Erik Barret tribute -- December 29, 2012
By Liz Sobolik
First of all, all our family are touched by your presence here as we remember Erik Barret and what a unique person he was, and such a precious part of our family.
He was our parent’s first born child. Erik with a “k, which is the Norwegian spelling, and also the name of a Viking king. Born in 1960 my parents were advised to put him in an institution, told that he’d never really be able to achieve much. They never considered that option, brought him home, and enjoyed Erik who turned out to be the happiest baby. You know that those with Down syndrome possess an extra chromosome and I wonder if that little extra makes them such gentle people to be around.
Growing up, Erik was just a normal part of our lives. He loved to tease. I used to put my hair up in pink foam rollers at night (a lot) and Dad would call me Ruth Buzzi (an old TV character). Well, Erik loved tiptoe-ing over to me and whispering “Ruth Buuuu-zzi” cracking up when I’d yell “stop!” Of course, telling him to stop only egged him on.
He loved to sing and play guitar. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know how read music or sing the words with the correct rhythm, he did it with all his heart. Our cousin Ashley wrote a few days ago:
He loved music and would sing Elvis and Glen Campbell songs any chance he could get. My fondest memory of him was his version of Glen Campbell’s "Little Green Apples" sung very loudly while strumming his guitar
That’s so true. He performed at talent shows as Elvis or George Strait and belted out songs. He danced at weddings like a pro. He relished good food. Mom took him to Disneyworld for his 40th birthday and I tagged along. He pointed to the scariest possible ride and said “Hey, let’s go”. Oh my goodness. If there was a dog in the room, the dog would seek Erik out because the best lovin’ any dog could get would be got right there.
When I became engaged, Erik really bonded with Mike. The first time that the 3 of us went to lunch was to Grandy’s in Irving. Mike wanted to chat and get to know him but Erik had chicken fried steak and gravy and a hot roll sitting in front of him. So, he calmly said to Mike, “Eat now, talk later”. It must not have worked very well because he then looked for another way to get us to let him eat in peace. He said “Mike, look at Liz, Liz, look at Mike!”
Erik was also thoughtful to the ladies or “yadies” as he said. He’d hold the door open for us saying “Yadies first” smiling, with his arm extended like you were royalty. One woman who worked with Erik in his group home in Brownwood told me that Erik would watch for her every morning just so he could hold the door open for her when she arrived.
Erik never met a stranger. He was the best welcome committee you could want. A new family would move into the neighborhood in Irving and he’d ride his bike over and introduce himself. His choir performed at a large religious convention at he’d go right up to important people and shake all their hands just enjoying meeting them. He’d say “Hi, I Erik”. Speaking of that, he loved calling his friends and family after work. He was living in Irving or in Brownwood, he’d call with his little stutter, “Hi dis is Erik, How you been doin?” Sometimes he’d call and inform me “Liz, it gonna rain” … or sometime in October, “ Liz, my birthday --- iz comin - April 23”. Making sure we didn’t miss it. Or he’d call and tell me something that someone wanted him to do that he didn’t want to do (usually involving something not very pleasant) and he’d end the comments with “I don’t like that!” Despite his handicap, he defined himself, had his own mind and made his wishes clear. But the calls I’ll remember most from him were, twice a year, to tell us that we’d better remember that daylight savings was coming. There should have been a national role that Erik could have filled for “Daylight Savings Time Enforcer”. He told everyone about it, every day multiple times a day, concerned they would miss it and their watches would be wrong. Erik loved his watch, especially knowing it had the correct time.
His watch also played a huge role in him being such a model employee in the Irving hospital, dependable, conscientious and extremely punctual for 27 years.
When his work day was done, he’d go home get his favorite cold soda, sit in his recliner, let out a huge, contented sigh, happy to rest after such a physically demanding workday. He was on his feet all day at the hospital collecting linens from every floor, lifting large bags and pushing heavy carts. All that probably kept him so healthy.
More on Erik’s teasing: Whenever he and Mike would ride around in the car Erik was at his best. Without fail, he would say “Hey Mike, you missed yor turn!” Or he’d start with his brand of knock-knock jokes. Such as: “Mike, Knock knock!” “Who’s there?” “Hair”. “Hair who?” “You have hair on your head” then he’d sit back, so proud of his wit. Or they’d be riding around in the car and Mike would clown around with Star Wars movie lines. Soon after, Erik started to say “Mike I am yor father” and laugh as Mike would respond ”NOOOO!”
We will never forget: Erik had a history of becoming attached to his pajamas. I bought him a blue plaid pair about 6 years ago. I will forever regret that I didn’t buy 3 pair of them because they developed holes in the bottom. So I wanted to replace them. Erik was aghast. But I bought new ones (not blue plaid), I hemmed them, put them in his guest room when he was visiting our house. He saw them, brought them back to me in the kitchen with a look in his eyes like “are you kidding me?” “Erik these are your new pajamas and they are going to be wonderful, no holes!” He went into the room, locked the door, hid the new ones in the bottom of a closet, changed into the hole-y blue plaid ones and came back out so happy with himself. I tried and tried over the years but didn’t win that battle.
So as you can tell, Erik developed marketable skills, a sense of humor, and a responsible nature. When he began showing signs of Alzheimer’s he retired from his job at Irving hospital and moved to a group home in central Texas where he continued to work part time. Then he declined more and a year ago we began the process of moving him back to this area to be closer to family. As a result, the past 12 months have been so special to me. I was able to spend lots of time with him. In his assisted living home he continued to tease me. He’d point to the corner to direct my attention over there and then try to take something of mine and hide it or tickle my arm or anything he could - to get me. We’d hit a balloon back and forth and he’d try his best to hit it right into my face, that always got him in stitches. Precious memories. All the older ladies loved him, I mean lavished love on him. I saw him once walk up to a group of them wearing a new hat -- they all went crazy over-- and he ate it up he then did this: (point to his cheek for a kiss) He was irresistible to them.
There are countless reasons we loved having Erik in our lives. Many ways God used him to change me. God used him to help me to slow down in my fast-paced life, develop patience and bear with someone who needed to be listened to and accepted. God used him to model childlike faith. For years whenever we’d be talking and he heard that I or someone else was sick or sad he’d say without fail. “Aw, I pray for you” “I pray for them”. Or he’d call and say “Yiz I prayed for you” Such love. It was so precious to watch and hear Erik sing hymns to the Lord. There is one CD of hymns we sang to for 5 months as I drove him to work and back when he lived with us in 2006. In the past couple of years I think singing hymns meant even more to him because his eyes would fill with tears as he sang them. In Brownwood he sang at his home church with such love and feeling that he was invited up to the front of the church to help lead the singing every Sunday.
When Erik lost his ability to speak about 4 years ago he still found ways to show himself to us. He’d point or give a high five or use hand motions. One of my favorite memories during the past 4 difficult months he spent in the nursing home as he kept declining was: one day I was sitting on a bench and he was next to me in his wheelchair. I was trying to find a way to connect with him and it was getting harder and harder to do so. He must have noticed my hand just sticking out, and he slapped it like he was giving me a high-five. I looked at him and for a brief instant saw the old teasing Erik smiling back at me. The last words we heard him speak were “Hi, Mike” when Mike and I walked into his room about a month ago. He said them like it was no big deal, but it meant a lot to us.
There’s a Bible verse in 1 Corinthians that says: The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you and the head cannot say to the feet, I don’t need you. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. As I look at that verse in regards to Erik: even though he was mentally - and later physically - weak, in God’s eyes he was indispensable. We all had to learn to care and love in a more significant way than we would have without knowing him. What a true blessing from God he was.