I recently had the honor of attending a funeral service for someone that I had only known for a short time. And yet, I learned more about him through his death than I thought possible.
Darrell was a simple man, who lived a simple life. He and his wife of 47 years had 4 sons, and 5 grandchildren. He didn’t have great wealth and didn’t drive expensive cars. He didn’t have a prestigious career. But what did he have? What made him so special?
Life is all about rituals. We perform them to finish an education, to start a life with a spouse, to celebrate the life of a new baby. But so many times, funerals are overlooked as the ritual we use to memorialize and say goodbye.
I watched and stood by at the wake, as hundreds of people came through to honor and give remembrance of Darrell. For most of the duration, the line of people was out the door and into the parking lot. The long line and steady stream of people continued for nearly 4 hours.
One by one, they all shared their memories of Darrell, and everyone had a story to tell. I heard of how he had given money to a young groom who wasn’t making very much and felt down and out. I heard the story about how Darrell drove an hour out of his way to pick up a pair of shoes that a young lad had forgotten at the school. I heard the hilarious tale of how he had fallen while hanging blinds and had to be taken to the emergency room by two of his sons. I heard dozens of stories about how Darrell had flirted with all of the ladies he came across. I heard the story of how Darrell had the ritual of going to the local Depot each morning. I heard about how Darrell always drove the school bus and how the children simply adored him.
Dozens of people shared how they had just seen him in the community in recent months, and he had made no mention of his illness or long stays in the hospital. Doctors and nurses who cared for him during his many illnesses came through to pay respects. The Hospice staff came, his children’s friends came, his relatives came, neighbors came, and his wife’s coworkers came. There was numerous flower arrangements, monetary gifts, and plagues in his honor.
I was reminded of many things throughout being a part of the ceremonies. Social Work is a well known and respected profession and academic discipline. Social Workers obtain an education, often an advanced degree and a state license. The goal of a social worker is to “do no harm” and improve the quality of life and wellbeing of others. It’s about teaching, protecting, and serving. Darrell had no degree in social work, but he had a social worker’s heart. He gave all that he had, at times sacrificing for himself. He sought to make others smile with his stories and good natured fun. He lived for moments to spend with his grandchildren and attended their sporting events, birthday parties, and was a part of their everyday lives.
Darrell lived with honor, gave when he had nothing to give, and loved all those around him. He also lived by example. He was a little fish in his pond, but he made his presence a big one, by being humble, gentle and kind. I know his legacy lives on his four sons. And he reminded me, in his death, that smiles are free and a kind word doesn’t cost a thing, but the lasting effects are priceless.