Words for Hugo

The following words were shared with friends and family at a celebration of Hugo’s life in Vancouver.

Celebrating Hugo

Michael Tippett, Hugo’s Father

Recently someone said to me to think of hard things not as something you have to do but something you get to do.  I don’t know exactly who said it but we live close to Banyan books so it really could have been anyone.  

But the point of the adage is to remind us to be grateful for what we have so I wanted to talk about the things I am grateful for:

I spoke earlier this week to his friends in Montreal and I apologize if any of the messaging here is repetitive but then again what did you expect for an event with free admission.

Some say that life is cruel but it’s also beautiful.  When I think of Hugo I remember the light he brought to our lives: The people he loved;  The experiences he had;  His aspirations and his incredible accomplishments. May his memory be a blessing.   

I never thought I could have a higher opinion of my son, but after spending time with his friends and learning even more about who he was, I feel that even as his father I didn’t fully comprehend his greatness.  

On Tuesday we gathered together at one of Hugo’s favourite spots in Montreal to celebrate his life.  People came from across Canada and the US to share stories and hear new ones.  It was awe inspiring. 

I spoke to the office at McGill where they have been fielding calls from his classmates.  They made a point of telling me that the impact Hugo had on his fellow students has been at a scale that they have not ever seen before.  Others said that the whole campus felt different.  The school will be putting the flag at half mast later this month to mark his 19th birthday.  The void he left was immense.  However it was the stories of his kindness, intelligence, friendship and warmth that stayed with me.  His friends are all incredible people in their own right and many of them told me that Hugo was a major force in shaping who they have become.  

If you can judge a person by the company they keep then Hugo was an even more remarkable person than I knew – and I already thought he was magnificent. Thank you all for reminding us of the joy that Hugo has brought to our world.

I am sad that he will miss the future because as an optimist he always imagined it would be amazing. This is not just a loss as a father for me but a loss to the world of someone whose potential was boundless.  

A moment with Hugo was worth a million stars. Looking at these pictures it is agonizing to contemplate his departure. But if that is the price I pay to have known him even so briefly, I’ll take that bargain and in the end it won’t be this feeling of loss that is Hugo’s legacy.  

Both Kate and I always felt that although we physically brought him into the world, his soul came from somewhere else.  I have come to love that soul more with every act, thought, word, picture, and song he created.  I believe that in the same way a soul can be brought into this world it can continue to live beyond it.

Some believe that the universe is infinite and that we occupy only a small part of that vastness.  But scientists tell us that time and space are just a construct – a way for our minds to make sense of the human condition.  If that’s true then human consciousness is foundational and we are the authors of reality.  So in fact we are not infinitesimal parts of the cosmos, but rather the universe is an idea that lives inside us.  We are infinite and in that sense, Hugo has always been with us and always will be.  

Hugo loved his friends and his family. He loved Pepper.  He loved Petunia. He loved his work.  He loved his school.  He was a musical prodigy, a gifted pianist who heard things in music that others could not.  He was an artist, expressing himself in his photography, illustrations and designs.  He was interested in fashion and designed clothes for himself and his friends.  What kind of kid comes back for summer holidays and makes his own pants for God’s sake? 

When he went back to school this year his interest in design and fashion blossomed and we got him a sewing machine in advance of his 19th birthday, which he would have celebrated a few short weeks from today.  When we visited his apartment in Montreal his computer was in the drawer and the sewing machine was on the table next to a sketchbook of patterns.  He was beginning his next creation. He was the drippiest. 

He was a gifted athlete who worked tirelessly to improve his fitness.  He had a physical beauty and strength that came from who he was and what he made himself.  He stood up on the board the first time he surfed in the ocean and he could do 60 push ups in 60 seconds.  I can do about 8 over the course of a week. He was a fearless outdoorsman and often tested his considerable skills against the elements, only having to be saved by the local search and rescue once. 

