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A Eulogy for Peter Gallagher Jr.

Family remembers Oakton man killed in Vale Road crash

The following is the eulogy for Peter Gallagher Jr., given by his father Peter Gallagher Sr., his sister Maeve and his uncle George Braley. It is unedited.

The Gallaghers hosted a service Friday in honor of 22-year-old Peter, who died in a single-vehicle crash on Vale Road, at St. Mark Catholic Church.

"The service on Friday was beautiful and we are so thankful for the support we have received from the community," Gallagher Sr. said.

Memorial contributions may be made to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, namivirginia.org.


I am Peter's Dad. This is his beautiful sister, Maeve and his lovely uncle, George Braley.

  • We are here as a group to make sure we get through this – we will do it - tag team style if necessary…

Thanks:            

  • Father Pat/St. Marks Community – Nancy, Bill and Tim – all the volunteers here today and Wednesday – the beautiful choir…
  • Vale Club members who have put together a reception for all following this service… and the Vale United Methodist Church which is adjacent to the Vale Club for hosting the reception
  • Neighbors and friends, co-workers and colleagues…
  • The many childhood and high school friends of Peter
  • And our Family members, many who traveled so far

When things that - ‘only happen to other people’ – happen to you – you get the sadness but also the privilege to grasp just how important every good wish, handshake, hug, bowl of soup, cards and notes, wine, and above all prayers – really do to ‘raise you up….’ The support our family has received is overwhelming – including a full thanksgiving meal – and all of this is helping us deal with the shock and in the long term our recovery…

  • We want to thank all of you for joining us today – it really means everything to us.

Now I want to talk about my son, Peter Jr., also known as Pete, and much to his chagrin by the nickname ‘Kimble’ – this nickname was some sort of off-shoot that had its roots in Simba, the cub in Lion King. Peter was a very sweet person. He was reserved at first but generous with his ideas and feelings once he got to know you a bit. He was quite funny in a dry way. And he was a stubborn child – in a good way – he did march to the beat of his own drummer….

He really loved holidays and vacations - when he could see his cousins and everyone had some time to hang around and relax. He was looking forward to this Thanksgiving and especially Christmas when his Uncle Greg from Japan would be visiting.

I could talk about all the things we have done but instead I want to share with you his last day with us – last Saturday - the small things, the small acts that make up our lives

  • Peter woke up a bit late on Saturday – just after 10am – he wanted to eat breakfast out, as we often did on weekends, but I offered to make him breakfast instead.
  • He asked for “PB French” – that is short for Peanut Butter French Toast – a peanut butter sandwich soaked in egg batter and cooked on a pan like regular French toast and served with maple syrup.
    • He said it was crispier, not soggy like last time, and it represented one of my better efforts – a backhanded compliment - that was good.
  • We drove over to the Spokes bike store on Route 29 to pick up my 15 year old racing bike that had been rejuvenated with new tires and tape. We had just started to ride bikes on the W&OD trail – as an alternative to our regular weekend walks along the Great Falls Park towpath or “GFP” as he referred to these outings.
    • Peter commented that we should have done the bike repairs earlier before winter so we could ride more – it was bit cold today to ride.
  • There is a Starbucks nearby and after picking up the bike I went in for a latte as he lit up a cigarette outside. Peter said “get me a Vanilla Bean” – I knew his usual drink and would have gotten it anyway...
    • I said kidding, ‘hey, what’s the magic word’ – he paused for a few seconds and in typical fashion he found a way to be stubborn…
    • “P  L  Z” - he spelled it out slowly – he was not going to say the word “Please” thank you… Good one…
  • We talked about and made plans to see the new “Lincoln” movie Sunday afternoon at Tysons Corner, and maybe get a bite afterwards. He was a huge movie fan, a good critic, and over the last year I think he saw virtually every movie that had come out.
    • He asked me to make sure we invite Maeve and George & Margy (my sister). He was feeling pretty good.
  • Later that afternoon Dana’s brother from Atlanta, Richard, who was in town with his wife Kirsten, brought his boys over for a visit – Pete’s cousin’s Dillan and Caden are 8 and 10. They played around and it really made Pete laugh which was great to see.
  • Around 6 pm Dana and I were dressing to go into Washington for a charity event and Pete went out to rent a DVD…
  • As we were hurrying to get into DC Pete drove by us in the opposite direction on Vale road, heading home, and “beeped” us.
    • He immediately called us on the phone and asked if we saw him go by – he was on the speaker phone – Dana said we did hear the beep and we spoke for a moment.
    • He sounded good – he said ‘see you later’ – I said LUM – short for ‘Love You More’ – we tried always to say LUM… That was good.
  • This was our last conversation. The 911 call from a witness to the accident was recorded a few hours later at 8:56 PM.

Peter was starting to feel better and his last day on earth was a good one...

Maeve

Peter loved the Desiderata – a 300 word prose poem written by American writer Max Ehrmann. Desiderata is Latin for "desired things." A portion of the Desiderata is on the back page of your missalette. This poem hangs in our powder room and Peter loved the message – the balance between day-to-day responsibilities, but tempered by what is really important in life – and why each of us – why Peter - is precious.

Nurture the strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings…

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God.

We love you Pete! 

