Stopping by the Funeral Home on a Chilly Evening


The early winter of 2014-15 has not been the best of times. My wife’s good friend Donna lost her husband to a brain tumor on December 12. He had also become a friend of mine. Eric and Donna found each other later in life, and had only a handful of years together. Tragic.

Several days later, a favorite ex-student of mine died in a motorcycle accident. Sheldon (not his real name) struggled in school. He was a great kid; funny and kind and willing to give it 100%, handicapped a bit by a tough go with the written word. He graduated last June. He’d found a tech school, moved to Florida, had found success, and was headed to a life with joy. A month before he died, he purchased a motorcycle. A motorist turned across traffic in front of him. Horrible.

Several days after Sheldon died, another favorite ex-student died. Leonard (not his real name) was valedictorian, a high school and college campus leader, and a hilarious and talented singer/actor. He accidentally drove onto a closed freeway ramp at 3:00 am, and before he could extricate himself, his truck plunged off the freeway overpass where a section of road had been removed. Heartbreaking.

I met these fine young men as a teacher at Holly High School where I taught from 2000-12. Holly is a small town- 6,000 people. One high school, two hardware stores, a handful of gas stations, and a bunch of antique stores. It is a cozy, warm village. The denizens of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone would feel right at home.

Early in the evening of December 29th, my wife Cathy and I found ourselves at Holly’s Blackthorne Pub as we shared a meal and an ale before our visit with Sheldon’s family at the funeral home. We hadn’t been seated but five minutes when our server, a barely post-teen dark haired girl, came up to the table.
“Hi, I’m Charlotte and I’ll be… Hey, Mr. Stanley!! It’s me! Ruffini!”

Another favorite face. For whatever reason, I never called her Charlotte. She was always Ruffini. It made us both laugh. A great kid, you’d want her for your own daughter. She graduated the year I stopped teaching. We chatted, got caught up, she brought us our drinks. The restaurant was getting busy.

“Hey, Ruffini. What’s your brother up to?” A couple years older than her, I’d had him for several classes.

“Alex? Yeah, hey, be right back.” She went around a corner of the pub and came back with a muscular, handsome young man. It was Alex.

“Hi, Mr. Stanley. How you doing?” he said. “I’m just working here part-time, finishing up my degree.”

“Mr. Stanley,” said Charlotte, “I need to go check on my folks’ table.”

“Your folks?”

“Yep, they’re right over there. The guy in the blue sweater and the woman in yellow? That’s Mom and Dad. Your food will be right out.”

Alex excused himself. “I gotta run some food. Catch me before you leave, okay?”

I looked across the pub. There was Charlotte, a hardworking kid in and out of school, sitting down for a minute with her parents. I looked at my wife and stood up.

“Go,” Cath said.

I walked over to the Ruffini’s table.

“Hi, I’m Dave Stanley. I had your kids for a bunch of classes at the high school. I don’t know that we ever met. Anyway, I wanted you to know that you raised a couple of great kids, and I really liked having them in class, and I liked them as people out of class. Thanks.”

“They are good kids, aren’t they?” said Mr. Ruffini.

“Thank-you for coming over here. That was very sweet,” said Mrs. Ruffini.

I walked back to the table. Cath looked at me.

“I heard what you said. I knew that’s what you were going to do. Here we are, you’re able to tell those people how great their kids are, and in fifteen minutes we have to go half a mile up the street to tell Sheldon’s parents the same thing. Well, Mookie, like you always say, it’s important to do the right thing, but I could settle for one less right thing like this. My heart is broken for Sheldon’s parents, and I don’t even know them.”

“Your kid stays out of trouble, he struggles to get through school but he finally makes it, he finds something he’s really good at, and, well, ah, crap. It’s just crap.”

The next day, I visited Leonard’s family at the funeral home. It was equally heart-breaking. As I walked into the funeral home, I saw another old favorite student at the end of the line. The now twenty-one year old Dakota stood there with his mother. He was a Manchester United fan. I’m an Arsenal fan from way back. We spent his four years of high school giving each other good-natured grief about our choice of teams. Secretly, we were pleased to have found a kindred spirit, and as guys do, our affection manifested itself in taking the piss out of each other.

We talked; Dakota, his mom, and I. Dakota’s mom moved towards to her son. She put her arm around with him. Dakota didn’t move away.


The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at

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  1. Definitely a rough time of the year and I haven’t heard many happy stories in 2015. Thanks for putting it out here for everyone to share a piece of the load. I really do think that helps. Here’s to a brighter year moving forward.

  2. Larry says:

    You have aot of old favorite students. I think it shows how much you care/cared about them. I’m so sorry that not all of them are prospering now. The two were much too young to leave this world.

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