A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs
Then, Steve became ill and we watched his life compress into a smaller circle. Once, he’d loved walking through Paris. He’d discovered a small handmade soba shop in Kyoto. He downhill skied gracefully. He cross-country skied clumsily. No more.
Eventually, even ordinary pleasures, like a good peach, no longer appealed to him.Yet, what amazed me, and what I learned from his illness, was how much was still left after so much had been taken away.
I remember my brother learning to walk again, with a chair. After his liver transplant, once a day he would get up on legs that seemed too thin to bear him, arms pitched to the chair back. He’d push that chair down the Memphis hospital corridor towards the nursing station and then he’d sit down on the chair, rest, turn around and walk back again. He counted his steps and, each day, pressed a little farther.
Laurene got down on her knees and looked into his eyes.
“You can do this, Steve,” she said. His eyes widened. His lips pressed into each other.
He tried. He always, always tried, and always with love at the core of that effort. He was an intensely emotional man.
I realized during that terrifying time that Steve was not enduring the pain for himself. He set destinations: his son Reed’s graduation from high school, his daughter Erin’s trip to Kyoto, the launching of a boat he was building on which he planned to take his family around the world and where he hoped he and Laurene would someday retire.
Even ill, his taste, his discrimination and his judgment held. He went through 67 nurses before finding kindred spirits and then he completely trusted the three who stayed with him to the end. Tracy. Arturo. Elham.
One time when Steve had contracted a tenacious pneumonia his doctor forbid everything — even ice. We were in a standard I.C.U. unit. Steve, who generally disliked cutting in line or dropping his own name, confessed that this once, he’d like to be treated a little specially.
I told him: Steve, this is special treatment.
He leaned over to me, and said: “I want it to be a little more special.”
Intubated, when he couldn’t talk, he asked for a notepad. He sketched devices to hold an iPad in a hospital bed. He designed new fluid monitors and x-ray equipment. He redrew that not-quite-special-enough hospital unit. And every time his wife walked into the room, I watched his smile remake itself on his face.
For the really big, big things, you have to trust me, he wrote on his sketchpad. He looked up. You have to.
By that, he meant that we should disobey the doctors and give him a piece of ice.
None of us knows for certain how long we’ll be here. On Steve’s better days, even in the last year, he embarked upon projects and elicited promises from his friends at Apple to finish them. Some boat builders in the Netherlands have a gorgeous stainless steel hull ready to be covered with the finishing wood. His three daughters remain unmarried, his two youngest still girls, and he’d wanted to walk them down the aisle as he’d walked me the day of my wedding.
We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories.
I suppose it’s not quite accurate to call the death of someone who lived with cancer for years unexpected, but Steve’s death was unexpected for us.
What I learned from my brother’s death was that character is essential: What he was, was how he died.
Tuesday morning, he called me to ask me to hurry up to Palo Alto. His tone was affectionate, dear, loving, but like someone whose luggage was already strapped onto the vehicle, who was already on the beginning of his journey, even as he was sorry, truly deeply sorry, to be leaving us.
He started his farewell and I stopped him. I said, “Wait. I’m coming. I’m in a taxi to the airport. I’ll be there.”
“I’m telling you now because I’m afraid you won’t make it on time, honey.”
When I arrived, he and his Laurene were joking together like partners who’d lived and worked together every day of their lives. He looked into his children’s eyes as if he couldn’t unlock his gaze.
Until about 2 in the afternoon, his wife could rouse him, to talk to his friends from Apple.
Then, after awhile, it was clear that he would no longer wake to us.
His breathing changed. It became severe, deliberate, purposeful. I could feel him counting his steps again, pushing farther than before.
This is what I learned: he was working at this, too. Death didn’t happen to Steve, he achieved it.
He told me, when he was saying goodbye and telling me he was sorry, so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old together as we’d always planned, that he was going to a better place.
Dr. Fischer gave him a 50/50 chance of making it through the night.
He made it through the night, Laurene next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths. She and I looked at each other, then he would heave a deep breath and begin again.
This had to be done. Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the profile of an absolutist, a romantic. His breath indicated an arduous journey, some steep path, altitude.
He seemed to be climbing.
But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later.
Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.
Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.
Steve’s final words were:
OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.
Mona Simpson is a novelist and a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles.
She delivered this eulogy for her brother, Steve Jobs,
on Oct. 16 at his memorial service at the Memorial Church of Stanford University.
October 30, 2011