Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Hug Speaks to the Heart

On Saturday, June 15.....As soon as we landed on US Soil, I cut my phone on to find a disturbing text from Jake.  It linked me to a news article on WRAL about the death of my dear friend's dad.  I was confused on the timing of it because the weeks worth of texts came through at when we got to our connecting gate and sat on the floor eating dinner, I read through everything I could find to see that Lt. Stanley Klingenschmidt passed earlier that morning.  My first words to David (and whoever else was around), was "Oh my God Huggie. Huggie's dad died."  Then I stumbled over what I was reading and bounced back and forth about what to do.  Should I text him, call him, let him be.....We were boarding our flight back home at this point and I knew I had a small window to get it done before the flight attendants made me cut my phone off.  Drew must have realized by my state of confusion and pain that he needn't try to take my phone away to play his animal game.  So I sent Huggie a text that simply stated that I had no clue what to say and that nothing I do say will be good enough but I wanted him to know I was thinking about him and very very sorry.  Thankfully he responded and I flew home that night grateful to have touched base with him.  Over the next few days, I could NOT get him off my mind. The one thing that Huggie and I have always been good at is talking our life problems out, hugging it out in the beginning and the end and just being there for each other.  Years passed between college and the present day and we saw each other only a few times.  But every time we reached out to each other, we were there.  I looked back on old texts prior to this weekend and saw we texted each other when a certain song or artist was playing that we listened to in HS.  Then I texted him Happy Birthday and it wasn't his birthday.  Then I texted him again on his actual birthday and made sure he realized that he must feel special that I think of him way more than just on his birthday!  (to this day, I'm not sure why I have a hard time with the date of his bday....November 4th? Nope.  November 9th?  Nope. 20th?  No.  22nd?? YES) I pretty much think about Huggie's birthday the entire month of November.  But I digress.....we texted about Thanksgiving and Christmas....hoping against hope that we'd be in The Pines at the same time to catch up. Didn't happen.  So when this happened, all I wanted was to get home and hug his neck and talk or let him talk or just BE near him.  To have been such a special friend to me all these years, this was something serious and I was absolutely going to see him.  I worked part of a practice on Tuesday and left town in time to get to the visitation.  Boles Funeral Home is directly across the street from the Southern Pines Police Department where Stanley worked for 27 years.  A SP patrol car was draped in a black ribbon and sat in front of the funeral home.  My stomach hurt for Huggie and his family.  Especially his mom.  We waited in line for over an hour and I would've stood there three more just to get to Huggie.  He was at the end of the receiving line with his brother, Mike and his Mom.  My mom went as well and I nearly nudged her out of the way to get to him.  The embrace wasn't long enough for me but given the line of people behind me that came to pay their respects as well, I knew I had to let him go.  It felt so good to see him and hear him talk.  He asked me to come to the service the following day and witness the graveside service as well.  After that, family and friends were going to his house to eat and visit.  That one single hug and hearing his voice made me feel a little better about this whole situation.  I know it didn't change anything and I'm sure he was hugged a thousand times this week....but for me, it was a symbol of a renewed friendship with a silent promise that I would never take it for granted.

Wednesday's service for Stanley was amazing.  It was held in Owens Auditorium at Sandhills Community College and it was packed.  The number of law enforcement from all over the state that came to honor this retired officer and friend was amazing.  I have never witnessed anything like the rows and rows of uniforms....grown men and women...the toughest that we see on a daily basis, wiping tears away and embracing each other for comfort.  Stanley not only served in law enforcement, but also as a member of a Harley Davidson club.  His chapter and members of other chapters filled row after row in the auditorium as well.  The service was great....they had two ministers speak as well as the former police chief of Southern Pines and the current police chief of Southern Pines.  All four men spoke through broken words at times to honor and salute such a wonderful member of our community.  Aside from that, they addressed Pat, Huggie, Mike and Kelli well his siblings and his dad.  It was heart wrenching to say the least.  I sat there with people I didn't know paying respects to a man that we both obviously did know.  Everyone cried, held hands and at one point, everyone laughed.....I'm pretty sure it was the comment saying Stanley loved his grandchildren so much you would have thought he invented grandchildren.  One of the things that sticks with me the most was when Dr. Bill Rolland (Stanley's former minister at Manly Pres), said his "heart was broken because we lost such a good man.  That the world operates according to physical law, and that God makes a choice whether or not to override the laws that he created. He rarely chooses to do that, and we don’t know why he does sometimes and not others. I hope to learn these answers when I get to heaven because this bothers me.”  He also quoted Mother Theresa with her answer to the simple question of "What will you do when you get to heaven?"  She said she would walk up to God and say, "You've got a lot of explaining to do."  With all the questions surrounding this tragic accident, these words stuck with me.  No matter how hard it is to understand, sometimes we just have to rely on God's timing and find comfort in the fact that there is a bigger plan for us all.  Sometimes, the unanswered questions restore our faith in His timing and His plan. This provides little immediate comfort to those grieving but in the long run, the answers (or at least an understanding) may be revealed.  

