My friend Daryl passed away at the age of 61 on Aug. 13. I was asked to sing at his funeral and was pleased to do so. Lying in a beautiful wooden coffin, sporting a fresh haircut and a nicely trimmed goatee (which I’d never seen on him), and dressed appropriately in jeans and a handsome plaid shirt, he looked marvelous. And he looked content.
I prayed over him and then bent over his casket to chat with him: “You’re completely whole now, pal,” I said. “No more trials, no more problems. Your time in purgatory is over — God is going to welcome you home.” I believed it at the time, and I believe it today.
Making a new friend
Daryl and I met about eight years ago when I took a job working with adults with disabilities. He and his co-workers earned a paycheck by doing tasks that ranged from very easy to quite difficult. The pay was related to difficulty, accuracy and so on.
I heard that in Daryl’s early days, he was a very good worker. Not so much, however, when I came on the scene, which I attributed to age, strong meds and years of doing the same things over and over. An older staff person told me that Daryl’s protocol included a can of pop at the end of the work week if he had no outbursts. “He hasn’t earned a can of pop in over a year,” he said.
I immediately asked to have Daryl added to my case list.
Over time, he and I did a number of Daryl-inspired visits. A few times we visited people who were car enthusiasts — people who would take time out of their busy day to let Daryl sit in an obviously expensive classic car and have his picture taken behind the wheel of a sleek ’68 Mustang convertible or a classic Chevy with an engine that roared like a lion. His eyes would bulge to saucer size as soon as he got close to the cars. No one had to urge him to smile. He was all teeth.
During this period, God decided to send Dan into Daryl’s life. Dan is the father of Joe, one of Daryl’s co-workers, and I was Joe’s caseworker. (Hope you’re paying attention here.) Dan came to the shop to pick up his son, and while waiting for him, Dan and I began to chat.
“Would it be possible,” he asked, “to set up a group that I could take on a hayride?” Dan lives on a farm. I explained that whoever takes part will need an OK from parents or other authorities. We would also have to bring one or two extra staff members to ensure a safe ride for everyone. It all came together, and Dan added burgers on the grill and potato chips and pop — for those who could have it — for lunch. I made sure Daryl was with us.
On the hayride Daryl was interested in some structures that we passed. They looked like little huts on stilts. “Hey,” Daryl said to Dan, looking at him while gesturing toward the field, “what are those things for?” Dan looked beyond Daryl and said, “Deer hunting. You climb up and sit in them and wait for the deer to come under you and then you shoot the deer.”
Daryl’s eyes widened and brightened. I was a bit less enthusiastic. At the same instant, Daryl was asking Dan if he could go deer hunting some time. Dan looked directly at me, who has never hunted anything and didn’t like the idea of watching someone shoot an animal.
“I’ll look into it,” I said, and a week or two later the three of us were in the hut. As difficult as it was for Daryl to sit still and remain quiet, he did well. Even as nature called, he climbed down with a little help, and gingerly stepped over to a tree to take care of business. No deer that day, but a good lunch on the way back.
‘A really good day’
A year later and with Daryl’s persistent reminders, the three of us were once again in the deer stand. Only this time, Dan’s other son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law were not too far away in another stand. We heard a gunshot, heard Dan’s son say, “We got one,” and trekked toward their stand, finding the couple dressing a doe that had been shot by the bride-to-be. Daryl took great interest in all of it, and over and over flashed his big smile. The one that signaled “a really good day.”
Dan and Joe came to Daryl’s funeral. Dan shared the story pretty much as you are reading it — but with an important addition: “I didn’t expect to feel so good about this,” he said. “I found a level of joy that came from just doing something for others. Making Daryl happy made me happy! I still think of those days in the deer stand, and I can still see Daryl’s joy.”
God bless you, Daryl. You gave us all a reason to be joyful.
Curt Hanson is executive director of the Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of St. Cloud and director of the diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development.