I went to WhirlyBall with my son Adam for his eighth grade outing. Adam was all excited about this trip because he’s graduating from grade school this year. Well, I’m excited, too, if you must know.
We met in the Most Holy Redeemer Church parking lot. The bus ride was a boisterous event for all the eighth graders because they’re graduating very soon–but not soon enough for them. This would be an evening of WhirlyBall and all the pizza we could eat and all the pop we could drink.
WhirlyBall is a game like lacrosse or polo, but it’s played in bumper cars. All the kids were excited about playing WhirlyBall and so were some of the parents. Me? I had never even heard of WhirlyBall before. But I like to be open-minded and try new things. I actually had no choice. Adam made sure I went out and played. He also made sure I had plenty of pizza to eat and pop to drink. He insisted that I drink a beer from the bar, but I didn’t want to drink and drive the very first time I played WhirlyBall.
The father who organized the outing made up schedules so that everyone would have a chance to play. I was impressed with his organizational skills–something I sadly lack. He had all the eighth graders playing each other in every combination possible on one court and the parents playing on the other. For the last hour, parents and their eighth graders would play on the same team. An elaborate set of brackets was designed for a tournament in which one team would be victorious and be awarded a special prize.
Well, we played exactly one match of the bracket when the tournament came to a screeching halt. I wasn’t sure why the next match wasn’t starting, so I started walking back to the organizer. I saw an eighth grade boy walking to a corner table. Then, I noticed he was crying. As I entered the main party room, everyone was very quiet. Adam told me that one eighth grader’s mother, Mrs. Menke, had just died. All the eighth grade girls had gathered together and started crying. About half of the boys were crying. Many of the mothers were also crying because they knew Mrs. Menke, or Patty as they called her. The organizer made a brief announcement about the death and then led the group in a short prayer. I had no idea that she was sick and that she was expected to die.
Needless to say, no more WhirlyBall was played. No one was in the mood to play WhirlyBall anymore. We soon boarded the buses and headed back to Most Holy Redeemer. The bus was very quiet. So quiet that I was afraid to ask Adam more details about Mrs. Menke’s death. He told me that she had thyroid cancer and that the doctors said she would die very soon. That’s why her son didn’t come on this outing. She only weighed about fifty pounds when she died. When we were about halfway back, one of the parents made the announcement that we would return to the church for a short service.
The eighth graders had the day off from school for the funeral, but any student who wanted to attend the funeral could also take the day off. I went to the funeral with my sons Adam and Alex. I didn’t actually know Mrs. Menke, but I always saw her at school activities. I felt that I should go to the funeral to be with my sons who were affected by her death. The church was full of family, friends, students and teachers from Most Holy Redeemer and Brother Rice High School, where she taught. The church was quite full. The funeral procession was also very long for the short drive to St. Mary Cemetery in Evergreen Park. Her whole life seemed to revolve around Evergreen Park and according to the speakers at the funeral mass she was very happy. Unfortunately, her life ended at age 47.
The funeral is a ceremony to honor and to pray for the deceased. But funerals are also for the living, to remind us that you and I must also go the way of all flesh. So live each day as if it were your last.