My late autistic twin brother, Kyle, is on my mind today. So I wanted to share his sense of humor and the real Kyle I knew with everyone. I think the best way to do this is to share my notes from my eulogy for him. I tried to celebrate the good and making it a sort of post mortem hazing, because I think Kyle would have appreciated it.
Far too often I feel that we do not share the sense of humor and intelligence in our loved ones with autism. This is an attempt to do just that. Below I have very lightly edited my notes from the eulogy I gave for Kyle. It is just a collection of small vignettes from our life, and I think it lets everyone see how he really way, and not through the distracting label of autism.
Notes from my eulogy
To start off, one important thing that most people do not realize about my late twin brother Kyle was that he was a huge fan of Monty Python and British comedies. He and I would sit and watch episodes I recorded from PBS late at night and we would just laugh for hours. He always had a good eye for a joke.
To honor Kyle, I will parrot a eulogy from John Cleese, his favorite comedian…and at the same time let you sample Kyle’s sense of humor.
[Patrick Kyle Hunsaker], is no more. He has ceased to be, bereft of life, he rests in peace, he has kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, bit the dust, snuffed it, breathed his last, and gone to the theater in the sky, He is gone. He is an ex-Kyle. And now I guess that we’re all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, such capability and kindness, of such intelligence should now be so suddenly spirited away at the age of only thirty-one, before he’d achieved many of the things of which he was capable, and before he’d had enough fun […] All we have of Kyle now is our memories, and it will be some time before they fade.
This is the eulogy I modified to memorialize Kyle
And now for something completely different, I would like to give you all some insight into my late brother’s personality and, more importantly, examples of his sense of humor.
Kyle was always curious
Kyle loved school: Particularly Kyle loved Utah Studies class. He loved this class so much that she gave Kyle a beat up old version of the book used in class and Kyle read it over and over for years after the class. A few years later I caught Kyle sitting at the computer typing chapters from the book ver batem as well as answering the study questions in the book because he wanted to keep learning. I always thought of that as Kyle taking notes in case there was something he missed when he studied the book before. Like he was trying to gleam new knowledge out of the old book.
Kyle also loved European history class at the high school-which was somewhat amazing since no one liked this class because it was assumed to be the most difficult class in the high school. Kyle loved it and got a B+ (not a small accomplishment-those were hard tests personally proctored to Kyle by a former University professor).
Kyle always had a big smile on his face when walking down the halls of school on his way to class. He always acted as if the classroom was his favorite place to be. I truly believe it was
When we were 17, when I was driving Kyle to school we slid on the ice and went into a ditch at a neighbor’s house. Well, even though the accident was shocking and we were trying to get the car pulled out of the ditch with the tow truck and I was talking to the police officer, all Kyle wanted was to get to school and was angry at me for not getting him to school on time. In fact, when mom came by to help us out, she actually had to take Kyle to school first, then come back and help me deal with the tow truck and everything pertaining to the accident. Being at school was truly that important to Kyle. He never saw it as tedious. He always wanted to be there.
When I went away on an ecclesiastical mission Kyle was fine when I got on a plane and left-he actually counted the days until I got home and told mom every day how many days there was left. He knew I was gone and he was fine with it.
However, Kyle was not fine and did not want me to go back to the University of Utah to go to college. This was not because he missed me, no, far from it. Kyle wanted SO BADLY to go to college with me. When mom told him he could not, he seemed devastated by the news, basically begging mom to let him go to college. At first we though it was a sort of separation anxiety as he had just got me back. No, It was that he was envious that I had the chance to go to school some more-and he wanted that so bad. To this day I think he was the one most proud of me for working toward a doctorate. Because he never had the opportunity.
Kyle would read everything he could get his hands on…and read faster and more than either my dad or myself. Now if you know dad or myself than you know there’s not a whole lot that we haven’t read! Kyle particularly loved to read about the history of Utah, American history, and Books about church history and temples. He also read the entire TV Guide every week cover to cover and repeated the entire schedule back to mom and dad, much to their annoyance some times. He also read every one of mom’s magazines cover to cover, as well as the National Geographic and the Ensign. Also memorable was the fact that Kyle loved to visit Grandma and Grandpa Hunsaker’s house because they had almost 40 years of Reader Digests in the basement for Kyle to pour over. He read them one by one, stacking them next to the cabinet so he did not repeat. Every time we went down there, grandpa had rotated the magazines so Kyle had new ones to read. I think grandpa saw something in Kyle that many of us missed-he saw Kyle’s love of reading as what it was. The desire to learn more about the world and explore it through books.
