October 12, 1970 – August 7, 2019
When the Death Star destroyed the planet Alderaan, Obi-Wan Kenobi said: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”
That line played over and over in our minds in the days after we lost Sean. His death has left a huge disruption in our family Force.
If you knew Sean, you know he was a big fan of sci-fi, horror and classic films.
Movie memories take us all the way back to early childhood, back to home movies taken by our dad in Germany and Ohio and abridged Super 8 reels he had of a few horror movies — “Frankenstein,” “Tarantula” and “Attack of the 50-foot Woman.” We can still hear the whir of the movie projector motor as the images projected onto a wall in the dark.
A love of cinema stayed with Sean throughout his life. When Lisa planned a trip to San Francisco a few years ago, he told her she had to check out the historic John’s Grill restaurant, significant in Humphrey Bogart’s film-noir classic “The Maltese Falcon.” Of course, she did, telling him about it after she returned home.
Darth Vader said of Luke Skywalker, “The Force is strong with this one.”
Sibling rivalry was a strong force in our childhood relationships. For example, Sean NEVER missed an opportunity to point out that HE was the only planned child in our family of three children. Lisa and I were mere accidents.
Since there were three of us, the sibling dynamic was always two against one. The pairing of the two shifted — sometimes it was the two little brothers against the older sister; other times it was a sister and a brother ganging up on the outcast brother. Rare were the times of peace when we all three got along.
Sean loved to tell the story about the time when Lisa told him (according to HIS memory of this incident) that he could fly down the stairs of their townhouse apartment in Ashtabula. Needless to say, when a small Sean crashed into a bookshelf at the bottom of the stairs, it left our harried Mom throwing up her hands when Dad got home from work and asked what had happened.
As we grew older, we did grow to appreciate our strengths and differences, admiring the special skills that each of us had.
I remember drawing fantasy creatures with Sean, naming them and assigning them special powers. Sean was always better than me at this — his imagination was incredible. We also shared a love for watching Kung-Fu Theater on Saturdays and acting out the karate moves during commercial breaks. I was always better at this than Sean.
Sean was a smiley young boy, which contributed to our Uncle Don nicknaming him “Jive Turkey” when he was just a toddler.
Sean acquired a reputation for mugging for the camera in almost all family photos. An early topper may have been the time when he COMPLETELY shaved off his eyebrows, a la Bob Geldof in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” the day OF a scheduled family portrait. Eyebrow pencils were flying! And thankfully, I don’t think any evidence of that portrait session remains.
But looking back at a particular childhood photo, I wonder if Lisa and I weren’t bad influences on him:
We were sitting at a little table on our patio in Ashtabula, and Sean is the most normal-looking of the three of us kids. I’m making a crazy screwed up face and Lisa is waggling her fingers in her ears with Cheetos sticking out of her mouth.
Sean and Ann met when they worked together at Arby’s in Fresno. Sean proposed to her in 1989 and they married on Dec. 10, 1994. On their 20th anniversary, Sean wrote to Ann on Facebook, “Our engagement was five years of fun I will never forget or regret. … (Twenty years later,) the fun has not stopped with both of us enjoying the ride along the way.” This December, Sean and Ann would have celebrated their 25th anniversary.
Our borhter Sean had a huge heart. His feelings were always on the surface; he could laugh or cry instantly when happy or sad.
Our dad remembers one picture in particular from 1975: “We all were at the Indian Trails Park in Ashtabula. Sean had fallen in the river and hurt his hand. ln the photo, he is holding up his dirty hand to show where he hurt, tears standing out on his face.”
On a trip back to Ashtabula in 1994 with Dad and Grandma Bitler, grown-up Sean mugged for the camera, recreating the childhood moment:
Things touched him, people touched him deeply. He was always the most generous of us three kids, the readiest to give to others.
He worked at many places over the years. The blessing of this is the number of lives he would touch during his short lifetime. The presence of you all here today is a testament to that.
At one of his jobs, the PreSort Center, Sean helped mentor and tutor almost 20 of his younger colleagues who had not graduated high school to earn their GED. Rather than being proud of himself for what he did to help them, Sean expressed deep respect for what those young people accomplished in achieving that goal.
After his death, so many people shared stories on Facebook of how Sean had made their lives better — not only with the GEDs, but with letters of recommendation, help navigating the adoption system, encouraging them at low points, loaning them movies he knew they would love, and always, always, always making them laugh.
Your memories opened up a side of Sean’s life that we didn’t know that much about, but that obviously meant so much to him. We are thankful for all you have shared with us about Sean.
Sean finally found a perfect professional home for his computer and database skills a year ago, with World Wide Sires in Visalia. He was extremely happy there and proudly embraced his role with that company. His colleagues there were devastated when we lost him. We are truly thankful for knowing how appreciated Sean was with his colleagues there. That is a great comfort to us.
We all have our different memories of our times with Sean. For Dad, it was weekend afternoons while Sean was living at home during his college years when they’d roam around Fresno visiting book and record stores. Dad said, “I looked forward to those days and thoroughly loved spending time with him. They became the highpoint of my week, and I cherished them.”
After Sean’s death, Dad said, “I wish he would call me at or after my bedtime just one more time so I could remind him again about the three-hour time difference between California and Georgia.”
Lisa remembers Sean sharing his love of movies with his youngest niece, Katie. The first movie nights with her featured the original Star Wars Trilogy. Later, they worked their way through the Indiana Jones movies, classic horror films and various other films — “Jaws,” “Labyrinth,” “Sorry, Wrong Number” and Hitchcock classics “Rear Window” and “The Birds.”
I remember when we were little playing with Legos and Star Wars figures for hours on end. We shared a room growing up, so we were around each other constantly. Sean would often tell me stories and do shadow puppets on the wall to help me fall asleep. He was an awesome big brother.
Our Mom remembers his heart of gold, bigger than he was, always wanting to do for others and share a hug. His nephew Mikel and nieces Alyssa, Shayna and Katie can attest to his “rib-crunching bear hugs with lots of love.” And Sean took time almost every evening to call and check in on our Mom.
Please take comfort that Sean doesn’t have to feel pain any longer. His suffering is over now. Thankfully, he went the way we all say we would want to go — peacefully, in our sleep.
As our Mom said, we love him dearly and miss him terribly. But every day that goes by, we can still feel him right beside us, walking with us. Though his time with us on this earth has ended, he will live on as long as we continue to share his stories and our memories.
If we do that, Sean’s Force will be with us, always.