The line to the funeral home stretched down a long sidewalk to the driveway and inside there were more lines, weaving through rooms, people waiting to tell his family what he had meant to them.
We only have one life to live and he’d lived his well.
Was he perfect?
No human is.
But he was loved and loved back.
He smiled and laughed and made days better.
He made my days better when I saw him at council meetings or fire department events.
He made my dad laugh and shake his head often when they were in school together and afterwards.
Sometimes when you read someone has died you feel a twinge of sadness and you mourn briefly and gently because you knew of them but didn’t know them. Other times you read someone has died and you look down to see who just kicked you in the chest. You realize that ache right there in the center of your heart is your spirit cringing in shock and grief.
Tears rising from somewhere deep in your soul and they come suddenly, without warning.
That’s how I’ve felt before and how I felt last week when I read about the sudden passing of Wayne Felter, a friend of my dad’s and the cornerstone of the community I used to work in.
We’d stand outside council meetings during executive sessions, him and I, and Dave, the publisher of the weekly newspaper, the man who later became my boss. Wayne would tell stories about pretty much everything and Dave would often stop him and remind him I was there, young and a female. I guess Dave was trying to protect me from Wayne’s more salty tales, but few of them were inappropriate.
Many times the story would end with “you ask your dad about that. That’s a true story.”
And I would ask Dad and he would say “it’s true … for the most part” and wink at me.
I never made it to talk to his family that day, due to a hot and tired toddler squirming in my arms and the long, winding lines.
I’m not sure what I would have said if I had reached them. I didn’t know them well enough to offer much more than a brief condolence and to be honest I was feeling selfish.
I glanced only once at the casket, only briefly from a distance and saw him motionless there. In those few seconds I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to remember him. I wanted to remember his smile, the twinkle in his eye when he was about to say something inappropriate for the moment or tease me, and his laugh when he’d succeeded in making someone else laugh.
As my dad said, Wayne made people who met him feel like they were worth talking to. He would seek people out simply to say “hello” and that made them feel special. There aren’t many people who do that anymore.
Today many people are distracted, uninterested and thinking about what they’re going to say next when someone is talking to them.
They listen to speak but don’t listen to really hear.
Wayne listened and heard and usually found a way to laugh at what he’d heard.
I will have to remind myself now when I visit Wyalusing that he’s not around anymore.
At least not physically.
The people of his tiny community will still see him, though.
Anyone who knew him, even only a little, will still see him.
They’ll see him when someone is sliding down frozen streets when they were supposed to be cindering or when someone is making a joke although others think the moment calls for seriousness.
They’ll see him when someone is laughing with a waitress or joking with the customers at the local diner.
They’ll see him in his children and his grandchildren.
And they will see him when someone stops and listens – really listens – making a person feel they are worth being listened to.