Today, I had another new life experience.
I attended a memorial service for a 19 year-old young man. A young man I had never met. I was there as I know his father.
I sat surrounded by more than 50 other 19-ish year-olds and a crowd of family and friends. We were sitting outside, on the deck of Hart Prairie Lodge at the Snowbowl Ski Resort. A beautiful setting for an incredibly sad occasion.
I was sitting next too four young men who were very emotional. Their tears rolled down their face without stopping. Five days ago, I'm sure they would have never thought of crying in front of their friends....let alone in public. Today - they were struggling to comprehend what had happened. They were struggling to maintain any type of composure.
I watched as the young man's father made his way through the crowd of more than 200 people. He knew most, if not all, of them; including all of his son's friends. Impressive to see a father who is so connected with his child's life. I'm sure if you asked the father, he would say he was not the best father but from my point of view, he was doing an incredible job today.
The father maintained his composure and ran his son's memorial service. If you knew the father, you would either love him or hate him. He is opinionated and direct. Yet, many say he would be the first to help you in a time of need. I have known him for a couple of years and would agree with their assessment.
He spoke at the beginning and then delivered a very strong message at the end. In the middle, the young man's sister and friends spoke. One common theme was how welcoming and loving the young man was. He made friends everywhere and always made people feel included. His friends came from New York, California and Tucson to honor their friend. We saw a young man cry as he explained how his young friend was the first person to make him feel loved by a peer. It would have been easy to judge this young man who was speaking as he wasn't "normal". His long hair, cowboy hat and grundgy appearance would make most adults discount his existence. Yet, his point was incredibly clear, his friend didn't judge anyone - from the time he was in grade school all the way through till he died. A very powerful message.
For almost two hours we heard about this incredible young man. His peers cried and laughed. They all ageed - their lives were better for having known this young man.
I'm sure most are asking, "How did he die?" Some are probably only reading to learn what happened and may have completely missed my inadequate attempt to convey my experience today.
The young man died because he mixed prescription medication and alcohol. I don't know if this was his first time pushing the limits or one of many. He had spent the evening with his friends.....the same friends who now couldn't stop crying. The young man fell asleep and never woke up. One of his friends had the sad, terrible, experience of finding him. I can't imagine.
When the father spoke at the end, he had all of his son's friends stand and spoke directly to them. He made it clear he didn't blame any of them for what happened. He did challenge them to not let this situation be repeated. He charged them with watching out for each other and not being afraid to basically tattle on their friends.
I had a friend who once pushed the limits. He was lucky as he is still around. I think the service struck home because I probably should have talked to my friend's parents about what was happening. Lucky for me, I didn't have to attend the funeral of a young friend.
Why did I write this long post? I guess because today I was reminded about the importance of not judging others. About tolerance. About being happy. About making others feel loved and important.
The young man's father made a simple statement - "Sam has no tomorrows. You must all live tomorrow for him." Wow. Powerful.
This man just lost his only son and here he was showing love and compassion to his son's friends and challenging them. The very friends who could have prevented this tragedy. He could very easily have shown anger towards these young people. We all have faults - so did the young man and so does this father - but today, he showed class, character and how to be a Father.... he showed foregiveness.
Guess I'm not sure who I learned more from today - the young man....or his father.