requiescat in pace christopher j. o’connell

Editor’s Note: This was read as part of a memorial mass this afternoon for my brother who died on October 28, 2010.

Thank you everyone for coming today. Thanks for the calls, conversations and remembrances about Christopher.

Special thanks for Monsignor Mack for serving as our celebrant, Frank Scinta and the St. Louis Church choir for helping with the music and Linda O’Connell who has been so selfless in planning this funeral with our family, especially Mary, Michael and myself.

There are so many broken hearts among us today. While we truly celebrate Chris’ new life in heaven, we are a selfish lot and are sad for ourselves and our loss. I certainly join I you in that emotion.

Yet while it is hard to make sense of a tragic, accidental death like Chris’- dealing with the hurt of knowing we’ll not see him here again on earth- I am amazingly heartened to have experienced the joy that Chris brought to so many people throughout his life as told to me by so many friends.

Fortunately, all of us here today have many examples of “Chris Stories” that you have shared and I hope will always share with your friends and family and us for years to come.

Just to prime the memories pump, I’ll recount a story from Chris’ grammar school days (about 2nd grade, I think) right next door at Saint Mark School. Chris called my Mom from school one day and said he wasn’t feeling well and wanted to come home. My Mom drove over to the school and Chris was standing out front, waiting for her. When they got home, Mom told him to go lie down in his room and as he left, Chris asked if he could have a PB&J for lunch. This gave my mother pause; if he wasn’t feeling so well, he had a pretty good appetite.

Then the phone rang and it was Sr. Joan of Arc, the school principal asking my Mom if she had picked up Chris because no one at St. Mark’s knew where Chris was. He hadn’t said anything to anyone at the school about leaving. Realizing now that Chris wasn’t sick, my Mom said she’d bring Chris back to school right away. Sister said no, she would come pick Chris up herself.

A few minutes later, when the doorbell rang, my Mother asked Chris to answer the door. He causally opened the door and there stood the tall, very imposing figure of Sister Joan of Arc in full black and white habit, staring down at him. The jig was up! And back to school he went.

That story is an important part of O’Connell dining room history. History is a fancy word for memories and at the end of the day and at the end of our lives, it is that cumulative memory of our lives that live past our earthly days and are hopefully shared with future generations.

Most of us here knew of Chris’ Buffalo and Crescent Beach history but we didn’t know a lot about his life in Florida, which he kept fairly private. This week when I went down to Deerfield Beach to settle some of his affairs, I got to meet only some of the people who were a part of Chris’ life in Florida. I hope it will hearten you to know, as it did me, that people were just as fond of Chris there as they were here. That fact made me feel a bit better.

Because there were likely so many folks in Florida, whom I do not know individually, I felt compelled to write a letter that I cannot send, yet I mean every word. I’m guessing I could probably insert “Buffalo” instead of “Florida” in this letter and the meaning and sentiment would be the same.

Dear Florida Friends,

I write you today from inside St. Mark’s Church, in Buffalo, New York, a church that has meant a lot to my family. It was here in 1952 that our parents were married and our O’Connell family began. My sister Mary and brothers Michael and Chris were baptized here (me too) and we said goodbye to many family members here, as we now say goodbye to Christopher – our brother and your friend.

This is a thank you note from my family and from me especially. On my trip to Florida this week to settle some of Chris’ affairs, you all could not have been more kind and certainly you were all gracious. Thank you so much for that.

Chris held dear his privacy in Florida and so my family only knew you as names and sometimes not even that much. But on this trip you offered me the greatest gift I never expected. While sharing your sorrow at the news of his death, you confirmed for me something I always knew but was glad to hear again – how Chris brought joy to your lives, happiness to your days, friendship in your time together.

You see here in Buffalo, we knew all that. We could trade stories with you for days on Chris. I have a church full of people in front of me right now who could tell you of Chris kindness to others, his generosity, his selflessness. His parents taught him well. But because he didn’t share a lot about his life in Florida, I wasn’t sure if Christopher had changed his ways when he moved down there, maybe, I thought, he had become a different person. Clearly, he had not.

There is a film clip my Dad shot when Chris was about four or five years old and he is walking outside of our old house on Morris with happy, carefree abandon that all children should have. Chris walked right up to my Father and the camera with the most joyous smile and had a happy, giggly conversation. There was no sound on the film but it really wasn’t needed…the images told the story.

You know that smile from the film, don’t you? The childhood smile with the bright eyes I’m describing is the same smile you knew from Chris the adult. Along with his friendly demeanor, it’s the smile that helped make you friends with Chris, creating new stories, Florida stories that – when told – will help ease your sadness though this difficult time. Special memories of a special person.

His wasn’t a perfect life but I don’t know anybody who hasn’t slogged through life’s travails. Like here in Buffalo, though, with Chris you all took the good with the bad, the happy with the sad. It’s part of the deal when you are friends, family and siblings. Hopefully the support you and we offered (which was sometimes accepted and sometimes not) helped Chris get as far as he did for as long as he did. Thank you, Florida friends, for helping to take care of our friend and brother and for letting me know that you were as happy in his presence as he was in yours.

Sincerely, your new friend, Peter.

I have often said (not originally I’m sure) that life is a gift, not a guarantee. None of us are sure when our last day on earth will be and Chris didn’t know either. But he left us behind to remember not the challenges of his life but the enjoyment of his life. Those moments he gave to each of us individually and collectively that injected happiness, hope, opportunity, understanding and love where maybe it didn’t exist before or maybe it just got that much better.

Many of you have so kindly asked “is there anything I can do” to help our family in this sorrowful time. Today I will say yes there is. Your help is needed and I must insist you do the following not just today but for many days to come (now aren’t you sorry you asked?)

Say a prayer every day for the next 9 days. A mini-novena of sorts; the prayer can be about whatever you want, for whomever you want. Maybe spend about a minute but it can be longer. Nothing formal…you think it or say it however you please. But pray you must if you want to help our family as you’ve said you would.

With my sincere thanks, I’ll leave you now with the one I came up with:

Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our brother, our uncle, our cousin and our friend. And under your watchful and loving eyes Lord, and those of Christopher’s parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends who have gone before him – may Christopher now be granted the peace he so richly deserves in heaven. Amen.

– Peter K. O’Connell
November 5, 2010

3 Responses to “requiescat in pace christopher j. o’connell”

  1. oh, peter…

    i take no satisfaction in being able to say i know exactly how you feel…right down to meeting the friends who ultimately knew my brother better than i did in the years before his own accidental death…and silent photographic images of a beaming smile on a little kid from another time.

    i wish i could have been as eloquent as you.

    may the hurt hurt less every day.


  2. Peter,

    My heart sorrows with yours.

    Your friend,

  3. Hi RG,

    Thank you for sharing that…sadly you and I are probably not the only ones who go through stuff like this and it’s a shame. But adults who have their challenges in life will only accept so much help (or none at all) and you have to step back and let them lead their lives on their own terms. You WANT very badly to push them out of the way of the train but sometimes you just can’t. I share your sentiment in that I hope it hurts less for you everyday too.


    Thank you very much for your kind heartfelt words, I appreciate it.

    Best always to you both,
    – Peter