Tuesday, March 17, 2009

RIP Victor Roy Armstead

Last week I got the call from a frantic aunt that my cousin, Victor Roy Armstead had died in a freak auto accident. The last time I had seen him was six years earlier in 2003. In fact, due to circumstances outside of the scope of this letter, my short time in meeting him in 2003 was my first contact ever with him. Needless to say, years go by with life offering no real breaks in my schedule for me to make it back to upstate New York until now.

I am now plagued by the fact that I really need to do my best to do some traveling every once in a while to catch up with at least my family as meeting up at funerals is highly undesirable. As I quickly found out after arriving and meeting up with family, the past six years had seen a man emerge in our family that strongly and positively connected with many lives. I learned many things about this young man, Victor, and his awesome energy, candid demeanor, and caring soul. I could but feel unprivileged that I had never known this person.

Aware that my presence was more of support than of mourning, I inquired about the immediate family, his parents, and siblings. Unfortunately, his father was not taking things well at all. His grief I cannot imagine, for over the many years he has faced the deaths of his parents, twin brother, and three children! Three children’s deaths in a parent’s lifetime my mind cannot fathom! I hoped that my presence and support might be of some help and encouragement, but my feelings were of helplessness in this situation.

The day of the funeral, we met at the church. Might I say that I had not seen too many funerals with more attendees than there were for Victor’s. The church had two sanctuaries and both were packed to standing room only. The flowers and decorations were beautiful with a royal blue and white theme with gold trimmings. The casket was open and Victor was wearing a royal blue graduation cap and gown. He had grown up so much over the years I hadn’t seen him and he looked very handsome both in casket and on the many pictures that were on poster boards on the sides of his casket.

The ceremony was a little long, but very beautiful nonetheless. Before it all started though, there was a slideshow that made me breakdown and cry. The pictures were of Victor in many aspects of his life to include sports, prom, him palling around, some home life pictures, etc. And the music, oh the music, this tore me apart…

There were several small sermons, and many kind words from pulpit. A few things really amazed me though, and I really wish I had record of them. One of these amazing things was all of the scholarships and funds setup by his school in the name of Victor Roy Armstead. I was trying to pay close attention, but really I had no idea what all of the things were, but they sounded pretty important and official. I had an overwhelming feeling of pride as the clerk read this list of awards and commendations.

The other thing that was pretty amazing was all of the people, students, friends, and family who not only attended but attested to loving Victor for his loving and giving ways. This theme existed the whole time I was visiting. I found it amazing and it made me look at my life a little. Somehow I doubt that I could muster up as many people to say as many good things about me as this young man half my age. One of the speakers for the day mentioned that it isn’t the quantity of your age but the quality of the time you put into it, and it was obvious to see that Victor put a lot of quality into his life time and those he came in contact with.

Well, after the ceremony at the church, a reception was held at the school gymnasium. Another slideshow that almost made me fall apart again was playing. There was a beautiful mural of Victor painted to perfection. There was a lot of food, a lot of people, and many tears of grief, smiles of encouragement, and warm hugs. Never have I gone to a funeral of a relative and felt like such an outsider. Almost all of the school knew and loved Victor, it was almost like I was on the outside looking in, which in reality I was. I almost wanted to encourage some of the kids, but I just felt so helpless and like a fifth wheel, its sort of hard to explain.

Anyways, one other thing of mention at the high school... on the walls of the hallways there were many large banners. On these banners the kids of the school took the time out to write and draw many things on them in remembrance of Victor. Many of the banners had his jersey #13, and others had combinations of his name like “victorious.” I am told that some of the kids spent all week at the school in mourning. My heart went out to them.

After leaving the school I decided to stay at Victor’s house. My uncle, I was told, had not been living in the house and was grieving in a tent somewhere on the property. When I got to the house I immediately went to see Victor’s father. This was somewhat a terrible idea as I was in a suit and his new residence was many meters into the woods. In any case I arrived to find him and some of his friends from church around a fire on a wooded hillside.

My uncle was not happy… neither was he expected to be. Well, in any case, I made several trips to visit him in his modern day sackcloth and ashes. Each time there were new people there with him, either from the church, community, or the high school. All of the dedication of these people was just another testament of Victor’s influence with others.

Well, to make a long story short, and to sum things up, I would have to say that my experience was fruitful in that I was able to see most of my family again, after years of separation. I was able to give what little support I could to my grieving loved ones. I got to know an awesome relative; unfortunately we had to bury him. I would have to admit also, that I have made the decision that I should add more quality to the quantity of my life.

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