Kyle also would read the newspaper cover to cover every day…then carefully unfold it, separate the pages, and then subsequently violently wad it into a complete, disorganized mess and stuff it into the newspaper caddy for dad and mom to deal with – I always thought Kyle did this on purpose to annoy mom and dad since he read the newspaper with everything neat and tidy, THEN he intentionally made a mess of things. Now, reflecting on it, I am sure of it. He did always seem to find it quite funny when dad and mom would badger him for it. Always running out of the room with a big smile on his face.
In elementary school. the school janitor made Kyle run laps and shoot hoops in the mornings before school. He did this because Kyle did not want to do PE with the other kids, and this janitor saw the opportunity to make a difference for Kyle. Aside from exercise, he also made Kyle “play janitor”. Kyle would do small janitorial jobs around the school, like sweeping the floors or taking out the trash.
Interestingly enough, Kyle would never do any of these chores at home, in fact, he would act like he had no idea what mom was talking about when she asked him to do any of the jobs he did for this janitor. Always with a bit of a grin on his face.
Then, out of the blue one day, a few years back Kyle decided it was okay to take the trash out for mom. And he did so ever since.
My partner in crime
When we were just shy of 2 years old, Kyle and I thought it would be fun to take a box of Cheerios and play with it in mom’s living room next to the wood burning stove. The game went like this, I threw the cheerios on the ground and then Kyle thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, stomped them into the shag carpet. We did this giggling our little heads off until mom caught us in the act.
A few weeks after the now infamous cheerios incident, I helped Kyle get into the upstairs wood burning stove and then proceeded to thoroughly cover him with ash, all while we both were loudly giggling. We still do not know how I managed to get him in there, but it was obviously a cooperative endeavor.
Another one of those schemes Kyle and I hatched together was one day when I was probably 2 1/2 years old, I went out into the garden and picked a few green watermelons (they looked ripe to me-I did not know any better-so I picked them because I wanted to eat some watermelon). Not knowing how else to open my prize, I strategically dropped the watermelon on the ground int he driveway so it split open. I put the watermelon on the small outdoor picnic table, went in the house and got two spoons, and then I lifted Kyle up on the high chair so he could reach our treat and eat it with me. All of this while mom was yelling at me not to do it because Kyle might fall off the chair. After I put Kyle up on the chair, I went out in the garden and picked another watermelon and dropped it so we could each have our individual watermelons! Of course there was a lot of giggling while we ate our tart treats!
As you can tell from my memories thus far, an important thing we should all remember about Kyle was his infectious giggle. Years after Kyle had been away from his preschool in Salt Lake City, he went back for a visit with mom. Even ten or fifteen years later, he was walking down the hallways giggling, and all his old teachers came out of their meeting in the library because they knew that Kyle had returned…they were touched by his laughter that they remembered from all those years before. They were the same infectious giggles they remembered from him when he was 5. I would pay anything to have been there to see the look on all their faces.
On that topic, when we were children Kyle would wake the whole house up because he would get himself into a fit of giggles in the middle of the night. He would laugh as hard and long as he could-longer than any of us thought was necessary at the time. Dad and I would yell at him to knock it off because it was impossible to sleep through. None of us ever could figure out what was so funny. Now looking back on it, I really do miss that innocent, or perhaps not so innocent, laugh.
Like all good little brothers, Kyle emulated me to a degree, when I grew facial hair in high school he started to as well-not letting mom get a word in edgewise. He forbade having the goatee shaved for any reason. he did not even want it to be trimmed for fear mom would take it all off.
When I grew my hair long, Kyle did so as well, but Kyle decided not on long hair with a ponytail, but rather Kyle decided to go for the full on Einstein. Despite mom and me joking about how funny the Einstein ‘do was, I am wholly convinced Kyle chose to look like Einstein because he looked up to Einstein as a role model.
