The line at Chamberlain-Huckeriede Funeral Home began on a beautiful Sunday afternoon shortly after 2 p.m. And, as all of us do, it was a line I really didn’t want to be in.
When we go to our funeral homes, not only are we saying goodbye to someone about whom we cared, but we also are acknowledging our own mortality, which is always a thought for another day. As has been said in response to the question which asks who would want to live to be 100, well, that would be the person who’s 99.
As the line inched forward and I passed the threshold after speaking with several friends outside, I realized that the line would not queue to the left where a hundred feet or so would take me to my friend, Daniel Joseph Killian, in an open casket and to his wife, Courtney, his brothers and sisters and other family members.
Instead the line turned to the right, into another viewing room, empty when, at least in that space, death took its holiday. In serpentine fashion, the line wound back and forth much like far happier lines for the best rides at Cedar Point.
Since the sorrow for me whenever I must go to the funeral home always seems to be too much for me to bear alone, I sent a text to my and Danny’s pal, Greg Stolly, and timed my visit to coincide with his and his wife Susie’s. After all, especially when the line is as long as I knew it would for someone who lived so joyously for his 58 years and was bereft of even a solitary mean bone in his body, it’s important to have good company.
Greg and Sus and I spoke of our kids and grandkids and some old times when Sus coached my Katie in gym hockey many, many years ago. And, of course, we spoke of Danny, especially when the first 90 minutes passed, and we crossed the lobby and entered the viewing room past the display case of Lima memorabilia and that large figure of a train conductor in the archway. That, of course, is when we saw Danny’s image on slide shows and on posters of still photos of Danny in happy times with friends and family.
It was the Danny I knew, the same type of photos as the two that hang on my walls at home, ones from a bus excursion to see Danny’s beloved Irish battle their in-state rival Boilermakers that he and I and many who stood in line to say their goodbyes went on several years ago.
Of course, when I began seeing the slides and photos, there came the hitches in the throat and some mist in the eyes, mist that would become tears some 45 minutes later when I would see Danny for a final time and when I would hug Courtney, and his brothers and sisters, Pat and Mike and Barb and Bev.
When I spoke with Courtney, she said to me, “You have to write about Danny.” I knew then it was a request I could not refuse. Attempting to lay aside the shock and confusion that so many others were feeling who knew and loved someone who felt life’s travails were simply too great to endure any longer, I left the funeral home and returned home, first to ride my bike and collect my thoughts and then back home to write.
My friend Danny, and all who knew him know this as well, had a heart gilded in gold. He was a guy with a devilish Irish smile, a guy who volunteered to referee CYO basketball for years simply because he couldn’t say no to the ultimate cajoler, Ric Stolly, a guy who loved his Irish and his T-Birds and a guy this bald guy always envied so much for his perfectly coiffed hair.
For those he left behind, and there are so very many who inched forward over their 2 1/2 hours on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in addition to, of course, those who loved him the most, his family, there are the same emotions — confusion, unutterable sorrow and, yes, anger, anger that you, Daniel Joseph, didn’t talk enough to those who loved you the most to overcome the desperation you must have harbored within your own bosom.
For all who made that crawl with me through the longest line I’ve ever seen at a funeral home, we’d have gladly helped you, Danny, as sure as there is a rent in the fabric of our hearts, we would have.
As I finished this column on a Sunday night, I looked forward to repose. Monday, there was a funeral, one I attended with so many others who have, as I do, only questions left unanswered.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.