The funeral for Kevin Hayes, whose death at the age of 24 is under investigation, brought home the important role a funeral plays in comforting those who mourn. Rev. John Thurman, who is a professional Christian counselor, gently guided the service, starting by thanking those in attendance for supporting the family on a difficult day in a difficult time.
The funeral home chapel was filled with the contemporaries of a young man who graduated high school in 2004. Kevin’s body was displayed in an open casket of shiny black metal with gold trim, evocative of the locomotives he worked aboard as an engineer for the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad. The casket was closed before the service started.
The song “When I Get Where I’m Going” by Brad Paisley set the tone with this refrain:
“Yeah when I get where I’m going,
there’ll be only happy tears.
I will shed the sins and struggles,
I have carried all these years.
And I’ll leave my heart wide open,
I will love and have no fear.
Yeah when I get where I’m going,
Don’t cry for me down here.”
Rev. Thurman offered a prayer asking for God’s comfort, so we could comfort each other, laugh and cry over memories, to help celebrate Kevin’s life and encourage one another. A second song was played, “If I Die Young,” by The Band Perry. I heard this song used at another funeral for a man who died at the age of 30. The refrain:
“If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song”
Rev. Thurman read the obituary information and provided some additional background. Kevin grew up with an autistic brother, and he participated in an autism sibling support group. His role got him an appearance on Good Morning America. He graduated from the National Railroad Academy of Sciences and became a locomotive engineer in 2006.
Attendees were invited to come forward and share their stories and memories of Kevin. A portrait emerged of an engaging, friendly man whose presence could light up a room. He loved working on the railroad and traveling the country. He was goal-driven and wanted to be a movie star, and had spent five months attending high school in California, where he made many friends. He loved sweets, animals, and his parents, especially his mother.
One friend who grew up on the same street said, “I looked up to his ability to see a friend in everyone, and everyone saw a friend in him. That’s a lesson for me.” All of his friends who got up to speak expressed their sorrow to Kevin’s parents.
After open comments, another song was played – “I Hope You Had the Time of Your Life” by Green Day. A video montage of photos of Kevin traced his life through color school portraits, pictures of him in Halloween costumes, as a soccer player, skateboarder, actor, and of he and his friends in California.
Rev. Thurman shared a gratitude list that Kevin had written on October 16, only a month before his death. Among the things on that list were his mom, his autistic brother, his father with Lou Gerhig’s disease, visiting all 48 states, friends, skateboarding, and his Higher Power. Thurman went on to share some scripture from the 36th Psalm, and suggested the mourners find comfort and shelter under God’s wing. He gently encouraged those who had yet to connect with Jesus Christ to do so, and one more song was played, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.”
At the end, the casket was re-opened so attendees could offer their final goodbyes to Kevin and their condolences to his family. Out in the lobby, a tabletop memorial display included his skateboard, actor’s resume and photos, and an award recognizing his black Ford Mustang Cobra, which was on display right outside the door. The attendees were offered their choice of memorial wristbands, with inscriptions “Remember” “Journey” or “Inspiration.” The funeral was followed by a procession to the cemetery for burial, then a reception at his parents’ home.
Though Kevin Hayes was taken so young, may his star shine bright in heaven.