My name is Jerry Presley and I was Matt’s friend and neighbor. In a few minutes you’ll see a slide show that I made for Matt.
My family moved into our neighborhood one year after Mark and Olivia and our three girls grew up with Matt and Lisa.
Over the years, our friendship transitioned from “neighborly” to “familial”. Mark would come over and my kids would yell out, “Daaaad, Uncle Mark is here.”
When Matt was going through the toughest part of his hospitalization, I would show up at the hospital and the nurses would guard the door. “Is he expecting you? Are you part of the family?”
“No”, I’d say, “he wasn’t expecting me, but I am part of the family. Tell him that Uncle Jerry is here and he has toys.”
The slide show you are about to see was made in July, when Matt was having his bone marrow transplant.
It was made with the help of three conspirators: Mark Malyak, Erin Claxton and Austin Ardrey.
I also want to make clear that this was not produced for anyone sitting here today. It was specifically, totally, and 100% produced for Matt. I made it for an audience of one. I posted it on my personal web site and Matt could watch it, any time he needed a lift.
My message to Matt was that, although this was his journey to make, he was not alone. He had many friends standing beside him, holding his hand. This was not a solo adventure.
My remarks and this slide show are not a eulogy. This slide show was not made in grief but in hope. It is not about death but about life. It was not made for this gathering; it was made to help Matt PREVENT this gathering.
There is a story behind each and every photo and I want to tell a bit about just four of these pictures.
There’s a picture of Mark holding Matt as a newborn, with Mark’s sister, Nikki, standing beside them. When you see the photo, you hear the song lyrics “Let me pick you up”. When I first saw this photo, I remember thinking that no one could have conceived that a simple photo would have such meaning 20 years later. I also thought that 20 years is such a short period of time.
My favorite photo is Matt’s profile picture on Facebook. Matt is lying in Erin’s lap but you don’t see Erin’s face. Erin’s hands are on Matt’s chest. Look closely and you’ll see the hospital ID band around Matt’s wrist, which is the only indication that they are in the hospital. This photo was taken a few days after Matt was diagnosed and before any treatments were started. It was a period of the unknown. Everyone knew that a journey was about to begin but no one, at that point, had a map. No one knew what lay ahead. But Erin was there, holding Matt, ready to take the journey with him, wherever that took them.
There are two photos of Matt in an Emergency Room, which have absolutely nothing to do with his cancer treatment. Matt and his friend Austin (and Jordy may also have been involved, in which case, I would not want him to be spared any of the blame) were horsing around and Matt, being a teenage boy, somehow ran through a glass door. Matt received multiple lacerations, most to the… lower torso.
At the ER, the physicians allowed Austin to be with Matt and take the photos. When you see these photos, I want everyone here to… think like…a teenage boy. For half of you, that will be impossible. For the other half, you’ll either say, “Oh yes, I remember that period” or you’ll say, “Dude, what’s so strange about that?”
Matt had pieces of glass embedded in his gluteus maximus. The doctors and nurses were closely inspecting Matt’s buttocks. Meanwhile, Austin was documenting the inspection and everyone was laughing uncontrollably, including Matt and the doctors and nurses. To a teenage boy, there is something inherently funny about getting treated for broken glass up the wazoo. Matt was VERY proud of these photos and showed them to everyone.
During his recent hospitalization, Matt received cards from many people and each card was posted on the wall beside his bed so he could see them. Olivia told me that he once pointed to the cards, and said, “Mom, look at all the people who love me”. Olivia, you are at the top of the list of people who loved Mattie.