The loss of a friend, a leader, and a pillar of the community always brings out the best in those left behind. And after so many impressive efforts on the field over the years, what I observed Sunday at Brian Harlamert’s calling hours reminded me that the greatest win of all is the love and support from friends and neighbors.
The calling hours for Coldwater teacher and coach Brian Harlamert were from 1 to 7 pm on Sunday, but when Press Pros associate Julie McMaken Wright and I arrived shortly after 1 pm the waiting line was already outside the Hogenkamp funeral home, down the sidewalk, down the steps, across the gravel parking lot, onto the grass and all the way back to the small creek that ran across the back of the property.
It seemed that the entire Coldwater community had all come to see Brian, Trish, and the four children – to pay their respects, yes, but to find comfort in each other just as much.
It rained while we waited in that line, which seemed to never move. People held umbrellas as a shield from the showers, but there was no shield from a biting wind that made some go to their cars for coats…or for cover while someone held their place in line.
The wait, it turned out, was three hours from the creek bank to the front door of Hogenkamp’s, and in three hours time you can hear and observe a lot from people struggling with the moment, and in this case…from some…the question of how someone so popular, so trusted, and so highly thought upon as Brian Harlamert could ever be replaced? How do you get over such a loss?
People, especially the younger ones, were hurting – those who had known him as a teacher and coach. Many of the older ones just endured. Some who had known him as a high school teammate shared stories of less-somber, happier times. And when I arrived inside I overheard someone say, “I’m going to miss talking to him…because you could always talk to ‘Harley’.”
Yes, that fact is an attribute of true teachers, true coaches, and true friends. You can always talk to them. I’ve been married to one for forty years, retired now from the public schools for nearly a decade, and I never cease to be amazed at the number of calls she gets from former students, teachers, and parents…asking her advice about how to do, what to do, and what not to do. I’ve never seen her turn one down. She’s that good, that trusted, and that committed to her work, her students, and friends.
But when I heard that statement Sunday about how communication is lost with someone after they’re gone, I was reminded of something I once read from a daily devotional magazine in a doctor’s waiting room. It said that to the true believer communication is never lost with one that you truly believed in. And that while you can’t always physically hear someone, the fact that you spent so much formative time with an individual is a constant reminder of what that person told you when he or she was here to talk to you in person.
For instance, I once had a high school English teacher that had a profound impact on me as a student, one that I kept in touch with for a long time after I graduated. Literally, Don Flinn taught me how to write a sentence, a paragraph, and a column. As a student I would take a paper to him and ask for his advice, and he would always mark it up, hand it back to me, and say, “Do it again.” Frustrating then, I figured it out over the years. What you try to do in a hurry – what you attempt through a shortcut – is never as good as it is when you take more time and care.
My high school baseball coach, Jim Hardman, has been gone for a decade. And I often think about what what he would say about modern baseball, if he had the opportunity. Then I remember…the things he used to say, and I know. ‘Coach’ never changed. He’d say the same thing if he were here today. I can hear him.
Of course the best example are your parents. My dad has been gone now for twelve years, and I spent 58 years with him. I knew him like the back of my hand. And to be honest, I talk to him a lot, still…particularly, the practicality of how to do something. You see, Dad’s idea of fun was to sit and figure the volume of a silo, or the square root of 485. He knew, confidently, that it was 22.0227. That’s the way his mind worked, and he never changed. I know there’s people who would roll their eyes over me saying that I still talk to him. But I don’t need him to answer me physically…I just remember when he was here to do it. That’s the value of relationship.
I witnessed a lot of people in pain on Sunday. I heard a lot of people utter the rhetorical question of how you replace someone so important. Physically, I don’t have the answer. But in practical terms, I’ll be reminded of conversations we had and things I observed from Brian, competitively, that I know wouldn’t have changed had he lived to be a hundred.
I once heard columnist Mitch Albom use the example of a quarter inside a piggy bank…in describing how you cope with the loss of someone you love. You can’t see that quarter, but you’re reminded that it’s in there every time you shake the bank – the sound of that coin as it rattles around. It will always be the same, like the person you once had physically.
As sad as the day was, I managed to feel better on my way home. I thought of Brian and the good times. I thought of that quarter.
And I thought of all those who stood in line Sunday…and how they’ll shake this particular bank for as long as they live.