Monday, July 26, 2010

Someone I Wish I Knew Better...and Me

Most of my blogs so far have been about celebrities or me trying to show off my writing ability. This one is a bit more personal, and please if you read and enjoy forward it to as many people as you would like. The person is important and the message he taught me was as well.



SOMEONE I WISH I KNEW BETTER…and Me
(R.I.P. Dan Naimoli – 4/8/82 – 7/20/10)

Record Journal Photo/ Johnathon Henninger 3.02.09 - Dan Naimoli, volunteer firefighter with the South Meriden Volunteer Fire Department and Meriden police officer, standing outside a SMVFD fire truck on March 2, 2009


A lot of times in your life you will find yourself at a wake or a funeral for someone you don’t know because you are there for a friend or a family member who you care about and want to help comfort them in their time of need. Oftentimes, and I hope this doesn’t come off wrong, you are there just for them and since you really didn’t know the deceased very well, if at all, you kind of find yourself going through the motions. Coffin, receiving line, brief conversation, and back on your way out the door, a little bit sadder but not necessarily changed in any way. This is what I thought would be the case for me this Saturday, when I attended the funeral of my wife’s cousin, Dan Naimoli. What I didn’t realize is that in 6 hours, my life would be changed by this man who I had met probably a total of four or five times.

Dan (Danny) died suddenly in his sleep on July, 20th, 2010 in Meriden, CT (about 2 ½ hours away). I was at home when my wife got the call. She was shocked, and visibly upset by the news. When she told me I was a bit shocked as well, as he was only 28 years old. Because my wife comes from such a large family, her father is one of nineteen, I had to ask her if I had ever met Danny. She told me that he had been to a few family functions, and that he was the quiet, clean cut one. She then told me that he was her cousin Angie’s brother. I did know Angie, because we were attending her wedding in about a week and a half, and thought about how rough that would be for her. Actually, I couldn’t even fathom how difficult it would be for his family, because something like this had never happened to me. I thought about how hard of a time his mother and father, Vivian and Gary, would be facing. Then my wife told me he had two young sons, Nicholas and Robert, and I thought about how hard it would be growing up without a father for them. But not really knowing him, I have to be honest with everyone and myself here, I didn’t really feel this for long. I felt for my wife and what she was going through, but for myself it was difficult to put that much emotion into it. This would all change.

The wake was on Friday, July 23rd, because I had some prior work commitments, I was unable to attend the wake. My wife told me it was a rough time, and that the city had to close down a major road to account for foot traffic to the wake. She said that it was non-stop from 3PM – 8PM and that the people pouring in to pay their respects was nearly endless. We had to get up at 5:30AM the next morning to make the funeral at 10AM. It was a rough morning, my body not being used to getting up that early. As we traveled down, I learned a bit more about Danny, and that’s when I began to realize that this was not going to be any ordinary event. This would be big enough to close down an entire city. A woman traveled a great distance to be there to console the family, not because she knew any of them, but because she too had lost a son at an early age and knew what it was like. As I would come to find out, that’s the kind of man Danny was.

Dan Naimoli was, every time I met him, very quiet and reserved. But outside of these family gatherings that I saw him at, was a man larger than life itself. Dan was a policeman, a volunteer firefighter, a National Guardsman, an Eagle Scout, a celebrated and award winning mechanic, an EMT, and a great friend and father. By age 28, he had done so much more for other people than many of us will ever do if we had two lifetimes to do it. This was evident as we pulled into Meriden, it seemed as if the entire city was in mourning. Flags were at half-mast and the streets were strangely empty for a warm (very hot) Saturday morning. As we passed the street that the funeral home was on I noticed a large group of uniformed people lining up in parade formation, as well as four or five busses to bring people to the church. When we got closer to the church, the signs of his impact became more evident, a giant flag was draped over the ladder of a fire-truck that hung over the street leading to the church. The parking lot of the church was beyond full, people were parking cars hundreds of yards away and walking in the 95 degree heat. The American Red Cross was on hand to hand out water to everyone attending. I knew that Danny was someone special.

There were at least a hundred uniformed personnel at the funeral, from police, firefighters, national guardsmen, and even the boy scouts. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. It really showed me what kind of person Danny was to have this kind of turnout for his funeral. As the hearse came around the corner heading towards the church, every in uniform snapped to attention and as 6 police officers carried his coffin into the church, bagpipes sang their sad song as only bagpipes can. Since I am tall, I was able to see his two sons walk with their mother, the youngest, 3, wearing his father’s police cap, and the oldest, 7, carrying his father’s firefighter’s helmet. To say that the church was full would be a great understatement.

His uncle Leo, down from New Brunswick, CN, held the mass. It was a beautiful service. I don’t have much to say about the service itself, because it was a lot like most funeral services that you have probably already attended, but it was exceptionally touching. The eulogies given by his friends and family painted an amazing picture of Danny as a friend. I have included a bit of his friend Sidney Blackmon, a correction officer who became friends with Naimoli when they were both on the South Meriden fire department.

“In life you meet many people who say they are your friend, but he proved it with his actions”

When he was a corrections officer and Danny was a police man, he and Danny used to joke that Danny would catch them and he would make sure that they didn’t get out, and that if there weren’t a lot of criminals, that Danny wasn’t doing his job right. He ended by saying that Heaven must have been short on angels and that he needed to call Danny home.

