Paul Holcomb was only 42 when he died in his sleep on Saturday night, but he had lived three decades longer than doctors predicted. He lived life the way he wanted to, and he was well-loved for his sunny personality, kindness, and humor.
More than 250 people filled the sanctuary at New Beginnings Church for Paul’s funeral. Many people there knew him through his 17 years working as a security aide at Garfield Middle School in Albuquerque’s North Valley. Faculty and staff had taken off from school to attend the funeral. Current and former students who had moved on to Valley High School were there. And many family and friends were there to support Paul’s mother and brother as they mourned their loss.
Rev. Richard A. Mansfield conducted the service, bringing warmth and good humor to the hour-long service. He wisely asked the assembled to silence their electronic devices, something not requested often enough at funerals.
In his opening prayer he said, “Lord, we are grateful for your love and for your strength, especially at times of pain and loss. Comfort us and carry us in the days to come. We thank you for all Paul meant.”
He went on to talk about the words of Scripture, from John 14: 1-6
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” My Father’s house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
After a recording of “Amazing Grace” played over the sound system, the minister read Paul’s obituary. Upon mentioning Paul was an avid Dallas Cowboys fan, he said, “Wise men follow the star.” He pointed out the Dallas Cowboys tie and watch he wore in Paul’s honor. Paul also loved his dog Bart. “Paul loved laughter and life. Even in the midst of tragedy, he could make you laugh,” said Rev. Mansfield.
Students from Garfield Middle School had shared stories in advance. Paul’s work as a security aide had him monitoring the halls, catching kids cutting class, and generally acting as the unofficial greeter at the school. The students said instead of barking at them like most adults did, he’d jokingly talk to them and they’d realize how dumb they’d been.
A pictorial tribute to Paul ended with a picture of he and his dad with the caption “Together Again.” His father had died unexpectedly a few years earlier. More stories poured out during the Open Comments period.
Paul developed diabetes as a young child and it caused him some disabilities. Yet, instead of going on disability and living at his mother’s house, he went to work at the school and had a place of his own. He lived life the way he wanted to.
His Uncle Al recounted how Paul was quite the character. When he asked, “Tell me something new,” Paul would start talking about dark holes, the string theory, multiple universes, and quasars. He was very intelligent.
Several students who were “troublemakers” admitted to cutting classes and how Paul would steer them toward the right path. When one girl said she didn’t like her teacher, he said, “Well, she doesn’t like you either, but you should still be in class.” Some students who had gone on to high school would come back to visit the middle school and Paul would gently shoo them away with good humor. One girl stood up to speak and simply burst into tears.
A woman from Garfield said that Monday was a very difficult day for faculty and staff when they learned that Paul would not be coming back to school. He was a great light, rock and support for everyone at the school. Even though Paul had been in the emergency room on Thursday night before he died, he was back in school on Friday morning.
He shared with staff and students whatever they needed: a pen, a pencil, paper, lunch. He always made extravagant lunches that could feed four people, and often shared the food that he brought.
Cousin Tom, aka Fuzz, broke up the house when he said, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” Then he spoke of how Paul was a great ball player while growing up and he never talked about his problems with the diabetes.
Rev. Mansfield’s sermon picked up on the comments made, and meditated on themes of time and being precious in God’s sight. He said, “The time that we know here is measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. In God’s time, there are no watches. His time is eternity. In Thessalonians, we read that one day is as 1,000 years to the Lord. Time is nothing. We might live another 40 years and that’s just a few mere moments for God.”
He finished with a prayer of thanks to God for Paul’s life and a gentle call to accept Jesus. “The bell rang at the end of the day – no more pain, no more diabetes, no more testing.”
The service ended with the song “I Can Only Imagine” and the invitation to come forward for a final viewing. Outside the church, as the pallbearers stood next to the casket, a release of three doves signaled the release of Paul’s spirit. His body was then placed in the hearse, to be taken to the mortuary for cremation.
Everyone was invited to a reception at Paul’s house, to share a story and a hug. Readers, if you have a memory or story about Paul you’d like to share, please use the comment box at the bottom of this post.