Tom Kirvan: Funerals stir memories of long ago friends, times

 A former hometown, a speck on the Southeast Michigan map, has been scarred by various tragedies of late – heroin-induced deaths, the suicide of a former all-state runner, and a 21-year-old woman whose life was cut short by a drunk driver.

The string of bad news was reminiscent of a time more than 30 years ago when a series of crashes claimed the lives of eight teen drivers in the same small town in the shadows of Ann Arbor. It was a time of community-wide grief that was aggravated by several teen suicides that were unrelated to the crash tragedies.
The deaths brought the small-town cemetery into the unfortunate forefront, serving as a place of mourning, of soul-searching, and of healing. This cemetery, lined as it is with a wrought-iron fence and towering trees, is a peaceful place, neatly tended and windswept. There are simple headstones, tasteless monuments, forgotten graves, and those too fresh to be neglected. On Memorial Day, it is the site of tributes and tableaus, of “Taps” and other hand-woven tapestries.
More often than not in this small town, a funeral was followed by a neighborhood or community dinner in the church parlor, or some semi-public hall. Here is where everyone who has journeyed to the service meets and exchanges greetings, reminiscences, and good wishes. It is a time of mourning, of solemn reflection, even of rejoicing for those who believe in the promise of a greater reward.
As you may have surmised, I recently returned to my former home to pay last respects to a longtime friend. His name matters little, but the years of his life covered some momentous events in our nation’s history.
He never traveled far from his birthplace, or from his farm, or from the small, cozy home in the village to which he and his wife retired. He was not widely known, in a worldly sense, and yet he was admired by all and respected by an equal number.
But this is not a treatise on the man. He lived a good, but simple life. He made his mark on his family and his community, and his friends paid him honor.
There was the mid-afternoon lunch in the church hall, with friends and neighbors preparing and serving the food. And we who seldom return to our native haunts met, once more, those who have always been there, or have long since returned.
Afterward, walking among the marble headstones, I saw the graves of former neighbors, bigger than life mayors, community gadflies, former in-laws, outlaws, and the like.
There was good friend John C., a man much older than his 44 years, who died long before his time, who may have lived a wasted life, or who, perhaps, by his example, saved some of the rest of us.
There was Harold M., a former steel worker who died long before the hazards of the factory were discovered. Who is to say whether his end was hastened by the good times he had, or the loneliness he suffered.
Who could forget Larry B., one of the happiest, brightest, nicest fellows you could ever meet, a man who lived life in a most uncomplicated way.
And now, in their midst, are several teens, their lives cut short by the ravages of drugs.
But time, as they say, waits for no one, even in a small town. The service was finished, everyone but the cemetery attendant had left. The afternoon was waning; it was time to move on.
As I said a final goodbye, it wasn’t a time to be forlorn or depressed, especially when treasuring the memories of a dear and cherished friend.


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