Posted January 17, 2011 by jimhigley
Today would have been my brother Kevin’s 56th birthday. He died when he was 46.
Kevin was just the best. He really was. You would have liked him. And, I promise, no matter who you are, Kevin would have found something about you to connect to.
I recently stumbled upon the eulogy I was honored to share with the hundreds of Kevin’s friends, family and colleagues who gathered to say good-bye to him after his brave battle with brain cancer for 18 months. It was handwritten on a small, four inch by six inch legal pad. I forgot I even had it. Reading it now, I realize how none of my emotions have changed in these last ten years.
So, in a very big departure from the typical content you find here, I wanted to share with you those words because, quite honestly, I am still so very proud to call this man my brother.
A few months ago, Kevin and I spent the day tiling the master bathroom in his home. It was one of those projects that had long been on his “To Do” list.
So, we tiled the bathroom and had a simply wonderful day together. Meticulously thinking through each detail. Laughing about which mistakes his wife, Lucy, would let slide by and which one’s we’d have to redo. It was a great day.
By dinnertime, we were exhausted. Our stomachs said we were hungry but our bodies said we were too tired to go out. We couldn’t turn to Lucy because she had wisely escaped the house while we made a disaster on their second floor.
Being the resourceful guys we are, we let our fingers do the walking—and we ordered Chinese food. Little did I know the significance that meal would bring us.
After dinner, Kevin said, “Hey, they sent fortune cookies. You want one? I know I could use some good luck about now.”
So I told him to go first.
He broke open the cookie. Pulled out the tiny white paper. He read it to himself. And he didn’t move.
“Kevin?” I said to him. And then he looked slowly up to me. With tears in his eyes. He then handed me the paper.
It read: You will live a long life. But you will never grow old.
It was a moment in which time stopped. And all we could do was look each other with tears pouring from our eyes.
Then Kevin, being Kevin, broke the tension and said, “Hey, maybe that’s a good way to look at all of this.”
You will live a long life. But you will never grow old.
Kevin was certainly not given the blessing of growing old. But, without question, he was given a long life.
At our father’s funeral just a couple years ago, I stood here and talked about how each one of my brothers and I carried away a special trait of Dad’s. I said that Kevin had Dad’s compassion.
Later that day, at the cemetery, Kevin teasingly pulled me aside and said, as he pulled my ear up to his mouth, “Nice eulogy. But I wanted Dad’s sense of humor. Compassion’s so boring.”
But he had it. And he knew it.
If there was an underdog, Kevin would be there to help. If you were ever in need, Kevin was the best person to have around.
He seized moments to have an impact on other people whether he knew them or not. He had an equal opportunity heart. I know many of you have been the recipient of Kevin’s compassion:
Heck, I vividly remember the time Kevin rallied a bunch of his photo buddies together in Rochester to reshingle their secretary’s roof. The reason? She was a nice lady and Kevin wanted to help her out.
I’m sure you can all add great stories to Kevin’s list of kindnesses.
He lived his life guided by very basic principles:
Kevin would tell you these were the lessons that he learned from our dad. We talked about these specific things many times over the last 18 months. He viewed them as the core qualities of living a good life.
On a brotherly front, Kevin would be disappointed if I, at least, didn’t mention the one and only haircut I gave him. That would be the night before his wedding. He had asked me to give him a trim.
“Sure!” I told him.
Hey, he never asked me if I knew what I was doing. The details don’t matter but it all ended with him chasing me down the street with some large kitchen utensil in his hand.
I outran him.
As most of you know, Kevin was the middle child in a family of five boys. His older brothers, Tom and Dad, were three years his senior. Mick was born a year and a week after Kevin. And then I followed—about four-and-a-half years after Mick.
Kevin’s childhood was centered around Mick. They were usually together doing all of the things young boys did in Fremont, Nebraska in the sixties. I always felt like we had two sets of twins in our family: Tom and Dave followed by Kevin and Mick. Two pairs that naturally went together.
Jaycee football. Little League baseball on the Ritchie Dairy team. Their neighborhood famous lawn mowing business, wiffleball, neighborhood games. Mick and Kevin would tell you that their childhood together was not
hing short of perfect.
Our mom referred to Kevin as her “Favorite Helper.” And I have such vivid memories of him helping her in the kitchen, stirring cookie dough or whipping mashed potatoes.
