A Eulogy for Ethan Patrick Gentry, 3/2/99-10/3/23

Ethan Patrick Gentry was born on March 2nd, 1999, and died on October 3rd, 2023. During his 24-plus years, Ethan packed in more fun, adventure, loving, and learning than many do in 80. He was the perfect illustration of the old saying, “It’s not the years in the life, but the life in the years that matters most.”

Ethan was a son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, and loyal friend to many who are here today. Out there, in the wide, wide world, there are thousands more who knew of him, and they all called out his name.

Ethan was blond, short, and skinny. He was forthright, firm, opinionated, stubborn, adventurous, loyal, curious, tactical, keenly observant, athletic, witty, sardonic at times, intelligent, brave, resilient, loving, and Southern to the bone.

He grew into his full Southernness after moving to Ozark, Alabama as a boy. He quickly adapted to Dixie like a duck in water—ironic since he would soon be on the water, calling out to ducks in their own language.

Shortly after his family moved there, his mother Melanie called my wife and said, “Okay, you’re not going to believe this. Ethan, come here and tell Aunt Sandy where you live now!”

From the other end of the line, Ethan, in the thickest Southern accent you ever did hear, said “Alabaama.”

Ethan learned to fish and hunt. Camo-everything, with a touch of Tennessee safety orange, became his fashion statement. Early on he went with his father, and when he was old enough, he would go on frequent hunting or fishing trips with his friends and sometimes their fathers.

I mean, a guy’s got to find some way to get out of the house when his older twin sisters are chasing him around trying to dress him like a ballerina!

Out there on the open water and in the deep woods, Ethan became the son and brother of many more. He earned the nicknames “Buck” and “Julio.” Why? I don’t know, you got me. Only that band of brothers knows for sure.

Together, in the way that hunters and anglers do, they grew to value the sacredness of the earth and the animals who occupy it. They learned about the circle of life, the spinning wheel of time and chance that both gives and takes from all God’s creatures.

Evidence of Ethan’s success on those trips hung on the wall, or, if you dared look, deep inside the family freezer. You’ve heard of “mystery meat”? Ethan took that phrase to another level—you never knew what he was going to pull out of there and fry up in a pan.

Ethan loved and respected all animals, but his bond with his black lab Bella was especially strong. He raised her from a pup, and one day when she was older, he looked at the family swimming pool. He looked at Bella. He had an idea.

Against all conventional wisdom, which was the path Ethan often travelled, he taught Bella to dive into the deep end of the pool to retrieve a tennis ball.

It was a little unnerving to watch. “Uh, Ethan,” a first-time observer might say, “Bella’s been down there a while. Is she okay?

“She’s fine,” he would reply nonchalantly. “Just wait.”

Sure enough, Bella would eventually rise from beneath the depths, yellow tennis ball in her mouth, and crash through the surface like a big, black, furry submarine. She would dog paddle to the side of the pool where Ethan was standing, climb out, and, with her matted, ebony coat dripping, drop the ball at his feet. She would lock eyes with him and wag her tail, as if to say, “May I have some more, please?”

Bella spent her whole life with Ethan, and when he passed away, it was time for her to go too, and she did.

Eventually, when Ethan turned 16 and received his driver’s license, he got The Truck. The big truck, with the big fat tires that sits way up high, the perfect perch from which to conquer the world, the one with the killer speakers, the better to blare out his favorite country music tunes while cruising the streets of Montgomery and exploring the backwoods and marshes of Alabama.

Shortly after he was handed the keys, he veered off the road and through a fence.

When his exasperated parents asked him “How in the world did you manage to do that?” he replied, “The steering went out.”

The best way to get Ethan to do anything was to tell him that he shouldn’t or couldn’t.

Oh, you’re way too small to play that sport! You’ll never survive out there!

Nevertheless, he did. Baseball, football, even basketball. But the sport that became his calling card and the peg on which to hang his hat, was soccer. The Beautiful Game.

