact that he had many years of life ahead of him, we trust our great love and faith, knowing that Billy – our “tornado” of fun, humor, love, and joy wasn’t meant to live in torment and pain. We are somewhat comforted in knowing that his life was filled with so much love, and so many wonderful experiences. We can only hope that our lives include a moment in time when we, speaking hypothetically, “sack the quarterback!”
“It’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln