I woke at 2:00 a.m. and started thinking of Jeff. The funeral was yesterday, and I’ve never been to a more inspiring one, or one with such an eclectic group. There were people from every walk of life, every background, and every economic level and every color.
It was standing room only, and when the pastor told those who were standing they could go to the overflow room and listen and watch comfortably through the windows, no one moved. I’ve never been to such a big funeral. You would have thought a famous person had died.
I’ve never seen so many motorcycles in one place either. The photo shows only a portion of them. It was really something when they roared into the cemetery. And I’ve never seen so many black bandanas on bald heads. The attire at this funeral was t-shirts, simple button-down shirts, and jeans. A lot of bikers and working people attended. When we went to the reception, I noticed that all the coat-and-tie set lost their coats and ties before going inside to eat. At the graveside service, the pastor assured the bikers that all pastors were not sissies, and some even admired a Harley once in a while.
It’s always interesting when you learn things about a person at their funeral that you didn’t know when they were alive. There were so many testimonials to Jeff’s life. So many people felt the need to speak, and all of them were eloquent and revelatory. The pastor even read a letter from one man who did not know Jeff. He wrote about how he had seen Jeff that morning at church, and had seen him before at church, but had never met him. I think Jeff’s bad-boy appearance was a little intimidating. I used to say that he didn’t look like the kind of guy you’d want to meet in a dark alley. This guy said he saw Jeff walk over to his elderly father, take both his hands and lift them up, and exclaim how happy he was to see him. When Jeff left, he asked his father who that man was. His dad said, “A nice man who always talks to me.” Then the man heard about a member of his church dying in an accident. He went on Facebook and was shocked that it was the same man who had spoken so animatedly that morning with his dad. He said he had to write the letter so Jeff’s family would know he had been kind to his father that morning and apparently many other times.
An elderly man with a long, white beard hobbled to the front. With difficulty, he made his way up the one or two steps to the lectern. He told us that he was homeless. He said that Jeff would pick him up every morning and take him to breakfast, and he gave him a job. He said that Jeff’s life was about purpose. He said he loved Jeff because he helped him, but didn’t pity him.
A former convict talked about how Jeff would pick him up at the jail and take him to work every morning. He said that when he was released, Jeff gave him a permanent job, and then he told how Jeff kicked him out into the world a few years later, telling him that it was time for him to start his own business, that he could do it now. When his business faltered at one point, Jeff told him that was how business was. You have lows and highs. Jeff’s construction business had faltered after the 2008 crash. This man said he loved him and his whole family for what they’d done for him.
An elegantly dressed, older woman talked about Jeff as her “carpenter” and how sweet he was to her, saying how much she would miss him.
Another conservatively dressed man who attended the same church talked about how Jeff was, ” by far, the coolest member” of their church. He talked about how he came to church on his Harley and how he rocked the bald-head look and the though-guy look, but he also said that Jeff gave him a man-hug (air in between and vigorous patting on the back) every time he saw him. He talked about how excited Jeff got when he told him about a school that was being built in Columbia. Jeff told him that this kind of project was right up his alley. He said Jeff came back the next day and gave him $1000 dollars, and now the school has electricity. A thousand dollars was a lot for Jeff. They were not wealthy. They were not poor. They worked hard and lived within their means.
I was so impressed with how many people Jeff helped in his short life. His hand extended around the world to people who would never know this hammer-swinging, bald-headed, tattooed, muscle-bound man. I was even more impressed with how much he was loved. I’ve never seen so many weeping men. One speech after another revealed his kindness, awareness and mercy. We live in such a loud world now. It was reassuring to be reminded that in some quarters, the quiet, unheralded work for our fellow-man continues, and that you cannot judge who is doing this work by their appearance.
Note: Those motorcycle riders gave a bag of money to my niece because they heard that Jeff did not have life insurance.