I remember the day when he decided to make it his own. He was sitting with his mother and me at the soccer complex near AUM, just down the road. We were watching Ethan’s 16-year-old cousin, my son, play striker against the Capital City Streaks.

His cousin was having a very good day. Ethan looked at Melanie and me, and brimming with his usual bravado said, “I can score goals like that, too.”

And score goals he did. Among sports, soccer is the great leveller—you can be small and still be a standout. Just ask Lionel Messi.

Like Messi, Ethan had a nose for the back of the net and scored a mess of goals. Many times, I saw him emerge from a pack of taller, wider defenders with the ball on his foot, just him and the keeper. In those encounters, Ethan won a lot more than he lost.

In addition to sports, Ethan worked for several years mowing lawns and landscaping. Outdoor jobs—no surprise there. He learned the value of a dollar and made some money. He had plans for making more. When he graduated from Trinity Presbyterian, he went to Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama.

Remember when I said he was “brave” and “resilient”?

Imagine him standing in Bryant Denny Stadium, sweating in the sweltering September sun, his veins coursing with Tennessee orange blood as he treads water in a sea of crimson.

He’s listening to and enduring yet another “Rammer Jammer”. But inside his head, he’s silently singing, “Rocky Top, you’ll always be, home sweet home to me . . .”

Ethan graduated with a Bama business degree, moved back to Montgomery, and planned to start his career working in financial planning.

There is no denying the obvious. There was a sharp demarcation line in Ethan’s life—before surgery and afterward. Much was lost, and his final two and half years were hard and painful.

But just when we might wonder, “Is Ethan still there?”, he would give us an answer. “Yes,” he would signal, “I’m still here, a force of nature to be reckoned with, just like always.”

With the dedication and intensity of an athlete training for a gold medal, Ethan endured the rigors of rehab, regaining as much function as his broken body would allow. He would communicate and maintain his links with family and friends, first through a letter board. Later, under the tutelage of his Teta, Ethan learned to sign with his hands as best he could. Like always, he watched the stock market as it cycled up and down, keeping a close watch and fretting over his portfolio.

He was there when his mother died and when his sister Anna got married. At the rehearsal dinner, he enjoyed the boozy euphoria of margarita placed on his tongue with a sponge mouth swab. The night of the wedding he gave “faith a fighting chance,” took to the floor in his wheelchair, and danced.

Toward the end, Ethan leaned hard on his faith, family, and friends. He enjoyed your visits, and even if you found them at times to be difficult and awkward, rest assured he was pleased when you came, even if it was just sitting with him in silence as he listened to his favorite praise songs and country music. He appreciated your love and attention and every kind deed.

Ethan found a measure of meaning and many moments of amusement and joy: Watching TV with his afternoon caretaker Lisa; tooling around in the conversion van with his morning caretaker and partner in crime Stephanie; attending a Biscuits baseball game with his buddies; watching Tennessee finally beat Bama in football again; cruising in the Audi with his father on a sunny day with the top down; sometimes, just a quiet and peaceful lap or two around the neighborhood in his wheelchair.

A little gambling in Wetumpka on Friday night, watching sports and listening to music on Saturday, church on Sunday. A simple life filled with simple pleasures.

Ethan lived out an answer to one of the great questions of mankind: “What does it mean to live a good life?”

This was Ethan’s response: You sit down at the table, take the hand that’s dealt you, and play it for all its worth. Even if it’s a bad one, you play on, looking for every angle, every possibility to stay alive. Because as long as you keep playing, there’s always a chance. Always.

But when you run out of options, and you know the game is over, you stand up. You turn from the table, knowing that you’ve taken your very best shot. You walk on toward whatever comes next.

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Creator God, we thank you for the life of Ethan Patrick Gentry. May he live in our hearts forever. Help us remember the lessons of his life he taught as he walked among us. Let light perpetual shine on him and his mother. We pray these things in the name of Christ, and all the holy names of God, Amen.