I can't ever remember being more moved emotionally
I've never been to an official funeral before. I've never been to the funeral of a beloved firefighter, a real hero to an entire city. But today I was so fortunate to be able to celebrate the life of Warren J Payne with his family, his friends, his coworkers, and with the family of firefighters from all over the country.
When we arrived at the viewing, we almost immediately ran into Warren's son, our dear friend JP. He was wearing a suit, something I've never seen on him before, and he looked stately and handsome, but very uncomfortable and almost shell-shocked. I gave him a big hug and told him how sorry I was for his loss. A small group of people stood outside the church and talked, some of us haven't seen each other in several years. It was hard to catch up in such sad circumstances.
The church as a huge set of steps up to the front door, and they were all lined with firefighters from Boston to greet the mourners. We walked up, and waited in a long line to pay our respects to the family. Warren's mother, who had just been released from the hospital that morning, his sister, twin brother, and younger brother were all in the front. At the casket I told Warren that I would look out for JP as best I could. It was the only promise I could make to him.
We took our seats and waited while scores of people filed into the church, waited in the long line, and then paid their respects. We saw lots of people we know from our City, where Warren lived (despite what the media keep mistakenly reporting) and there was a goodly amount of hugging, handshaking, and small talk. We waited a long time for the service to begin. Towards the end of our wait, the dignitaries started arriving.
John Kerry, Gov. Deval Patrick, the Mayor and Mrs. Menino, Martha Coakley, the Lt. Governor, Diane Wilkerson, Sal DeMati, many of the city council members, and the state house and senate were all in attendance. I've never seen most of them in person, and might I just remark that John Kerry is really GREAT looking in person. Way better than on TV. He's pretty damn hot!
The service itself was amazing. Gospel music with all the hallelujahs, moving speeches by Warren's superiors and friends. Some of the tributes were funny, others were uplifting, still others were tearful. For me, there were two things that really stood out. Not one person, not one speaker said anything about Warren's ex-wife, whom the media reported as being a very different person that those of us that know her were rather upset about. She was not mentioned once. Yes, she was there. But she was ignored, which was very helpful for me.
The second thing was what made me cry harder than anything else. Warren's younger son (14) is autistic. Severely autistic. At one point he had to get up and the police/fire liaison accompanied him up the aisle. As he passed by I saw that he was clutching a Thomas the Tank Engine video. I'm telling you, I totally lost it. I have no clue as to whether or not he knew what was going on, but that he brought his Thomas video along with him as a comfort object just about totalled me.
The service was long. Warren's ailing mother was given a special Medal of Honor, and JP was given his father's badge. Jeremy wasn't in the church when Warren's firehat was presented to him, so JP gave it to him when he returned. He carried it proudly all afternoon.
After the service was over we left the church with a huge honor guard at the top of the stairs all displaying the different flags representing the various fire departments in attendance. We walked slowly down the stairs, bagpipes playing in the street, and got into the car to join the funeral procession to the cemetery.
From the church to the cemetery was maybe 4 or 5 miles, but it took forever. The first mile we crawled by thousands upon thousands of firefighters, 4 deep at some points, on both sides of the road. They were standing at attention in 93 degree heat wearing full dress blues and white gloves. It was so moving. They stood there looking at us with such sadness and camaraderie on their faces. One of the family was gone. You could see it on each and every face lining the streets.
Not only were there firefighters lining the streets, there were people everywhere. On balconies waving flags, on street corners leaning on storefronts and waving. Men from the barber shop with capes still around their necks. Little kids at a parochial school all lined up at the fence in their uniforms, waving madly. Moms with kids, single men and women, groups of friends. The entire way, the streets were filled with people paying their respects. It was overwhelmingly emotional. I don't even know how to describe what it felt like to see the whole city come out to honor Warren's life.
So many people claim that Boston is a city divided. A segregated city. This was a black man's funeral in a community that is mostly black in color, but the crowd was a rainbow of colors. As we went through the Hispanic neighborhoods, people were out waving. In white neighborhoods, too. There was no color barrier. Everyone was paying their respects regardless of color. It makes me incredibly proud to be a resident of this city.
When we finally got the the cemetery at Forest Hills, there was another long wait while they removed the casket which was atop the ladder truck to which Warren was assigned. Finally we parked by a beautiful small green pond by the Firefighter's Memorial, and the internment began. It was short, with people laying flowers on the casket, the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace, a color guard, a gun salute, etc.
Then we headed to another Memorial Service for the kids at our City's local Youth Center. The kids stopped to change out of their formal clothes, and then got together to play incredibly loud music, eat a lot of food, and get to share with JP and his brother how much they love and care about him. All the parents pretty much knew each other, and we talked. There were a lot of teachers from the schools, guidance counselors, school psychologists, spec ed reps., the Mayor and the Superintendent of Schools. Buttons were handed out with Warren's photo on them, which I'll wear proudly on my coat all winter long.
When the Girl and I finally left around 5, a lot of the boys had taken their shirts off and were playing rock and roll stars in the recording studio at the Youth Center. JP was playing drums, he was back in his regular gigantic clothes, and he was smiling. Smiling. My heart was bursting. I love this kid. I got to tell him twice today how much he means to me and how much I love him and will help him. It's all I can do. It's probably not enough. But it's real. Stumble It! JBlog Me