I know Kyle did his hair this way intentionally because mom would style Kyle’s hair in the morning, and then Kyle would sneak behind mom’s back and thoroughly mess up the hairdo mom gave him that day by brushing his hair back and forth with his favorite brush until it was as fluffy and wild as possible. Kyle did such a good job of this that mom was completely unable to “fix” Kyle’s hair for the rest of the day and had to just let Kyle revel in happy hair for the remainder of the day.
I used to walk around the house picking things up with my toes and throwing them at Kyle, so Kyle started to try to do the same thing to me. It took him quite a while to figure out how to do it, but he finally taught himself how to pick up things laying on the ground with his toes and thus never had to bend over to pick small things up again. In fact, I am not sure I ever saw him bend over for anything small from that point on unless he was wearing shoes!
Another little thing that Kyle did was he collected rocks, I think largely because of my fascination with geology and my tendency to always come home from camping trips with interesting rocks or fossils that I found and refused to leave where I found them. In fact, when I tended to wander away while camping to stare at bugs and rocks (like I am prone to do), Kyle would walk away and mom would lose him because he was trying to find me to do the same thing-with me.
I also got Kyle to kick the soccer ball around with me as well as shoot free throws with me because I was always away from home playing my sports in the summer. Other than the double dribble, Kyle was an absolute all-star! Surprisingly good at free throws, better than me at least.
Despite Kyle’s looking up to me during our high school years, Kyle always wanted to wear the popular wide legged pants to school while I was contented with a few pairs of the ugliest grey corduroy pants in existence that I loved. Kyle always wanted to have the clothes and shoes that were in style and mom would have to take things back to the store because Kyle would refuse to wear them.
In the mornings before school, Kyle would refuse to wear something mom pulled out for him, and he would drag mom over to the dirty clothes hamper and show mom the more stylish clothes he wanted to wear that day, and patently refused to put on anything else. He was only contented if his clothes and shoes were just right.
Kyle also kept all the small gourds in his room (small pumpkins) that people had given him either at school or church in the autumn season. One day, Kyle went out into dad’s garden and picked one of the tiny pumpkins around Halloween time. When mom tried to move it, Kyle corrected her and put it back on his dresser. He kept them there until they shrunk and hardened, but he always picked them up, looked at them, and then carefully put them down like they were little treasures. I feel like it was his way of decorating his room with his own personal aesthetic.
An impish sense of humor
Aside from Monty Python and other british comedies like Mr. Bean Kyle and I watched together, Kyle absolutely loved to watch the movie Rain Man…he and I watched it over and over again because Kyle related so well to Raymond, Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character. This was not a small thing as Kyle was never one to necessarily sit through entire movies at home. He would just sit and smile and giggle through the movie-particularly at the parts that for the rest of us seem not funny or seem rather awkward, but I feel that Kyle understood what was going on on a personal level and enjoyed seeing it captured on film. He also loved the TV Show Big Bang Theory again he related with Sheldon, the autistic character. Even in the hospital, he and mom watched a Big Bang Theory marathon and Kyle giggled himself to sleep.
I always felt deep down that Kyle knew full well he was autistic. He not only knew but rather fully accepted he was different than the rest of us, and he reveled in his unique perspective on the world and life. There is no other reason I can think of that he would watch these shows and identify so completely with the characters most like him. In fact, I think in a way that none of us will ever be fully capable of understanding, Kyle took advantage of his autism and made it fun. It gave him a sort of leeway or permission to do all of the weird or quirky things he felt like doing whenever he felt like it. Some days it seems he was simply messing or playing with us all for his own amusement. In other words, he was great at trolling all of us, and counted on the fact that no one would ever suspect him.
I will share with you a few anecdotes illustrating Kyle’s somewhat dry and impish sense of humor.
One time Kyle lined up and alphabetized the baseball card packs by team and then player across the entire counter at home. This was remarkable since Kyle had to climb up on the counter to get to the back of the cookbook cabinet to get these, and he did not even eat the gum. That he left stacked next to the first baseball card. As a side note, it was at this time that we realized that there was no place in the house where anything could be hidden from Kyle. He was investigating and snooping around when no one was home, but leaving everything exactly as he found it so we did not catch him at it. If he was going to be at home alone, he might as well investigate and get into whatever trouble there was to get into.
