I’m close to Junior Seau. By that I mean I live just across the street from the cemetery, Eternal Hills in Oceanside, California, where he is interred. Today, May 2nd , marked the one-year anniversary of his tragic and sudden death by his own hand.
Today at his gravesite was very different from when they laid him to rest there last May 11th and sang at his morning funeral service the soulful song “Gone Too Soon.” Today was a “celebration” of Junior and his life, not a time of mourning as was related by the Samoan preacher at the service.
It was a beautiful, sunny day in Oceanside, California–a day Junior would have appreciated probably on the beach near his home surfing and having fun, smiling and greeting everyone he met out on the water. Instead, Junior lies in his grave, but he was not alone there. Not today anyway. More than two hundred people showed up to pay their respects and honor his memory, a largely Samoan crowd of family and friends, the men dressed colorfully in lava lavas and the women in beautiful, bright dresses.
At and around the grave were pictures of Junior in happier days, many colorful and beautiful flower arrangements, and his number 55 jerseys from both USC and the San Diego Chargers nicely framed and looking as if he had just taken them off after a press shoot.
I quickly recognized his mother and father and was immediately stricken by the difference in their demeanor this day as compared to nearly a year ago. Today they were smiling and greeting everyone who came to honor their son. There were hugs, and kind offerings for all. Last year, the same site was one of grief, sorrow, tears, and feelings of the immense loss the Seau family–and friends–had endured so suddenly and unpredictably. Today they were celebrating life–theirs and Junior’s–and doing so with dignity.
A local Samoan preacher gave a sermon of sorts, much of it in Samoan, and remarked at one point, “It is not important how long you live, but how well you live.” He emphasized that Junior had done just that: lived a live full of giving and helping others, a life characterized by happiness that everyone around him knew and shared.
Junior’s former wife, Gina, and his youngest son were there. There was no indication the other children had attended. Although they divorced after eleven years of marriage, they remained close. She looked as radiant and beautiful as ever wearing a Chargers powder-blue baseball hat. She held a small, potted flower in her arms during the ceremony and later placed it at the grave.
I did note that there was only one television station there, San Diego’s Fox News 5, reporting–not live, but filming a segment for tonight’s news. I will not miss it. The comely blond reporter claimed to be a very close friend of Seau’s.
I noticed one large fellow standing close to the ceremony. I deduced he was a former footballer and wondered who he was. The Fox News reporter related that he was a very close friend of Juniors who played football with him in the 1990s. I later discovered him to be Mark Walczak who now lives in Arizona. However, he journeyed here for this day saying he couldn’t miss it.
I was rather shocked that no other players were there. Many of them live close by somewhere in the San Diego area. I am very surprised, considering his popularity among his peers, that not a one took the time to honor their friend today.
The ceremony ended and the traditional Samoan ritual of passing out leis and lava lavas began. All of his close friends were invited to step up to the gravesite and receive one from the family as a thank you for attending. I was tempted to do so, but I really did not qualify as a close friend, although I had met Junior on several occasions finding him to be as all had depicted him–generous with his time and delightful in his shaking of my hand as if we were lifelong “buddies” as he often called anyone he met.
A year has passed and life goes on. Much is happening in the matter of Junior’s brain studies and several lawsuits have been filed on his behalf against the National Football League for his apparent brain damage while playing football. But today that was all put aside to remember a great and loving man who gave all he had to family and friends alike.
Yes, it was most surely a beautiful day at Eternal Hills Cemetery–one that Junior would have appreciated and relished. He is still missed very much, and that feeling will endure for a very long time. That was abundantly apparent.
At the very end of the ceremony, Junior’s brother thanked everyone for attending and then said all were invited to his Mom and Dad’s house for further festivities. Knowing Samoans a bit and their love of festivities that will be some party in honor and remembrance of Junior! I’d loved to have gone, if only for the food.