He was great in the garden. The truth of the matter was that there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.
It’s no wonder Mom was crazy about him.
One of my favorite Kevin stories my mom used to tell included me. Apparently as a newborn, I had pretty bad sleep habits. And my nighttime feedings were all over the board. Well, one night, my mother woke to pure silence—causing her heart to stop. Running into my nursery she was expecting a blue baby. Instead, she found a five-year-old Kevin. Leaning against the crib, with his hand through the rails. Feeding me a bottle that he prepared all by himself. And, he did that night after night.
What mother wouldn’t love a kid like that?
But Kevin also was the one Higley brother who pushed the limits on the fairly conservative world of our mother and father. Be it the length of his hair, his choice in music, or his sense of style, Kevin was always venturing into new territory for us Higley boys.
From my sideline vantage point, I was cheering him on recognizing that I would forever be a direct beneficiary to his accomplishments.
Kevin’s love for photography started with a little starter kit from Snow’s Camera here in Fremont. He was a pre-teen and I’m pretty sure that all he could do originally was process small contract sheets. Kevin quickly consumed himself in this new interest—buying an enlarger, and setting up a pretty professional looking darkroom in our basement. I would spend hours and hours at his side watching him process film and make prints.
Just a few weeks ago, Kevin told me about the day he realized that he could maybe make it as a photographer. He had gone to a concert with his buddy, Greg. Of course, he had his camera with him. The following week he brought some of his prints in to his journalism teacher at Bergan High School to share. Upon looking at them, she turned to Kevin and said, “Wow! You’re really good. Kevin, you have a talent and could go far!”
Kevin told me that day changed his life because he believed in himself. And he never changed course.
Seeing the world through his camera gave Kevin opportunities that we all marveled at:
And whenever Kevin told me about one of these “celebrity” assignments, I always thought to myself how lucky they were to meet Kevin.
But through his lense, what truly captured Kevin’s heart were the simple stories. The literally thousands of people he covered who were like you or me. And, many times, those who were far less fortunate. Those were the people Kevin could really connect to.
The last day I spent with Kevin, we went out for coffee at a Barnes and Noble. We sat there for hours and I simply listened to him tell me what it was like to be a photographer. He said most people were pretty nervous when he showed up. But he said he would never pull out his camera until he spent time talking to people. Specifically, he said he always wanted people to feel that they were really interesting to Kevin. And, I know they all felt Kevin’s genuine nature. You could feel it in every picture he took.
During that same day at Barnes and Noble, we also talked about children. We talked about the differences in the world today compared to the world the five of us experienced in Fremont. While he had no children of his own, Kevin could relate to kids in the most real and magnetic way. His nieces and nephews adored him. He was the cool uncle. He had the cool toys. He drove the cool cars. And he lived the cool life. But, more important to them, he always was there for them.
And, through it all, the center of Kevin’s world was always—and forever—his wife, Lucy. It’s truly hard to remember our Higley world without her. You see, the twins never really dated in high school so Lucy, who was Kevin’s first love, was our family’s first real exposure to girls.
Best friends. Period. I can’t think of any words more perfect to honor their partnership of thirty-some years.
Kevin told me that when he felt the weight of his illness was almost too much for him, he’d always tell himself that things could be worse: it could be his Lucy who was sick. He told me that as long as he knew she was safe, he would endure anything.
My brother Mick shared a lasting image with me when we first learned about the seriousness of Kevin’s illness 18 months ago. He said that every life is like a book. Some are long. Some are short. And, he reminded me that a long book doesn’t always mean that it’s a good book. Some long books—and lives—are filled with pain, bitterness and real sorrow. Maybe it’s a long life that is void of love. He told me it looks like Kevin was going to be one of those great, yet short books.
The kind that hits your heart with every page of every chapter. And, just when it’s getting really good, you find yourself on the last page. Desperately wanting more. And so incredibly moved by all that you’ve absorbed.
Well, it’s been a great book, Kevin.
Every story in every chapter.
What a prophetic message in that silly little fortune cookie.
You will live a long life. But you will never grow old.
You did live a long, full life, Kevin.
And, even though you didn’t get to grow old, having you in our life as our friend, our neighbor, our colleague, our nephew, our cousin, our uncle, our in-law, our brother, our son and our husband…that, my dear brother, Kevin, will forever be our good fortune.