It certainly wasn't ordinary, they never are. When the person laid to rest is a 19 year old young man I’ll use the word “tragic”. However, perhaps what’s consistent is how funerals make one think and ponder many things, not just death.
Though Jimmy and I were roommates in college, we lost touch through the 30 years that had passed. Some external social circumstances put us back in touch last year and it was wonderful to see him again. We caught up in a way only old roommates can, with the lone regret being it didn’t last long enough. I would have liked to spend more time with he and his family. I really missed him.
Standing alone in the back of the church I felt comfortable, perhaps safe. Safe from the 500+ that filled the pews, safe in the sense that from this position I may not see people I know. And, if I could avoid them I won’t have to talk about it, and if I don’t talk about it I won’t break down. This was flawed thinking for I truly wanted to see Jimmy. I wanted to give him a hug, but beyond that I knew there was nothing else I could do to stop his pain.
I leaned against the wall with a few others who maybe felt like me, or perhaps they just got there late and couldn’t find a place to sit. A young lady to my right was quietly crying, she appeared to be the age of Jimmy’s youngest, the reason we were there. To my left were a few stoic looking people and it made me wonder if they were with the funeral home or attending in some other capacity. Before long someone from the “stoic” group approached and asked me to move down a ways, uncomfortably snapping me out of my trance like state. It was obvious the service was ending and all would soon be filing into a nearby room for a lunch. How would I see Jimmy with all these people? How could I tell him what I wanted him to know? There were hundreds who likely felt the same way I did.
The casket was wheeled down the center, followed by pall bearers, then the family. Though I knew what to expect, it hurt to see Jimmy look so shattered. It’s a look that can only be explained by something so tragic. I’ve seen it before; my brother had that look, a look that was forever burned into my mind, a look that shouldn’t be forced onto anyone. Perhaps silly to think, but there should be some law of nature that states, “parents will not have to bury their children”.
The next move I justified by the fact that since there were so many people, I would write him a letter. Let him know I was there, try to find the words that would likely never come, knowing nothing I could write would ever really help. Perhaps I was doing him a favor. There would now be one less person to hug and remind him of something that hurt so badly. To my left a few people had wandered out a side door to the immense parking lot packed with cars. By now my mind had completely justified the exit, so with the letter in mind I headed out the door.
Within seconds I heard it. The unmistakable sounds that made me immediately smile—children on a playground. There likely is no more powerful life noise in the world than this. The school on the other side of the parking lot was in recess and the throngs of kids had no idea what was happening 100 yards away, so they just lived. They climbed, jumped, kicked, tagged, sprinted and made life in a way that is not over shadowed by tragedy. I stood, watched, listened and thought about the dichotomy of what I was experiencing.
After experiencing this odd, yet relieving range of emotions I got my bearings and realized my car was on the other side of the church. The 70 degree spring weather, my current emotional state and the need to move, made the brief walk enjoyable.
After rounding the corner I saw them all standing next to the hearse as the casket was carefully slid inside. They were down a ways but my car was closer, I could still execute my plan. No, I couldn’t. Perhaps they were all family, the 30 or so gathered, but it didn’t seem to matter. Very much drawn to the group I walked over, keeping a slight distance when arriving, I watched, and again the emotional pendulum took a swing. Jimmy was there, holding his wife, his two other children were sitting on the curb holding onto each other in a way that can only be understood by sibling love. After a few slow motion moments, Jimmy let go of his wife and started to hug a few of the mourners when he turned and saw me. He walked over and we hugged. Immediately I lost control and as we held each other, in between sobs I simply said “I’m so sorry”. “It’s hard, it’s just so hard” was his response, and I just said “I love you Jimmy”. We each let go, turned and walked away, he to others and me to the shelter of my car. There will now be no letter written.
The solo hour drive home was not just welcome, but badly needed. Now what? After what I had just experienced I again needed life, I needed to hear the kids on the playground.
It has become an unmistakable series of sounds. The screech of tennis shoes on the court, the “thunk” of the bounced ball, the noise made when the ball strikes the center of the racquet (which I cannot think of a way to describe).
I had on sunglasses so nobody knew I was crying while I watched her play, and I wanted to watch, I needed to watch. This was not just life, but what I love about life. The tears were no longer from hurt, like when I held Jimmy, but evoked by my own child doing what she so loves. There was no competition, just working with her coach, working to become something only she knows. For 45 minutes I soaked it up and watched the execution of the lives in front of me. Teacher/student, coach/player, living without knowing the death that had occurred 50 miles away, living and working in a way that made me love life.
Sales coaching? Not today. Not unless you find some hidden theme or message in this visceral writing, but don’t look too hard. Coaching and leadership were not top of mind on this life changing day.