Graciously, for John and maybe the rest of us too, the last few weeks of John’s life were a blur. John had access to constant morphine, and as I am watching my friend die, I could have used some of that morphine myself.
The last time I saw John alive, he had started his death roll. His labored breathing, the long pauses between breaths, we all knew John was just one step from heaven. John’s parents, family and friends all told John we loved him but that it was alright for him to go. We said prayers, and at about 5 or 6 pm, I went home for the day, telling K to call me if anything happened.
About 1 am, K called me and told me that John was with God. She was very calm, she had been lying there in bed with him, when he simply slipped away. John left us on October 29, 1995.
When I got there, a number of John’s family and friends were there, K looked at me, we hugged and cried a little; then she told me that if I wanted to say goodbye, I could go into his room, the coroner had not arrived yet.
If at any point in my life you would have told me that I would be alone in a room with a deceased person, I would have had you committed. Yet here I was, just John and I in his hospice room, and I was not freaked out. It all seemed so natural and beautiful.
I talked to John just a short time, told him I loved him, told him I would miss him and told him I was glad he was whole again. I patted his arm, said goodbye and walked out of the room. I spent some time with the family and eventually I went home. Don’t remember the day, don’t remember the time…but for John, it was finished.
Fortunately for me, John was cremated, so my last remembrance of him was when I said goodbye. Still, the day of the funeral, I was a bit apprehensive. But when we walked into the church, we were in awe at the way K had prepared the church. On a table in front of the altar were all John’s favorite things. Pictures of him with K, pictures of him and the kids, his favorite cereal, peanut butter, his firefighting suit, and on and on and on.
Most of the funeral was a blur to me, I cried some, I listened to the tributes to him, I did not speak, I couldn’t. The church was filled to the rafters with family, friends, fellow firefighters from all the districts in the metropolitan area, my wife and I marveled at all the people.
Upon completion of the service, we formed a motorcade that drove from the church to the firehouse where they had one last gathering. The motorcade consisted of firetrucks from John’s firehouse, police and trucks from all the other firehouses, and hundreds of family and friends. As we were driving, I was in awe at the size of the procession. I don’t know the exact count, but the line of cars was approximately 2 1/2 miles long. We drove slow, through his subdivision, past his house all the way to the firehouse. I told my wife that a person could only wish to have that many friends.
While most of us sat and told stories about John and we all ate a light meal; a few of John’s best fireman buddies loaded John’s ashes onto the rear bumper of John’s fire truck, and as the drove away, they pulled a string which was rigged to opened the box; John’s ashes were spread throughout his firehouse’s district.
My Final Thoughts
I knew John for approximately 9 months. John was too young to get cancer, too young to die and too young to have to leave his wonderful family. I don’t believe in fate, John wasn’t destined to die at 33 and he wasn’t scheduled to get cancer. I sometimes wonder what John’s life would have produced had he not been taken from us; but one thing is clear to me, John is up there in heaven, just waiting on the rest of us. Put in a good word for us John and save me a good seat.
Love and miss you John
If you love someone, let them know.