My family began this New Year with a suicide.
On January 1st, 2021, my Uncle Frank (Francis Xavier Burns, Jr.) took his own life. He had been dealing with years of loneliness which had damaged his mental health.
I am aware that this is a departure from our normal blog content here at LG Gardening, but I think that so many people in this pandemic are suffering from terrible, crippling loneliness, that we should all pause and reflect. And then take action.
Could a phone call have prevented my Uncle’s suicide? Maybe I’ll never know. It’s been on my mind for the last week almost constantly, as I’m sure you can imagine.
I want to share with you, dear reader, that I wish to devote my 2021 to serving others who are suffering under the tyranny of loneliness. And I’ll ask you to join me in this task.
My brother, Dan, gave the most moving eulogy for our Uncle. It was, in my opinion, perfect in every particular. So, get ready to laugh and weep, my friends. I wanted to share it here, with you, as an honor to our Uncle Frank.
Eulogy for Francis Xavier Burns, Jr. – written by: Daniel Sestina
Francis Xavier Burns, Jr. Frank. Uncle Frank. Frank Junior. Frank the Tank. The Frankage. So many names, nicknames, memories, times, anecdotes and stories. So many people; friends, family members, random people have reached out to me with stories of laughter, fondness and condolences, shock and sadness.
I was fortunate to have spent so much time with my family and my extended family. I have so many memories. Being together with him. Our always lively Thanksgiving Day football matches, Easter Sunday running around at my Grandparents’ house looking for eggs and old Christmas music playing on records during the Holiday Season. I loved the Burns family reunions that we had almost every single August for years. I loved the stories that they told of our family history. I loved all the hard work that we did to prepare for the reunions. I remember Frank mowing the grass listening to music while he worked, either on his huge boombox or on his Walkman.
I remember looking up to him and all of my family members who were an inspiration to me in joining the military. He was always someone that I could level with especially as I got older, in my teens and my young adult life. I suppose we were so much alike in a lot of ways. Both very rebellious, stubborn, adventurous; both of us forged from the fires of our youth. We saw eye-to-eye on many things; long hair, grunge-style clothes; we probably looked as if we were in a band from Seattle. I remember him and my family coming to my soccer games. Even though he did not entirely understand the game, he cheered as if he was at the World Cup. Many hours were spent sitting on the porch and talking, listening to music in the cool summer evenings. All the stories of my Aunts and Uncles when they still lived in Cleveland, times that I only heard and never experienced firsthand. Stories where Frank once remarked after being punished by his father, “When I get big and you get little, I’m going to spank you!”
This year has been a mixed bag of unbelievably bad and very strange. From the onset of the pandemic, civil unrest and things we seldom see. Strange things like the Columbus Crew winning the MLS Championship, the Buckeyes headed to the College Football National Championship, and dare I say, the Browns in a Wild Card Playoff?!? Strange indeed. Coupled with a desperate world looking for a glimpse of Light at the end of the tunnel. All these things and more, Frank would have been ready to talk about, debate and ponder.
Frank’s hunger for knowledge led him to read an untold number of books…probably in the thousands. His ability to retain said knowledge was equally uncanny. The poor fella could barely walk and chew bubble gum, but his brain stored information like a hard drive. Now, anyone who knew Frank also knew that he was a rebel rouser. He loved to debate. About anything. Even if you were not interested in it. Chances were you were going to be wrangled into some sort of de facto discussion that had extreme undertones of an argument. Frank was a very smart guy, and often, incorrigible. There was a high probability that if he walked into a room, he was easily one of the smartest people there. He had all the hallmarks of intelligence too; often forgetting basic needs except for caffeine and nicotine. Contrary as he might be, he loved his family very deeply. His fondest memories were of times spent with loved ones. We often talked of those times and how we could not wait until we met again. Where we could once again sit and talk, face to face. He felt marooned in California. Far removed from what he cherished. He longed for his own Exodus, five years in the making. He was weary. And now, he is not. He has finally been led out of exile.
Frank was never short on humor or his ability to be entertaining. As avid fans of music, we went to concerts regularly. One time in particular, we were going to Columbus, Ohio for a live music outdoor festival. The drive to the concert was fraught with danger. Frank was attempting to read maps and navigate Interstate 71 simultaneously. Other motorists were expressing their displeasure with us. Hand gestures, yelling, horns, the whole nine yards.
“Whoops,” is all he replied.
Frank took in the atmosphere quite differently as well. At one point, the crowd was whipped to just short of a frenzy. A high energy song was announced next by the band. Our friends, Sean, and I readied for the chaos. But not Frank. He watched on as if he had heard nothing. We formed a make-shift shield wall like a Roman legion and suddenly the entire venue erupted into a swirling mass of fans. We braced for impact, but Frank was fully unaware of the now massive maelstrom swirling about. In about ten seconds flat…he became keenly aware. For about two minutes and forty-nine seconds, Frank appeared to be doing a new, bizarre form of burpees in twisted union with the other patrons…albeit inadvertently. He would grab his glasses and cup, struggle to his feet, leap up and then fall back down. We looked on helplessly from our strongpoint, like a herd of buffalos watching one of their own dancing with a pack of hyenas. When it was all over, Frank finally fixed his disheveled glasses peering down at his, now empty, grossly overpriced beer. He rather poignantly remarked, “I only had one sip of that beer. And I haven’t had grass stain on my knees since I was in the third grade.” The rest of the evening, he would only remark, “Oh, dear. Oh, dear.”
Bob Dylan was one of Frank’s favorites. “Blowin in the Wind” really stands out to me. The refrain, “The answer is blowing in the wind.” It seems that our struggles leave us weak and the solutions something ethereal, intangible, swirling around us. Unable to be acertained.
Do not believe it. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. Breathing new life into our lungs, the power to move us, even if It is not seen. Sometimes we feel like it’s hopeless. Well…that depends. What were you hoping in?
God’s grace and mercy and love is enough.
C.S. Lewis remarked, in his book, The Problem of Pain, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but more common and harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.'”
C.S. Lewis also said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Frank finally got to satiate his appetite for knowledge. He got to quench his thirst for justice. And he got to rest his weary heart in the Lord.
I will no longer be able to talk music, or sports or current events with Frank. By comparison all those things seem downright trite now. I would trade every song, every Championship, every Super Bowl, every World Series, every empty win, for one more day with him.
A book I started reading had this prayer in it, “Lord, I’m weary. I’m weary and tired. I’m discouraged. I don’t know how I’m going to do this again tomorrow. But I believe Your mercies are going to make this new when I wake up. I believe that I will never run out of Your steadfast love. I’m trusting that You have enough grace for me for what I face. I can rest now because I’m hoping in You.”
Frank, he had a lot to say. Sometimes, he had a lot of nothing to say.
And we’re going to miss him.
I’m going to miss you.
Mercy, peace and love be multiplied to you.