Monday, January 09, 2006

Uncomfortable Goodbye

Today I am going to talk about my friend, Glenn Styles. I worked with him at my former job for several years. He really seemed to enjoy the job, and he could do it well, too. I remember one time where his quick decision in driving avoided an accident that would certainly have resulted in serious injuries. But mostly, Glenn liked to party. Luckily, he could do this wherever he went because he just made the party himself. He would dance, usually to music (though it was never necessary), and it could be by himself or with anyone who would go with him. Whether making his own party or out in the cold for several days in freezing weather, he could always be counted on to have a smile and a joke. I don't know that I have ever seen him in a foul mood, but if he was he certainly didn't pass it on to other people. For several months he had been preparing to go to Afghanistan with the Army in January. He was on vacation in the Bahamas before departing when, on Christmas Day, he was killed in a traffic accident. He was 24 years old.

Last Friday, he was remembered and buried in a military funeral in his hometown of Red Deer. The church was filled with family and friends from both within and outside of the army. Led first by the Regimental Chaplain, his body was brought forward in the flag-draped casket by eight stoic-looking army pallbearers. Glenn had too many friends to have a single person read out a eulogy for him, so first his Uncle Dan recounted the memories of Glenn's childhood years. His family and old friends, familiar with the stories, were visibly moved by this. A woman behind me quietly told her friend her own story, between dabbing her eyes and sniffling.

Next came his friends Dustin and Courtenay, who told the congregation about Glenn's more recent years. We heard stories about about him, from nights of drinking to jumping out of a moving car to help an elderly lady cross the road. They told stories mostly known by his close friends from school and elsewhere, and I know they remembered by their reactions - from laughter to quiet sobs.

Finally came the remembrances of his friends from the army, read by Rachel and Lauren. This one hit closest to home for most of the people there, and their stories were obviously felt by everyone seated there. They remembered that Glenn would never say goodbye, as friends would sometimes come to his house to discover that he had gone out of town for a course or when he served in Bosnia. And he would always come back. But Glenn, you didn't come back this time.

Seven elderly members of the Royal Canadian Legion, those who had served Canada in the past, lined up in front of the casket. The first read out the poem:

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

Old, crooked backs were straightened as they approached the casket in turn, removing the poppy from their lapel and placing it on the wreath on the casket. Each then took a step back, gave him a salute, saying to him, "Farewell, my comrade." These men were followed by three members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, dressed in Red Serge. The final Moutie had been a good friend, and could barely hold his voice as he bid farewell.

After taking up the casket again, the pallbearers moved back up the aisle toward the exit. No longer did they seem to be stoic soldiers, but they were his friends as they cryed for their burden.

A long procession followed Glenn to his final resting place. This would be The Field of Honour in the cemetery, reserved for those who have served their country. As the hearse is opened, his body receives a Present Arms from the Honour Guard. There is no noise except the cold wind whipping the trees and the hands of the Honour Guard slapping thier rifles in unison. The soldiers of his Escort stand rigidly at attention and all members present salute as he is carriedt from the hearse to his grave. The sound of the feet of the pallbearers crunches on the hard snow as they move across uneven ground. Their arms visibly strain to hold up their friend and their necks are bent forward, away from starched collars. As the casket is placed over the grave in front of his tightly-huddled family, all members remove their headdress in a mark of respect.

The bugler plays The Last Post as people bow their head and remember. It is so cold and dark for the daytime, and now so quiet. Now I can only hear people's feet crunching on the snow in an attempt to stay warm. The wind is cold and goes right to my skin. Why is his tribute so different from his life? Why is the day so cold? Glenn was always so happy, could always warm up a room with his enthusiasm and energy.

As the piper starts his lament, the white-gloved hands of the pallbearers move crisply over the Canadian Flag, folding it sharply over the casket. Once it is folded, one of them carries it to Glenn's Commanding Officer. The CO carries the flag to Glenn's mother, and she embraces him as she takes the flag. The strong bodies of soldiers preparing for war are again weakened by their departed friend as they cry for him again.

The officers each salute the body, and pin their poppy on the casket. Everyone files past the casket before departing, leaving their poppy on the casket. The cold wind blows the poppies away. That is ok, you weren't all about ceremony anyway, were you Glenn?

You left too soon, buddy. And you left more friends than you could have known.


Jay said...

Well said Matt.

Arch said...

I tried to comment earlier but was being wack.

Well-written Matt. You did a very good job of describing someone I didn't know, but after reading I felt like I knew him. Made me wish I knew him.

Rachel said...

Thanks Matt, now people that weren't there can know what it was like, and that he went out in described it very well, in a way that I don't think I could.Glenn would appreciate that.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if I have meet you or not, Glenn had so many friends. After reading that, it brought me back to the day we buried my brother, for such a sad day, Glenn was still able to over whelm me with how many people his life touched.
I don't know what else to say but :
Thank you
Westley Styles