After the service concluded, all the law enforcement lined up outside to receive the casket and move it to the hearse. It was another awe-inspiring moment where uniform after uniform formed a pathway to lead Stanley on his final journey.  Led by Huggie and Mike holding their mom's hands, we watched as the beautifully flag-draped casket was carried by 6 officers.  I went to my car and got in line for the procession to the cemetery.  Once the procession started, I was floored by what I saw.....every road we came to had a member of law enforcement blocking the intersection so we could pass.  They stopped traffic on both sides of US 1 to allow Stanley's final ride pass.  It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen....people stopped on the side of the road and got out of their cars to honor him.  One family I drove past had two little of which stood with his hand over his eye in salute.  I wish I could explain how long this procession of cars was but I'll never know anything other than it was REALLY long.  Law enforcement cars from all over the state, the Harley Davidsons that roared in front of me and the countless friends in their own car that followed Stanley to Vass.  It was unreal.  Once at the graveside, I witnessed one of the most beautiful and tear-filled services to date.  Stanley's casket was brought in on a  caisson with the family walking behind him (I later learned the caisson was the very one that escorted the bodies of Kennedy and Reagan).  There was a SP police car which gave the final call for Stanley over the radio.  The flag folding and presentation to his wife, Patricia.  There was a 21-gun salute.  Words were spoken, tears were shed, hands were held.  After Patricia received the flag, I watched both boys reach over and grab her hands and touch the flag themselves.  I can only imagine what a powerful moment that was.  When it was all over, Huggie, Mike and Patricia all went over to the top of the grave stone and placed their hand prints on it....a symbol of forever for the Klingenschmidts.  From now until the end of time, those four can be spirit and in love.  The entire day was truly special and I was honored to be there for it.  

Once we left there, the Klingenschmidts welcomed family and friends to their house for dinner.  It was so nice to get there and see the family relax a little bit.  Chris Higginbotham and Leonard Mark came to the service and their house as well as some of Huggie's friends from Charlotte.  I figured I'd stay about an hour and head on back to the beach.  Boy was I wrong.  The hours passed by and it was 9:30pm before I could bring myself to leave.  We laughed and reminisced and laughed even more.  Mainly about old times but also about how Stanley was up in heaven shaking his head at Leonard and Chris who got lost and had to break into his processional line and how they decided to race down Chicken Plant Road like they were still in high school.  His Charlotte friends learned that Huggie could in fact, sing and went on a hunt for a video tape of it.  They were also enlightened to all the fun and trouble the boys (okay, and occasionally me and a few others) caused in high school and college.  Those 3 hours at the Klingenschmidt's house, combined with the 4 hours prior laying Stanley to rest will stay etched in my heart forever.  There was no where else I wanted or needed to be at that time.

Stanley will always be remembered in our community....for his service as a police officer, for his time spent on a baseball field, his devotion to his family, his church and in teaching those around him.  He will be remembered as a hero....someone who gave his life while giving to others.  Leading a charity ride to benefit Special Olympics, as a retired police officer, on his Harley Davidson.  His last ride involved three things he was so passionate about.  What an inspiration to us all.  No one will miss Stanley more than his family....for there is a lot of love within this family.  But there are plenty of friends, acquaintances and even strangers that will miss his presence and his passion for life.  I'm sure he impacted enough people that together, we can continue to do good work like him and spread his enthusiasm around.  Everyone was better for knowing Stanley and I'm thankful for my friendship with Huggie that allowed our paths to cross.

As the days have passed since, I've kept in touch with Huggie....simple texts to let him know I'm still thinking about him or stupid texts that have no purpose other than to make him smile.  I bought several cards and will send them periodically because writing notes back and forth was certainly one way Huggie and I became such good friends in high school.  But all that aside, our hugs are how we speak when we can't find any words.  I had very few words for Huggie this week.....I did have plenty of tears and worry and the desire to help him through this however I can.  But getting the chance to be near him, talk to him and share one (or 5) of our precious hugs made my trip home everything it was supposed to be.  I can't imagine Huggie and I going too long between talks any more....and hopefully a lot less time will pass between our next embrace as well.

(pictures from SPPD facebook page)

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