My People

We said goodbye…

God broke my heart this weekend… in big and incredible ways. As I drove to Ivy Lawn on Saturday afternoon, I thought I’d be fine. I’m sad, I’m stunned, I’m heartbroken… but I haven’t cried, so I’ll be fine. Right? Wrong. Dead wrong. I parked and walked… and walked and walked some more. There were at least 200 people at the burial. I stood to sign the guest book and one of my really good friends from middle school and high school came over to me, “Come stand with us,” she said. It was as though no time had passed. I hadn’t seen her in years, but it did not matter. I saw my high school principal, “We have to stop meeting like this,” I said. I last saw him at my grandfather’s funeral two months ago. Then it began.

When I saw Alex lead the pack of boys at the front of JD’s coffin… carrying him is as a pallbearer… I lost it. The tears started and I couldn’t stop. They’re men now, but they’re still “the boys” that I knew from middle school and high school. They are teammates and classmates and friends. They are not old enough to carry that coffin. They are not old enough to trail behind it. We are not old enough to bury one of our own. The service passed by quickly; it was no more than 30 minutes long. I don’t remember all that was read or said, but I remember my own tears. I remember my friends’ tears. After the service concluded, many lined up to pay their respects to JD’s parents and family. I watched as his devastated family, his mother and grandmother, placed roses on his coffin. I watched as the entire (current) football team in uniform passed by placing flowers on his coffin, touching it, crying, and holding each other up. I watched as they embraced in a group hug. “Carry him in your hearts,” I heard. I saw friends standing stone-faced… in that desperate attempt to not fall apart. “Nice to see you, shady circumstances…” “So, five year reunion, huh?” This sucks. It was so hard, but so nice to see so many people and to see and feel that support.

Corrie and I walked up together to touch JD’s coffin and say goodbye. “I can’t believe he’s really in there,” “I can’t believe he’s really gone,” and “I don’t understand…” were commonly heard sentences. It just didn’t look big enough for our Gentle Giant. How was this possible? Was it real? I went and saw Courtney as I left the cemetery and so did a few others. I still can’t believe that she’s been gone for nearly two years. Her resting place is just a few rows over from JD’s. As I got in the car to drive to the celebration of life, Tim McGraw’s “Cowboy In Me” came on. It was JD’s favorite song. What timing…

Following the burial, a celebration of life took place at the “Majestic Ventura Theatre” and it was quite an event. JD’s name and dates were on the marquis and posters lined the walls. We were greeted with wristbands that say “You Suck!!!” over and over and over again. Oh JD, love you so much. Coach Hamil oversaw the event. He spoke first about JD and then coach after coach after teacher after friend… so many people spoke about the remarkable person JD was. Was. Wow. I still have a hard time believing it. One of them mentioned, “If you want to know what love looks like, come stand where I’m standing. Wow.” I can only imagine. JD’s old boss spoke, but she also put together a slideshow of JD’s life. “It ain’t fair you died too young…” Dang. Seriously? Had to start with that song? Most of the slideshow was country music, JD’s favorite. I can’t remember the second song, it’s all such a blur. I do remember hearing “The Dance” and laughing hysterically when “You Are So Beautiful To Me” came one with pictures of JD making funny faces. I remember the video closing after 5 or 6 songs with “You Raise Me Up” and the long, standing ovation in a very packed, near capacity Ventura Theatre. I remember them pulling his parents up and their crying embrace on the floor in front of the theatre. I’m so glad they were made to see how many came to celebrate their amazing son. Following the video, the mic was opened up to the crowd. Many people went to speak… old teammates, his students/athletes, coaches, his brother, and more. When Coach Scott’s wife closed the evening nearly four hours later, she received a great round of applause for her late husband. Oh Coach Scott, you and JD… together again, eating and talking and football and all of it…

A bunch of us went out to Winchester’s after the service to have drinks and continue the “reunion.” Shots of JD for JD were takin’ and many memories were shared. We talked and we laughed and occasionally shed more tears, but it was a wonderful evening under terrible circumstances with people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years.

I’m still trying to gather it all and hold on to every moment and every word. I’m trying to retain the beauty of each second and even the overwhelming heartache. God broke my heart and the hearts of so many this weekend, but the love and support? The community and reunion? Wow. It’ll be awhile before I can truly process it all.


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