My best friend died on July 6, and we had his funeral service on July 10.
I was honored by the family to be asked to officiate at the service, so I sadly made the 520-or-so-mile drive from my house to John’s in Kansas City. John has been (I refuse to use the past tense when thinking or speaking of him) my best friend since we met at a Kansas City Chiefs game 12 or so years ago. He and his wife Rosie are two of the best friends a person can have, and I am so fortunate and blessed to know them.
During my eulogy for John, I mentioned several instances of John’s attitude and outlook on life. One visit, staying with them as I had job interviews in the Kansas City area, I went into the kitchen and was just sort of standing around. John came down and asked what I was doing. Looking for coffee and something to eat was my response.
John, in his inimitable, genuine manner, looked at me and simply said, “You’re not a visitor here. You know where stuff is. Fix it yourself.”
Not a visitor. A part of the family with full run of the house and whatever I wanted in it. Don’t ask if the fridge can be raided–just raid it. Don’t ask if the downstairs TV could be turned on–just turn it on. Don’t ask if I can come and go as I want–I have the house security code. That is how John is.
John and I finally got our season-ticket seats at Arrowhead together. We tailgated and even parked our cars in the same spots and in the same order each game. John would ask people walking by, “You hungry?” and his game-day regalia was a site to behold. Part of our tailgating assembly was a couple of big blow-up football players we dubbed Bubba and Tiny, standing about six feet tall. People walking to the stadium would stop and take pictures with them, and John was always available to give first-time attendees to Arrowhead all the tour-guide advice needed.
John never met a stranger. Once in the group, a person was in the group no matter what. One game, a young man, having been given a ticket by his boss, came by our area and was immediately adopted. This guy, nervous and shy at first, was even included in our group photo (we do our best to take one each game), at first not sure if he should, but John’s insistence that he was now part of our group won out. To this day, no one knows that young man’s name, but there is no doubt that wherever he is he carries memories of John with him.
John is an ardent and intensely loyal Chiefs fan. His funeral was a celebration of his love for the Chiefs, and attendees were dressed in game-day attire. Chiefs regalia was everywhere, and at the graveside service his casket was covered with Chiefs stickers by family and friends. Yes, John was buried in his full game-day outfit, and the tomahawk chop was performed as his casket was wheeled out.
John loved Led Zeppelin and KISS, and I know not too many services have started out with Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” But John’s did.
I did my best in my eulogy for my friend. I could still be up at that podium talking about him, such is his impact on my life. We have such a bond of friendship that nothing could interfere with it. Sure, we disagreed on stuff, politics and the like. However, we have such respect for each other that absolutely nothing can come between us.
The only real disagreement I can recall was a years-long discussion on my assertion that the song “Beth” was the song that killed KISS. John, to his horror and dismay at my opinion, rebutted that the song only highlighted their talent and creativity. We never managed to settle that debate. We did agree, though, that Led Zeppelin’s best album is their third.
It is going to be very difficult to go to Chiefs games, to wait in line for the parking lots to open, to tailgate, to sit in the stadium without my best friend.
I console myself with the belief that John is teaching heaven Chiefs’ trivia, how to tailgate properly, how to appreciate the talents of KISS.
I console myself with the verses from Ecclesiastes which John’s brother-in-law recited at the service–“a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” I weep for the loss of my friend, yet I laugh at the years of memories. I mourn the void left by his passing, for me and for his wonderful family, yet I dance at the blessing to know him, and I dance in the joy of John getting to see the Chiefs win the Super Bowl before he died.
I miss my best friend.
David Kelley lives in Louann.