Today is the anniversary of the death of my younger brother. I’ve pondered what I would do and how I can honor my brother. It’s still hard to believe that he’s gone. One year later I still struggle, knowing that I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye and that I love him, one last time.
Some friends have asked me to publish his eulogy. I have to be honest, I didn’t want to at first because I’m selfish. Hiding this eulogy was like keeping a piece of him for myself. But I know that there are many out there who loved him just as much as I did; just as much as members of my family. So to honor his memory, I’m giving you a piece of what we shared with him. I love you bro!
Eulogy: Tusigafa Kepi Matua
March 18, 1977 – April 2, 2010
“Where is Kepi?”
It’s a phrase that Kepi’s family members and friends grew accustomed to over the 33-years of our brother’s life. It’s a phrase that in many ways sums up a life untethered by inhibition, unchained by regret or bound by restrictions. With Kepi, you often had the feeling that you were trying to capture something elusive, something tangible and yet so ethereal. In my mind he epitomized the true essence of freedom and yet he often felt as if the landscape of his life was pockmarked by the isolation of physical and spiritual incarceration.
Our father moved the entire family away from our home here in Utah to Pesega on the island of Upolu in 1976 for one year to compile genealogical records for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. During that time my older siblings and I attended Pesega Primary School. I vaguely recall the day that we came home from school in 1977 as we prepared to return to Utah, to see our mother holding a tiny baby boy in her arms and our faces all registered the following questions, “What is that? Whose is it? Where did it come from? How did this happen?” I can’t recall her exact words but I do remember being a bit confused when she said something to the affect of, “This is your new baby brother!” We never asked another question, we couldn’t get enough of the kid. To remember our brief stay in Samoa my parents named him, Tusigafa (genealogist) Kepi (after a family friend) Matua.
As a child Kepi was a rambunctious, precocious, disorderly, noisy, undisciplined, lively, annoying and pestering little runt. And in a family of tiresome, dull and boring people, Kepi’s spirit and zest for life was refreshing. During our years in Samoa, Kepi was by far the most popular person in the family. Even as kids we were known as “Kepi’s brother” or “Kepi’s sister”. Our own friends would greet us with the question, “Where is Kepi?” He was a relentless ball of energy. He asked a million questions. He was a prankster full of jokes and a constant source of fun and laughter. For years the image of our father walking home after teaching at the local high school in Samoa with Kepi running circles around him like a pesky little puppy remains one of my favorite, cherished memories of our brother.
The move back here to the United States for my younger siblings was not an easy one. Our family lived briefly in Compton in the home where we spent most of our summers as children under the watchful eyes of our grandparents Tuipoloa Launia and Mautoatasi Ieremia Matua. Kepi was rapidly entering his teenage years. Our enforcers were my uncle Faaleaga and aunty Emeline Toalepai and their son Alyn. As a matter of familial preservation, Kepi’s life in Compton was filled with as many activities as possible to divert his attention from the inner city life that often steals away our youth. With his cousin Alyn, he was immersed in the scouting program, took up a musical instrument and thanks to wonderful family, friends, community and Church leaders he averted major problems and lived the antithesis of a typical life in Compton but it still necessitated a move back to a familiar environment here in Utah.
For a short period Kepi thrived in school, athletics and other pursuits thanks to the careful nurturing and encouragement of teachers and local leaders but there were already signs of a troubled soul that would eventually become evident and amplified at the passing of our dear mother Faleupolu Utai Matua in May of 1993. This tragic event ushered in a new period for our entire family that many of us believe made us both stronger and at the same time weaker. Kepi took mom’s loss painfully, bitterly and with much difficulty. Years later in our conversations he expressed in simple words how he loved our mother dearly and her loss had never been erased from his mind or his heart.
Like a graceful eagle in full flight, Kepi’s wings were clipped, sending him into a tailspin that he could not control. It was a path that ultimately led to his untimely death. But, even through the years of inner turmoil, incarceration and pain there were often glimpses of the carefree, radiant, happy boy. Despite the chaos and controversy that followed him later in life I still remember our brother as a loving, giving, caring, funny, loyal and nurturing person who gave of himself more than he ever asked of others. Kepi always made it a point to make people smile. He was an advocate for the weak and even though he didn’t live all of the gospel principles, there is at least one thing that Kepi ALWAYS got right: He always had the pure love of Christ. He was charitable to all people from the time he was a child, all the way through to his final days. He always looked for ways to help and love other people. He gave of his substance, he gave of himself.
Another bright spot in my brother’s life was his son Exodus. Kepi loved his son with every ounce of life he had in him. Kepi wanted his son to be an honorable man. He wanted to protect him from the world. As his family, we will do everything within our power to make sure that Kepi’s dreams are fulfilled in his son.
In one of our final face-to-face conversations my wife and sons were fast asleep in a hotel room in Waikiki. Outside, the streets were alive with party-goers and revelers celebrating Halloween. Kepi had just moved to Hawaii and was so excited to have us there. Family meant everything to Kepi and having someone there from home was like having an early Christmas. I could tell that he missed being around his family and friends.
Though I can scarcely recall verbatim the words we spoke, the raw feelings and emotions of our brief exchange is indelibly etched in my mind and it spoke volumes about my brothers character. It went something like this:
“Kepi, what are you doing up? You should get some sleep.”
“I’m okay. You sleep uce. I’m going to stay up and make sure you guys are safe. It gets crazy down here in Waikiki at night.”
“Alright. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’m straight. Get some rest Set.”
“I love you man.”
“Shut your mouth and get some sleep.”
“Nah uce, I really do. I always looked up to you.”
“I love you too bro. Always have, always will.”
I lay awake the rest of the night with him as my family slept. He tried to sing, I encouraged him not to. That was one of the most memorable trips we ever took as a family. Not because it was on the beautiful shores of Oahu; Not because of all the fun things we did; but because for the first time in a long time I felt like I had my brother back and my sons got a chance to know who their uncle really was.
Since we heard the difficult news nearly two weeks ago, we have been absolutely touched and inspired by the love and support from our family, but also from those who knew and loved Kepi outside of the confines of our tight knit family. For years I was incredibly jealous of Kepi’s friends. Every moment that he spent with them was a moment that he didn’t get to spend with us. But I realize now more than ever, that I was being selfish and insecure. The honest truth is that I believe in my heart that God did not send Kepi to the earth for the exclusive purpose of giving our family happiness, but rather he sent Kepi to the earth to bring smiles, laughter and love to as many people he possibly could during his short time on earth.
So to those whom he trusted and shared his most intimate thoughts and feelings; to those who stood by him, encouraged and loved him when he was in his darkest hours in life; to those of you who considered him to be your little giant. There are many of you here today to pay tribute to our brother, a man whom you accepted as your own brother. To you I say on behalf of my parents, my siblings and our extended family, “Thank you so very much.”
In conclusion I repeat the question, “Where is Kepi?”
The answer: He is resting in the arms of a loving Father in Heaven. He is with our mother, grandparent’s family and friends who have gone before us. He continues to bring smiles and laughter to those beyond the veil and here on earth. He lives in our memories, he occupies our thoughts and he lives on in our hearts. To my dear brother I repeat his words in a dinghy Waikiki hotel room so long ago, “Nah uce, I really do love you. I always looked up to you.”
I leave you with my testimony that God lives in all of us, that family’s are forever and that His gospel is true. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.