Eulogy written and given by Warren F. Mulhern, brother of Jim Mulhern
James Michael Mulhern
Everyone in this room loved Jim in their own special way. It was easy to do; Jim was a lovable guy. Jim possessed a kind, generous, gentle spirit and a mellow soul. He had a child-like innocence that he never lost and people were drawn to him because of it, like moths to the light. I remember when we organized Jim’s bachelor party. It was going to be a real guy’s night. The evening was to commence at an enormous arcade in Somerville where they had booze, pool and every video game that you could imagine. As we pulled up out front in the limo-tram, the atmosphere was electric with the promise of devil-may-care fun in the offing. Jim got out of the van and spied a Home Depot across the parking lot. “Hey, can we go over there for a few minutes?” he asked in utter seriousness.
That was just who Jim was. His family came first; his wife, his soul mate whom he adored from the moment he first laid eyes on her, those two adorable girls whom he treasured above everything in his world, his mom on whom he doted, his siblings, nieces and nephews whom he cherished, his network of friends whom he treated so that every one of them felt that they were part of his extended family, and even Fred, his dog. Jim always put other people first and everybody could just sense that.
I’m the luckiest man in the world, because Jim was my little brother. I know that you all feel like Jim was your little brother, because that’s how Jim made people feel, but Jim really was my little brother. And my little brother taught me a lot. For one thing, he taught me how to forgive. I can flash back to Christmas Day, 1963. Little toddler Jim – with his head too big for his little body – was going on two and I must have been seven. Well, Santa Claus brought me the miniature slot race track that I’d been dreaming about for 364 days and within the first five minutes of play, little Jim took his – what would grow to be size 13 clodhoppers – and stomped on the control center, destroying the entire toy like Godzilla crushing Tokyo and now some 43 years later, I’m finally beginning to forgive him.
Jim was quick to forgive; I can flash forward a year or so. Jim’s 3 and I’m about 8. We are sitting on the front porch of 198 Park Street in West Roxbury. My mother had just given each of us a small box of Sun Maid raisins. A few minutes later, Jim went running into the house to report to our mom that I “had stuck a raisin up his nose and it wouldn’t come out.” Well, four hours and a couple of hundred dollars later, we were sitting in the Emergency Room of the Faulkner Hospital with the ER physician poking around in Jim’s nose with a fancy extended tweezers. After he finally pulled it out, he turned to me and asked me why I had done it and I responded, “Well, it was the last one in the box and I didn’t know what to do with it!” But Jim was quick to forgive me because that’s the way Jim was.
Jim was a very bright guy and an avid reader. He was very well-read and could speak intelligently on any subject – politics, military history, science. One story my sisters loved to tell was the Saturday he set out to take his SAT test. Jim had signed up to take the typical Math and English test that usually lasts about four hours. When Jim didn’t appear after five or six hours, everybody started getting nervous. He finally showed up some eight hours after he left and his sisters gathered around him, relieved that he was all right. Where had he been, they asked. He replied that after he took the regular Math and English tests, he realized that it was the same price no matter how many exams that you took, so he sat for the Physics Achievement Test. “But you’ve never taken Physics!” his sister blurted out. “But I always wanted to…” he replied. He ended up in the 90th percentile for Physics students.
Jim’s life can be broken down into phases. He had his hippie phase, his military phase, his sailboat phase. Jim would attack every phase with full bore. Not many people know about his Tae Kwon Do phase. Jim took what is one of the most aggressive martial arts – Korean kick boxing – and he became so proficient at it that he fought in full-contact matches in Madison Square Garden and came back with trophies bigger than his daughter Arian. I don’t think I ever told Jim that sometimes in my life when I needed courage to face my fears, I used Jim for inspiration. I’d think of the guts Jim had to get in the ring or the nerve he showed in the Army when they stuck him in a hut full of CX gas and made him pull off his gas mask and sit still until the stuff overcame him and made him vomit. Jim taught me how to be brave.
Jim was everybody’s IT department. With Jim in your life, you always had a safety net, somebody who would absolutely be there for you if and when you really needed it. Riding over to Jim’s house on the day he died, my wife reminded me about the time when we had just left Jim and Barbara’s after our usual lengthy visit and apparently one of our tires was almost flat. We made it to the Sacred Heart School which is about a quarter of a mile from their home when we had to pull over, the thumping was so loud. I jumped out of the car wondering, of course, where I left my jack, and who comes around the corner but Jim, with a huge industrial-strength jack. He said, “I thought you’d make it about this far! I saw how low your tire was when you pulled out of the driveway.” He proceeded to change the tire and in five minutes, we were on our way. That’s just who Jim was – always thinking about other people.
It was touching how much Jim loved his two little girls. I was over at Jim’s house one day and I found a book on the Chinese language. When I asked him about it, Jim told me that he was trying to learn the language so that he could make sure that the girls stayed in touch with their roots. When I asked him aren’t there 80,000 symbols in the Chinese language, he told me “Yeah, but you only need to know a couple of thousand to be proficient.” I still have the image of Jim, a white kid from West Roxbury, trying to learn 2,000 Chinese characters just because he thought that it might benefit his two daughters in five or ten years. That’s how Jim was.
Jim was very aware of his mortality. He would corner me and give me a lecture on looking out for my health. “We aren’t puppies any more!” he would say. “You have got to make sure you are there for your kid…”
Jim wasn’t very religious but he was deeply spiritual. The last time he got together with the whole family was Easter Sunday and the discussion turned to his mother who is 84, and where her final resting place would be. We all knew that our dad was buried in Malden but nobody knew exactly where, until Jim piped up. “I know exactly where it is; I go there all the time!” said Jim. Several people owned up that Jim had actually taken them there or “dragged them there!” as they put it. We had all forgotten over time, but not Jim. He was loyal as a lap dog to those he loved.
Buddhists believe that the spirit never leaves this mortal coil, it just changes shape. Surely Jim’s indomitable spirit will never leave us. It will be there in the pretty smiles of those two beautiful girls as they grow into beautiful women, don the robes of graduation, walk down the aisle to marry the love of their lives and have their own lovely children who will never get to call Jim “Grandpa”. It will be there in the proud expression and the determined jut of the jaw of their mom, Barbara, the unabashed love of his life. It will be there in the way Barbara’s loved ones support and succor her. Not just in the coming days, weeks and months when it’s easy to stay focused, but in the coming years, decades and scores of years when the potholes appear in the road of life. It will be there in the euphoric cheers that attend a big play in Gillette Stadium, or when you come to the aid of a perfect stranger in the street just because you detected a note of desperation in their eyes. It will be there when you hug your children or your loved ones as you go out the door – hug them like it’s the last time you’ll ever see them, because one thing Jim’s death has taught us is that someday, maybe all too soon, you will be right.
Jim’s death has taught us the difference between coincidence and irony. It is coincidence that Jim’s death is so eerily similar to our dad’s at the same age, but it’s ironic that a heart attack ended the life of a man with a heart of gold bigger than the majestic Canadian Rockies above Banff that he was so thrilled to witness with the woman he loved.
Jim’s demise teaches us to hold each moment dear, that life is fragile. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and we never know how the road bends just beyond the horizon. Our lives are richer for having had Jim play a part in it, just as the world is a little poorer for having lost him so prematurely. But, alas, our loss is Heaven’s gain.