Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Going Commando to a Funeral

Well, if you want to be technical, it was a memorial service, not a funeral.

Still, going commando to a memorial service was not really something I ever thought I'd do.  But it's exactly what I did after work last night.

I mentioned last week that I'd been touched by an unexpected death.

A running coach from long ago died very suddenly on Monday night two weeks ago.  He would have been 70 on Tuesday. 

He was still running strong and really racking up the AG awards.  He'd just finished his 53rd marathon.  He had coached me for and run with me during the disastrous Chicago Marathon in 2007. 

And I'd just seen him Sunday morning while running and he'd called out to me by name to say good morning. 

Such a sad surprise.

His memorial service was set for March 24 in the evening at a park in a northern suburb filled with trails that he loved to run. 

It was wonderful.  Such a mix of people from his life -- family, skiiers, stamp collectors, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and of course runners. 

There were several people who spoke and made us all laugh at certain memories.

The images, sayings and memories of him that I will hold with me:
  • He ran with his shirt tucked into his shorts.
  • He wore his team track suit all the time.
  • The way he would stand.
  • His running advice to pay attention to the tangents.
  • His running advice to avoid hopping curbs on any run over 18 miles.
  • His running advice to sit before the start of a marathon.
  • His practice water stops set up for us.
  • His steady pacing at the track and on long runs.
  • His first introduction to me of the concept of heart rate training.
  • The way he wore his reflective vest when we were running in the dark. 
  • He loved to travel. 
Stories I loved at his service:
  • How he shepherded a stranger through her first 50 miler, and how after the event, she emailed a mutual friend to describe him and said he was her "trail angel." 
  • How he was unable to run with his co-coach for a BQ attempt but instead attended the event and was like a helicopter mom, popping up every few miles along the course.
  • How at that same race, where the finish line was split between half and full finishers, he climbed over a fence onto the course to direct his co-coach to the full finish line, just to be absolutely certain he went the right way.
  • The way he would stand in the store where he worked to wait for the next customer, and how new associates would ask about what to do to get customers, and the manager's advice was to try to go stand in front of him.
  • The comment about how he'd be happy to see the crowd gathered on a Monday night, especially since if the service had been on Sunday, they would have had to pay for the pavilion, which he would have hated! 
So I went to his memorial service commando.  The attire was listed as "sporty casual" and the memorial service was followed by a walk on the trails.  So I wore my running capris and a black technical shirt, which I figured was appropriate for a memorial service.  I was right -- some people clearly had come right from work and weren't planning to do the trails, but there were plenty of us in running clothes, happy to set out on a walk in his honor, while a bagpiper played in the background. 

Feelings after something like that are so complicated.  I left feeling uplifted, happy and chuckling, but of course at the same time, I felt very sad to know I'll never see him again.  It was such a perfect celebration of his life.  Race medals strewn all over the tables, pictures from races, a slideshow of family photos and plenty from other parts of his life. 

I also thought that his service was almost exactly what I'd want, assuming I'm still a runner when it's my time to go.  There was a wild mix of ages of people attending his service, which was so neat.  I think the average age of non-family attendees at a funeral for a 69.999 year old is probably between 55 and 75.  But of course running is such a massive cross section of people, so his service was filled with everyone starting around age 25 or so, going all the way up to people likely in their 70s and/or 80s.  While he was certainly gone too soon, it's so great knowing he did his long run the day before he died, and that he had several marathons and races on the horizon for the next few months.  That too is exactly what I want, what I expect most of us want, no prolonged illness or slow decline.  Up one day, down the next.  Hopefully no suffering.  And a bunch of runners there to walk in your memory and fondly share stories. 


  1. Sorry for the loss of your old running coach and friend. He sounds like a wonderful man and the service was the perfect way to celebrate his life.

  2. I'm so sorry Carina. What a touching memorial service. I love that it really spoke to his passion for running. It's a blessing that he didn't suffer, but it sounds as though he was called away much too soon. I hope he continues on as a trail angel.

  3. I’m so sad to hear of his loss. He sounds like he was a wonderful and amazing person in every possible way it seems. I hope to meet someone of his stature and call him a friend on some level someday. I would be honored, as I’m sure you feel you were to have known him. I love the story of how the manager would tell new associates to stand in front of him in order to get customers. HAHAHA! I was at work when I read this and I literally laughed out loud when I read that. And the bagpiper in the background, I love bagpipes. They’re such an emotionally charged instrument. I love how running brings together such a wide variety of ages and types of people.

  4. You captured the sadness and love of losing someone who lived such a full life. People gathering to celebrate a life well lived. What a nice tribute.