This investigative behavior was not limited to hunting around mom and dad’s house. When my wife and I were students and living in the Orem area, we moved around a lot. Whenever Kyle would visit us in any new place we lived, the first thing he just had to do when coming into the house was to explore the whole house, open all the doors in the house, investigate the bookshelves, and explore the contents of our kitchen cupboards.
An extension of this exploration and snooping behavior was that one day Kyle decided to make his investigating more efficient. Kyle decided it was his duty to read all receipts thoroughly anytime a shopping bag entered the house, just in case mom, dad, or me were trying to sneak something by him (which we usually were). He started to do this once he figured out we were often sneaking candy or ice cream by him. We were never really able to sneak food into the house if he was there again. He always asked for the receipt as soon as we got into the house. When we acted like we did not have it, he went over to the trash, pulled it out, and pointed to the item we were trying to hide. He would catch us in the act every time.
For my wedding, we had to hire a second photographer to do guerrilla photography so that we could get cute pictures of Kyle. We did this because Kyle would close one of his eyes and cock his head to the side, as well as tighten his lips like he is deep in concentration and thus perfectly mimic the person taking the photograph. He was so good at this that you had to catch him 100% unawares or else he would have one eye shut and his head cocked to the left in every photograph. It took some work, but we got a number of great photographs of Kyle at the wedding. As well as a large number where he caught the photographers and he has one eye shut looking straight at them like he was telling them, “I know what you are doing, and I am NOT going to make this easy for you…” In the end we had the photographers jumping out from behind other guests, tables, bushes, and just generally being sneaky to get pictures of Kyle because he proved a mightier challenge than they originally thought.
The funniest part of all of it, is if you gave Kyle a camera with a viewfinder, he would close one eye and look at the viewfinder to take the picture. I always wondered if he was mockingly telling us just how ridiculous we all look trying to take pictures of him! More recently, when Kyle would catch you trying to photograph him, he would look you in the eye as if staring you down, daring you to try it, then immediately cock his head, purse his lips, and close his eye just as you tried to snap the photograph, followed by a stream of giggles and an impish grin as he walked away having thwarted your attempt to take a picture of him.
One of Kyle’s other favorite things to do was to steal food from you while you were in the kitchen preparing it or guarding it. My theory was that it posed a challenge. It is no fun to steal bread or cake when no one is there to protect it, but when my father and I are standing guard, there is a sense of accomplishment to effectively removing the center of the birthday cake or warm loaf of bread; even better if when he did this, dad and I only noticed after he had left the room-usually tipped off because we heard Kyle laughing. There was a number of years during which there was not a single cake or loaf of bread that did not have a Kyle fist sized hole taken out of the absolute center-needless to say mom became quite adept at creative icing.
For example, one time my wife was talking to my mother about a poppyseed bread loaf that mom made and wanted to send with us back to Orem. Well, sometime in the five minutes after that conversation, and while mom was standing in the kitchen, Kyle managed to breech her defenses and take the center out of the bread loaf, so mom had to walk out and tell Naomi and me that we were no longer going to get any bread. Kyle had successfully beaten us to it!
Kyle and I used to jump on the trampoline with water sprayed on it or else a sprinkler placed underneath it when it got hot: one time Kyle put our wading pool on the trampoline and then filled it up with water…then proceeded to jump in the wading pool on the trampoline, much to my delight and the chagrin of my mother. We were tipped off because we heard Kyle giggling and we wanted to know what he was up to outside because he was usually more quiet than that. We got to the window and Kyle was about 6 feet off the trampoline, and the wading pool was about three feet off the trampoline, and the water was spilling out of the wading pool. Kyle seemed to be having the time of his life. I actually remember wondering why I had never thought of doing that previously. It seemed like a really good idea once he came up with it…
While mom was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, I was often joking around about mom needing to buy some turtle wax so it was shiny like Mr. Clean. Well, Kyle heard me joking about this so one day he asked mom if he could “shine mom head yes”! Mom did not know what to do so she said yes and Kyle then proceeded to rub her on the top of the head with his palm-literally shining mom’s head. He also bruised her cheeks giving her an excessive number of kisses that day, probably to make up for shining her head.