He was funny but never through cruelness or ridicule.  He saw humour in the absurdities and quirkiness of the world.  His observations were always intelligent and were his own.  He was really cool.

This year he moved into his first apartment with his friends.  He would cook his own meals, and take great pride in it, often sharing pictures of his latest on our family chat.  His second year in University marked a more serious interest in his classes, and he was beginning to ask questions about philosophy, ethics, mathematics.   He was a computer science major and was developing his skills in coding and software architecture.  He had recently found a rehearsal space where he could return to one of his great loves, the piano.  Hugo was becoming a young man with limitless potential. 

His friends were lifelong.  Many of you are here today.  Some of you have known Hugo since preschool. He went on holiday with some of you this summer to Greece, England, and – to Dave Feller’s consternation – Albania. Having wrestled with Hugo I always felt the chances of his abduction were very low.

To Hugo’s housemates and friends in Vancouver I wanted to offer my deepest condolences. I understand the agony that you are feeling right now. Thank you all for being such amazing people and always having Hugo’s back.  Please know that Hugo loved you all.  Your broken hearts will heal. 

Even in death, Hugo is not resting.  His spirit will continue to animate and inspire us all to be the kind of person he was. I am going to try to live my life by asking myself in every act I choose, ‘What would Hugo do?’

When you think of your future don’t let his departure cloud the light of his life.  He loved this school and the city he lived in and the best way to honour his legacy is to stay strong and continue to experience all the challenges and joys that you shared together. Wrap your arms around the entire world. Don’t let this event make you afraid to climb great heights. Never wait. Seize every second of every day like it was your last.

Now, I would like you all to stand, raise your glass and join me in giving what will be one of the many toasts to Hugo tonight.  To your spirit and legacy.  Hugo I will miss you forever.  I will lament the loss to the world of everything you might have given us.  The gift of your life to us has meant everything to me.  You are one of my greatest loves.  

Please remain standing for just a moment longer.

I believe that music is one of the things that gives life meaning.  When he was alive one of my greatest joys was sharing songs with Hugo that I thought he would appreciate.  Now after his passing I am listening to his playlist and it is a masterpiece. The music you will hear later this evening is from that playlist.  Now he is sharing songs with us.  When I hear his music I sometimes feel  like I can see the poetry of his mind.  

Years ago I asked Hugo if he could play Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.  Of course he could. He could play it perfectly. I feel like that song was written for this exact moment.  

You all have the lyrics to that song and I’m going to ask you to do something that might sound embarrassing or corny.  I’m going to ask you to sing that song with me but there is a catch. I sadly am not the ancestral source of Hugo’s musical talent.  As Don was good enough to tell you, I have one of the worst singing voices in the western hemisphere, and so you will need to sing at the top of your lungs to drown out the musical ineptitude I will be demonstrating.  

So with that in mind let’s sing a song for Hugo.

Kate Armstrong, Hugo’s Mother

For those of you who were at the magical 300 person event in Montreal this week I’m really sorry because I will be re-using some material. It worked really well at that time and I think I’ve got the same chances here. 

We were really excited to see what the future held for Hugo. 

One of the worst things about this is that I don’t think we ever really thought of the future as something that was going to happen to him, or something kind of laying there waiting for him to come across it. Instead there was always the sense of him building the future himself, and bringing it to life actively, incrementally, and continually through his curiosity and interests. And those interests kept being surprising, and super cool.  It’s like a 100 page novel that you are really into, and then something prevents you from reading past page 18.  Here the end didn’t come at the end, it came at the beginning.  

We have always had a very tight, very close family of four. Families can be crazy but I never expected the universe to bring us two such great people to parent. I thought they’d be shits at least some of the time but they have never, ever been anything but inspiring, delightful, hilarious, thoughtful, kind, and open. The nexus of these dynamics between the four of us is different now forever and it’s going to be a serious piece of work for us to learn how to have one of us in another dimension. But of course we’ll do it. Thank you to all of you who have contributed to his universe and to those of you who are supporting us and being here.