At minimum, for me, there are two types of funeral attendee: the deeply bereaved…families, contemporary genuine friendships tracing to childhood; or those, simply paying respect, to a loss relationship – a more obligational form.

Both attendee groups enjoy full legitimacy; yet, the feelings, held within the former, simply outweigh those of the latter, who find themselves on the periphery of attachment – a totally normal circumstance.  One might conclude the latter generates life’s warmth of the former – by comparison.

Bereavement can be inexplicable and immeasurable, but deeply presiding.

The losses experienced by me in the last four weeks are devastating  – mainly from the general field of education: a leader of the University of Richmond’s Education Department;  a Douglas Freeman High School coach, administrator, and phenomenal role model –for a half century;  a widely respected school superintendent – then Commonwealth educational official;  a committed, and sacrificial school principal, who met head-on challenges of a county-urban Henrico High School;  a superb English teacher – later guidance counselor, who brought humor to the highest quality of teaching (get your feet off the Chippendale furniture!);  finally, a contemporary of mine in our high school life of the mid-1950’s, who among other roles, was a football team co-captain.

I write of one Donald H. Davies, a mid-fifties player in local football at Douglas Freeman High School, under the superb, but self-understated, William E. (Bill) Long – Head Coach at that very new place.

Davies was younger (a year behind me), sometimes over exuberant, occasionally inarticulate, but capable of genuine field leadership… and deep friendship. Together, with four of his close friends, they became tagged over the years as the”4 Hammers and Nail”…now morphed into “3 Hammers and a Nail.” The five had appeared in a Stunt Talent Night together, singing Heart of My Heart.

Those five horsemen included Bob Grymes, the Nail (now tagged as the Reverend Doctor Grymes), Lance Hopkins, Don Falls, Tommy Smith, and of course the Captain colleague, Don Davies.

Today, here we were…now elderly, carefully dispensing limited energies. Strongly suspicious of potential dementia or potential stroke – certainly my family history reminds.  I’m standing there at the Davies funeral, self-annoyed, with a nagging reality: life is almost complete – more than a third of one’s contempories have “left the building.”  Some who remain display sad, frightening increase of profound mental or physical change. Thank God, more often than not, I entertain the idea that life will continue “normally”….hopefully, more or less intact – a true blessing.

There I stood, chilly, under a helpful sun, at 11 a.m. in Forest Lawn Cemetery, on the periphery of all this. Observing the miracle of a retired professional educator, spiritually presiding over the deep loss of his friend, with the other three Hammers standing close by; these attendees were deeply bereaved – their loss deep, but palatable. He’d been so ill. Don Davies continued to teach.

As an outsider I paid my respects, finding me envious of the true closeness these five men enjoyed – a relationship just not duplicable, nor replaceable. In this world these relationship seemed exceptional to me….and I suspect they really are. In their body language with Bob Grymes’ beautifully spoken words, they brought forth the lyrical work of an 1865 Walt Whitman:

O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting, While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring….

Oh Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells; Rise up- for you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills.

And so we exit the grave site having reached a periphery of human experience, human love, sacrifice, and companionship. We leave unto ourselves – with new growth and richness. These four men with their captain showed us the way…into quite a different Christmas spirit.

Angels, we have heard on High!


Raymond B. Wallace, Jr. is a retired Virginia Retirement System trustee. His book, Essex Memories & Beyond was published July, 2014. Read his BLOG: (www.raywallacewrites.com).