Death and its Life Lessons


Bird of Paradise - A Eulogy for John Penuelas

John, you were a beautiful Bird of Paradise. Your plumage: regal, brilliantly colored, and adored by all. Upon closer review, you were also gorgeous inside: sensitive, insightful, and oh-so welcoming. A kindred spirit, instantly I liked you and hoped we’d became fast friends.


It was as if I’d always known you. Both from the same era, our conversations merged gently, sometimes rapidly, but always in congress. Unlike me, you were a great listener, and didn’t need to convince others that you were cool. Somewhere between James Dean and David Lynch, you had the ‘It’ factor. Will always remember when you rolled into Three Jewels with this beautiful brunette. For those two minutes before you introduced me, my jealousy whispered, “Has to be his daughter and she’s probably fat under that sweatshirt.” Coolly, you said, this is my girlfriend Aida. I looked over at her, the sweatshirt now off, and thought, “You Mother Fucker.”

Both sober, and sort of taking this thing they call “spirituality” out for a test drive, we began to walk the path together. Because I was sober longer, and you more comfortable with whom you were, you let me play the lead. You knew my ego needed an audience, and boy, you alone made me feel as if my words had real meaning. I thank you for that. But everyone knows Don Quixote was nothing without Poncho Sanchez, Batman, a mere shell without, Robin. And, Sherlock Holmes, most likely, lost into literary abyss without, Doctor Watson.

When you heard that I’d be leading Tuesday morning meditation, you were the first to stand up and cheer. You texted me, “I’ll try to levitate for moral support.” I texted back, “Cool! We’ll both be famous if you do.” You texted back “Set up the camera then!” And, a few minutes later, you sent another text that said, ”…and the metal bars and rigging.” It was perfect comedic timing. I remember laughing hard out loud. It was Thursday February11th around 5:45pm. I was working my normal volunteer shift at the Three Jewels and a few early AA members looked at me as if I was off my rocker. The laughter warmed my insides. I knew then I had found a good friend.

In the distance, I heard a crash. You had broken your sobriety. You said you were okay, texting, “Oh well, that’s life.” But I worried. You were so proud of those hundred days and finally living life substance free. You said, you’d get it back, texting, “Will be a breeze surpassing it this time.” But you never did. Soon after, life’s mighty stream carried you away. You never made a sound.

John, last night, I sat at your memorial service. It felt more like a dream. Your family, and the people that really knew you, were crushed. They had lost their sidekick too. Their eulogies reiterated how special you were to them. You were the one that listened to them, the one that made them feel special, and the one person they knew that really cared.

For some reason, I didn’t feel right grieving there. I just stared at your wonderful paintings and pictures wishing you were there to explain them all to me.

john6My sadness came a few hours later during meditation at the Three Jewels. In silence, a voice whispered, “Brian, you know you’ve lost a good friend?” Trained now, I sat with the sadness and didn’t push it away. It fluttered between my heart and my belly, saying, “Brian, now that you’re sober, you can take it. Grieving, is what it truly means to be human, and alive. John had sent me a life lesson. For that, I’m thankful.

As meditation ended, my eyes opened to a picture of John on the Altar. I hadn’t noticed it when I’d sat down. It was from 1985, his crazy hair, long like a lion’s mane, a bird of paradise, outlining his handsome expressionless face as he held palette in hand and attended to his beautiful painting. I wondered what was on your mind.

As I stood, I looked at your picture again, John. This time it was your voice, it came to me loud and clear, “Enjoy the ride, Folks…it’s all we have.”


Written by Brian Cooney