Kyle also had a very approachable and amiable demeanor. For example, clerks at stores in the mall and around town would walk up to Kyle and strike up a conversation long before they would ever come and talk to me…they saw something in him that made them want to approach him, I apparently was the “strange” one. He was beaming ear to ear that they were talking to him. Apparently they saw something in him that invited them to strike up a conversation, albeit a one-sided one. He always seemed to love those moments. Always reveling in the attention.
Even though Kyle was always perceived as being very shy, he always wanted to be a part of the “conversation”, and in his own way would hover around out of sight (e.g., pace in the hallway), never being too far from the action.
Kyle did have true, lifelong friends…One of the football players at school in high school beat up a guy after they had threatened to beat up Kyle. He came and told me afterward he did it just so I knew who it was and to make sure I was okay with this football player taking care of the situation. Needless to say, no one ever picked on Kyle again-or at least I was never told about it when the issue was dealt with by one of Kyle’s friends. But all through High School everybody in the hallways would say Hi to Kyle as he walked to and from class, and he never sat alone in the lunch room. He was always surrounded with people that seemed to care deeply for him.
For his senior pictures, Kyle was SUPER cooperative because it was a cute girl taking the pictures. Kyle was always a shameless flirt like that. Cute girls could get him to do anything. Men could never get Kyle to do anything-he would do the opposite just to frustrate them, especially if taking pictures was involved. They would just get Kyle acting like he was not paying attention or acting like he did not understand them. Importantly, during his senior pictures, Kyle never closed his eye and cocked his head, he tried to look cute and take good pictures.
Cute girls, they ALWAYS got his undivided attention. Even near the end at the hospital, a cute nurse gave him a small little stuffed tiger and he snuggled up to it all night like it was a cherished treasure. It was actually still in his arms when he died.
Bonding with animals
Kyle had a way of bonding with animals. Not baby animals mind you, he had no time for them-they were small, in the way, and noisy. Adult animals, however, were one of his delights. All of our very antisocial cats would sit near Kyle’s feet or right next to him on the chair all day-even our most antisocial and skittish cats. So far as I know he never pet the cats, but they had some sort of amicable agreement and enjoyed being in each other’s presence or company. Another thing Kyle did when he was younger was to try and ride my dog, Tandy, like she was a small horse. Tandy would never let me try anything like that, but she would let Kyle try to sit on her and then she would run away as fast as she could, leaving Kyle to fall flat on his backside! The whole time Kyle was always in a giggle fit. Actually, I was as well whenever he tried that one.
In fact, since Kyle passed on, the cats around the house have been missing Kyle and started chasing down everyone in the family to cuddle them excessively. I think they miss Kyle’s presence in the house. In fact, the oldest cat wandered up the mountain and gave up within two week sof Kyle’s death. Losing him was just too much.
When I was on an ecclesiastical mission, Mom made Kyle type letters to me, which she did not read before printing it out and sending me, all it said was “Hi Ryan, Mom shaved Ryan cat Rusty yes, Bye Kyle”. I had to write mom to get an explanation about what Kyle was talking about (my cat had his hair gummed up with soap and oil so they had to shave the cat’s hair off). I always found it hilarious that he took the time to tell me what was going on with my cat-and to tell me in such an absurd way to make me fall down laughing. It always suggested to me he cared more for the animals than anyone ever gave him credit for. That and he always knew the value of a good punchline.
Kyle also used to jump on the trampoline with the my cousin’s dog Cheyenne. My cousin had previously taught Cheyenne to jump on the trampoline with him. One day mom and I looked outside and there was this black dog bouncing up and down on the trampoline and Kyle was jumping next to the dog-laughing his head off. We thought that Kyle put the dog on the trampoline or that my cousin was somehow responsible for Cheyenne being on the trampoline, but for the next few months that dog would see Kyle and then run and jump up onto the trampoline to play with Kyle. They would jump together for hours.
In a similar vein, Kyle used to let Cheyenne into the house so he could sit down and read the paper or watch television while the dog sat at the foot of the chair and Kyle would use the dog as an ottoman. They would sit like that for hours on end, or until mom caught them and kicked the dog out.
I miss Kyle every day. I feel he was the main reason my life has taken the shape that it has. And he helped me develop a sense of humor and see the absurdity of life. I am indebted to hm for that,