George

Peter’s family and mine have often seemed like one family with 4 parents and 5 kids since Peter Jr. was born.  Margy and I felt like we had five children instead of three and I know that Peter and Dana felt the same way.  So the loss of Peter has been very profound for all of us and still seems impossible just as I’m sure it does for you.  I recall so fondly our family trips to the beach every summer and the sheer joy all five kids felt at being in such a fun place with people who always loved them just the way they were and without reservation.  Maeve will always be a part of our family in this way – she was a great sister to Pete, she’s more than a cousin to my children, and more than a niece to me. She’s another wonderful daughter.

As Peter got older, we spent similar happy times on ski trips, days at King’s Dominion and we did everyday things like Friday night dinners at Old Sheebeen or bowling outings.  Peter and Dana appreciated the time I spent with Peter Jr., as he was struggling to find his way, but the truth is  I ENJOYED being with Peter because I loved him and he loved me back and because he was like a second son to me.  His honest perspective on life cut through any pretense, and reminded you always of what was truly important.

A week ago Monday, Peter and I went out to lunch and then on to the bowling alley.  Pete, his Dad and I usually bowled two games, but this most recent time he won the first game by two pins and told me that he didn’t feel like a second game.  He outsmarted me by quitting while he was ahead.  Little did he or I know that we wouldn’t have a chance to challenge each other again.  God how I wish we could.

I feel so privileged to have shared many wonderful times with Peter and I am sorry to say we also shared one bad habit, we both took up smoking cigarettes.  When we would walk outside to smoke we would sometimes refer to it as the walk of shame or more often let’s go smoke a stogie or simply, let’s stogify.  That was his sense of humor. It was quiet, and dry, and he delivered lines like this with a wry smile that was meant just for you. All of us who loved him felt so validated when he’d laugh or smile.

A couple of weeks ago we were sitting outside on the deck at my house and Peter comments on how pretty the crescent moon looked.  Tuesday night,  just a few days after his accident I was sitting in the same chair on my deck and looked up to see that the moon had grown from a crescent to a half moon and I thought how much had changed in just a half cycle of the moon.  I don’t think I will ever be able to look at the moon again without thinking of my wonderful nephew and friend Peter.

Peter Sr.

As many of you may know, and some of you may not, Peter had fallen ill just as High School came to a close. He was ecstatic his first few weeks at Christopher Newport University – the happiest he had ever been he said – but after a short time he dropped out and the full force of the Bi-Polar disorder began to have impact. He had what they used to call a nervous breakdown – something was wrong but the Doctors could not pinpoint a diagnosis - we did not know what it was. He changed quickly from happy to depressed. He withdrew from everyone, especially his friends, and he was confused at what was happening to him. He developed some paranoia and delusions thinking the medicine he was prescribed was bad for him. He took a few courses at NOVA but each semester became more difficult to focus and he stopped completely. He was hospitalized for extended periods 3 times over the last 2 years and was seeing a psychologist weekly for the last 4 years.

I want to recognize my wonderful wife. Dana is the best Mom a kid could have, especially in the tough situation Peter faced. She dove into the literature and pretty soon seemed to know more than some of the medical professionals advising us, and treating Peter. She worked with him every day as we tried to help Peter develop insight into his condition – that insight by the patient is a basic requirement for recovery. Dana worked and worked at making Pete’s life as happy as possible by providing structure, stability, and unconditional love.

The irony in this loss is that he was starting to feel better, reaching out to people again. His cousin, Colin Braley, the closest person to a brother that Peter had, mentioned that Pete was initiating on-line gaming sessions again. He was getting back to his sweet old self when this car accident took him from us. Pete is really a hero to us the way he stuck in there and kept fighting, despite the challenges he faced every day. And we thank all the counselors and medical professionals who helped Pete over the last few years.

Everyone has been so kind to us. Asking me ‘let me know what I can do - anything.” Well I do have one request for all of you. Please remember to treat mental illness like any other illness. Pete’s doctors often explained Mental Illness as something chronic, like Diabetes. You need medicine on a regular basis to control it but there is no cure. Don’t be afraid to talk about it, to help those with the disease realize it is not their fault they are sick and that they can get help. There are too many mentally ill people in jail, on the street, coming home from wars, or in other difficult situations. So, my request is to just talk about it – don’t be afraid – mental illness is a disease and we need to find better ways to treat it…

Again, thank you all for helping us through this today and for joining us in celebrating a wonderful boy’s life.

I know that our future Thanksgivings will not pass without a special moment of thanks and remembrance for the wonderful 22 years we were so lucky to have with Peter….

We wish you and your families many many happy Thanksgivings…

LUM Pete.

Terry Forester November 29, 2012 at 12:29 PM
My Dear Friends, I had been thinking about you and your lovely family for a couple days now, not knowing that Peter Jr. was in heaven with God. I thought about how much my son John enjoyed having Peter as a roommate in the hospital. He was the one friend he had there and after coming home he would randomly say, "I wonder how Peter is doing?" I am so sad to hear of his passing but grateful for a beautiful last day and words shared with his parents. My prayers will be with you and my heart goes out to you. God Bless you and comfort you in your loss. Much love, Terry Forrester (John Forrester's mother)
Suzanne Carpenter November 29, 2012 at 10:43 PM
It was an honor to be privy to the eulogy and have a glimpse into the short life of a young man whose loss I sense every time I drive or walk down Vale. I can only speak for myself and my family, but I believe the entire community grieves with the Gallaghers for their tragic loss.

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