Jan 29, 2010

A Simple Memorial

Street Youth Ministry had the privilege of saying goodbye to a client on January 15, 2010. He died January 10 in the early morning. It was the last day of our severely cold weather. He had been cared for each night by the SYM Cold Weather Response teams. He had engaged in more than usual amounts of conversation with me.
About 15 people gathered in the cold rain under a tree frequented by street youth in the West Campus area. It was sort of like being in a TV show... us gathered together in the cold to say goodbye and the rain coming down hard all around us.

The service began with a country western song. Billy liked country western songs. "The Simple Things" by Randy  Travis opened the memorial service. Billy liked the simple things in life. He had to. It's all he had. The people gathered together celebrated his life by sharing memories of Billy:
  • He would share anything with me that he had.
  • He would wake me up at 6 in the morning like it was nothing and just start talking to me.
  • He loved to sing. He'd be singing that song we just heard over and over if he were here now.
  • I personally never knew if Billy would be angry or good with me. It was different every day. But I looked forward to seeing him and giving it a shot. It meant a lot to me when he would say, "You do all right by me."
After everyone had a chance to remember the good times with Billy, the folks assembled to remember Billy listened to a more poignant Randy Travis song, "A Place to Hang My Hat." After the song, I asked what people would miss. Everyone admitted that Billy wasn't always easy to get along with. I, too, never knew whether Billy would greet me with anger or cheer.  They said:
  • I'll miss his frankness.
  • I'll miss long talks with him at night. He knew his Bible and loved to talk about it.
  • I'll miss him telling me I didn't do right, shouldn't get his help anymore, and then walk away telling me he left me a beer hidden behind such and such a bush.
  • Personally, I looked forward to seeing Billy. I will be seeing him out the corner of my eye for a long time. I never knew if he'd be happy to see me or not, but I always wanted to find out.
Then we listened to Amazing Grace by Amy Grant. The lines "My chains are gone... I've been set free" hung around us as we sat in silence. Billy suffered from seizures much of his life. He was unable to maintain his medication regime much of the time. They became more serious the last year of his life. Unfortunately, his seizures looked a lot like overdosing from heroine. Billy was often mis-accused of being high when he was really walking around with a seizure in progress. The paramedics often warned Billy that he had to seek help immediately when this happened. Billy sought self medication much of the time as well. All of this made Billy very angry.

I asked those present to celebrate what Billy believed in. He was now right where he always longed to me... sitting in heaven in the crowds that surround his Lord and Savior. And he's no longer angry. He's no longer tortured by seizures and the need to self-medicate. Billy has a Savior who understands human existence, even difficult trials like Billy went through. We shared the Gospel that Billy believed in and celebrated its good news.

After the memorial, we shared sandwiches and cookies and hot chocolate provided by SYM volunteers out of the back of my pick-up. Most gathered there knew Billy. Some liked him very much, but some came more out of respect for him than like. Some came not because they knew Billy but to honor a fallen member of the street community. Several volunteers from SYM came or sent their condolences because even they had been impacted by serving Billy on different occasions.

As we left, it seemed the only sign of the memorial were flowers and a photo lying at the base of the tree in the rain. However, a little bit later, one street youth remarked, "No one has ever done that for one of us before. You know, it really feels good to say good-bye like that. Thank you." The effects of the memorial were more lasting than the photo left behind. This community needs to be loved. It longs; it hurts; it grieves. It also hopes; it also celebrates; it also loves.

The truth is, I did the memorial as much for me as for the street youth. I will miss Billy for a long while. I am so grateful that he could know the Lord. And I pray that Billy has finally found the peace and home that he longed for.