I've remarked before in this column that as I approach 60 years of age, the news of the deaths of fine people close to my age, and also my parents' age, comes more and more frequently. For the folks my age, the reaction is shock, and for my parents' friends it is sadness mixed with gratitude that a life well lived is over peacefully.
In every case, it leaves hole that cannot be filled. It's like taking a character out of book we love and not replacing him or her. Our story is just different without these people.
For nearly all of us, deaths are not public events as with politicians, celebrities, actors and other well known folks. For us, the deaths are private and personal, yet the loss is profound.
I was thinking about three fine Royal Oak men who passed away recently. Two were far too young and one was right on time. Their lives were celebrated in completely different, yet wonderful ways. While we often refer to good men and women as unsung heroes, I heard the singing about their lives loud and clear.
Dave Macker, 57, was fixture in for many years. I knew Dave from his role of chief security guard at my son's basketball games. Since those games lasted over a dozen years, I saw him a lot and my primary recollection was how he had encouraging words for the players—win or lose. It was the perfect job for him because he loved sports. He must have seen as many, or more, games as anyone in Shrine history.
Dave's real story is revealed by his very good friends in the Shrine Dad's Club, of which Dave had been a past president. I was sent an email chain by Roy Ruhle of "Macker" stories. Oh, they were numerous, and they were rich!
The stories demonstrated a man who knew not only knew how to contribute to his school, but have one heckuva good time doing it. Even though I didn't know Dave well, I was laughing out loud at the stories shared by fellow Dad's Club members. I believe that one measure of a man's life is the stories he leaves behind. By that standard, Dave led a very rich life.
Roy also paid Dave what I consider to be the ultimate compliment telling me, “I knew Dave would look after my kid’s safety the same as he would his own family."
It was Dave who coined the catch phrase, "For the Kids!" It is still invoked in Shrine athletic fundraising because it captures the essence of what dad's clubs everywhere are supposed to be doing.
Dave's wife Denise, and daughter Sarah, shared a man who had a big heart, a twinkle in his eye, and whose spirit lives warmly in a well-lived life and the stories carried in the hearts of his friends.
I also recently attended a celebration of life for Tim Bryant, 53, the husband of Teresa Bryant, a very dear family friend. Tim's death was startling for his family and many friends, coming much too soon.
Teresa and her son Danny held the celebration at in Troy, which was Tim's go-to spot to watch his favorite sport's teams. The place was jammed, a testament to all the lives he had touched.
As with Dave, I did not know Tim well, but his son Danny made a beautifully touching tribute that told everyone in the place who his father was.
Danny is in his early twenties and all of us listening marveled at how articulately spoke from the heart, making us laugh and cry as weaved his way through his father's life in honoring him.
I was struck how the spirit of a man was so eloquently shared. As a toast was raised, with tears in everyone's eyes, I knew we would all leave with the sense a Tim's full life, carried by the words of son. I can't think of more fitting way to honor a life.
This past week, I attended the wake and funeral for Ken Brancheau. He was "Mr. Brancheau" to all of us who knew the Brancheau family, and there are a lot of us. Mr. and Mrs. Brancheau had a dozen children, two dozen grandchildren and baker’s dozen great-grandchildren. I sure hope I got that count right, because it's never a good practice to cross a family this large. I've known the Brancheau family for as long as I can remember.
Mr. Brancheau was able to live the 88 plus years of his life fully to the end. He celebrated this year's St. Patrick's Day with gusto. Mrs. Brancheau told me he had shirt on with the picture of man saying, "Please pray for me, I'm married to an Irish woman!"
Ken reminds me of all the fine patriarchs of the families I grew up with. He served in World War II. He worked the same employer, Michigan Bell, for 42 years. He participated in his church and community and was the first van driver for Royal Oak senior citizens—driving for 20 years. He worked hard to have a relationship with all the members of the family he and Mrs. Brancheau created, and that was no easy task!
The last time I saw him was couple of months ago with one of his grandchildren at a credit union. He was helping her with a loan application. I hope I'm doing that when I am 88 years old.
As you look at Mr. Brancheau's life, on the face, it seems ordinary and yet it was truly extraordinary. Mr. and Mrs. Brancheau's legacy was simply and beautifully demonstrated at his funeral.
As a bagpiper led the procession down center aisle, a soldier-grandson was in front of the casket and following behind were the nearly three dozen grandchildren and great grandchildren. Each of them was carrying the grief of their loss on their young faces. Could there be a fuller life? It was a stirring sight. In Mr. Brancheau's funeral celebration, a vibrant and loving family swelled with his life and it was grand.
In the end, as I travel this part of life, my appreciation grows for the true everyday heroes in our lives. I can see they really aren't unsung heroes, because in truth there are family and friends singing thier praises loud and clear. These heroes will long be remembered and touch us for all of our days.
Did you know one of these three men? If so, please leave your memories in the comment section.