His uncle Rob DeRosa, listed his accomplishments and all that he had undertaken in his life and it was at this point I learned something from Danny, because no matter how busy he was, he always made time for family. Something that I think a lot of us take for granted. The mass ended with the singing of the National Anthem.

I always feel out of place at funerals for people that I don’t know, and always feel guilty for crying, because I don’t feel like I’ve earned the right. This funeral was no exception, but the amount of people who showed up along with the fact that this was a military, firefighter, and police funeral caused the tears to flow freely from my eyes, no matter how many times I tried to hide it.

As we filed out of the church to the sounds of the bagpipe, I was caught on the top step and again was taken aback by the amount of people here. Everyone in uniform once again stood at attention as the pallbearers placed the coffin into the hearse, and the procession began. I have been in funeral processions before, but nothing like this one. There must have been at least 150 cars and it stretched out for 2 miles at least. On the way we passed by another funeral procession going the other direction. This didn’t mean much, but I found it interesting as I have never seen that before. There were at least 600 people who attended the mass and the burial. It was unbelievable.

When we arrived at the cemetery, there was a tent set up over his grave and the pallbearers brought the casket with the American flag draped over it. There was a brief prayer said by Leo and then three things I don’t think I will ever forget. Dan was buried will full military honors, and as he was also a firefighter and policeman they honored him as well. The first was the firefighters who said something through their radio, which unfortunately, I didn’t hear and then in the distance the fire siren rang out over the city. With the honor guard still standing silently vigilant over his gravesite, the police honored him next.

The police radio dispatcher in a clear voice ordered all officers to set radios to channel F, a mostly unused channel for emergencies. Then the dispatcher called out:

“H (headquarters) to 439 (Danny’s badge number)”

“439”

“439”

“H to 439…watch ended.”

It was a beautiful tribute to a fallen officer. I at first thought it was out of place, but realized that it was a monumentally gorgeous send off so that every officer in the city, even if they weren’t at the funeral, which it didn’t seem like there were any that weren’t, would know and be able to take part in the memorial. There was not a single person who was not moved to tears that I could see.

The military gave him a 21-gun salute and played Taps then took the flag off of the casket and delicately folded it into the tri-fold. Then, it passed from the national guard to the firefighters to the police to the hands of his father, Gary. It was an amazing show of what this young man meant to every organization that he was a part of. And although the sadness was evident on everyone’s face you couldn’t help but smile slightly knowing what kind of a human being he was. After the final prayer was said, each member of the police, fire, and national guard lined up 2 X 2 to say their final goodbye to their brother.

They all saluted and kneeled down before the casket, each one removing the white gloves they had worn throughout the day and placing them on top. They would say a few words or a prayer and some would kiss their hands and kiss the casket and then they would stand, say a goodbye, and salute again. The line was nearly endless. Everyone came through to say goodbye. It was a national guardsman, who made me realize the type of person Danny was, when he stopped after he saluted to talk to Danny’s parents. He told them that even though he had only known Danny for a year, that Danny had told him that he should go back to school and complete his education, and that those words had a great effect on him and that he was going to complete school because of Danny. This made me understand that Danny’s effect was felt almost immediately with some people, and that the world was much less brighter due to his passing.

There were a lot more moments during this day which I honestly don’t have the energy to put into words. I want to end with a few thoughts. I met Danny a few times during my life, and I think I had maybe one conversation outside of an introduction with him. But he has truly touched my life through the way that he lived his, even though it took his passing for me to know about it. One thing I will take away from this experience is that you should never take your family, especially extended, for granted. What I mean by that is, you should spend as much time with the people you love and care about as possible. We all have a tendency to get locked up in our own little worlds and forget about the people who we don’t see every day. We need to take more time to get to know these other people, the cousins we grew up with, the aunts and uncles who we spent vacations with, our parents and our siblings, because you never know when one of them may go away and you find yourself at a memorial service wondering how such an amazing human being, such as Danny was, could live such an amazing life, as Danny did, and you were not a part of it.

Thank you Danny for showing me this truth. I am truly sorry I didn’t know you better and hope only the best for those who did. I know you will be missed by many and I only hope that me counting myself among those isn’t a bit out of place.

8 comments:

  1. No problem at all. It really was an important day, and I am glad I could document it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. this is a wonderful statement and I cry again niow reading it. I though I was all cried out. Guess I'll never be....thanks for these kind words

    ReplyDelete
  3. I completely understand what you mean, and could have written this myself. (I have thought some of the very same things and was trying to figure out how to put it into words). I am one of Angela's best friends, but still only had the chance to meet Dan about 4 or 5 times in my life. His funeral was such an amazingly poignant tribute to his life; he was truly an inspiration. I think we all learned a little from him that day.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow. I'm speechless. Thanks for documenting it so nicely.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Josh,

    Thank you for this beautiful send off to Danny. You did a great job in putting it all together.

    Matante bernie

    ReplyDelete
  6. Josh, I want you to know that you caught the essence of Dan since I knew him since he was born. uyour words are beautiful. Thank you for being there for all of us. We love you.

    Geri

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have to say i am very glad I found this blog. I am a UPS driver and passed by his house today and read the message "RIP 439" and "we love you daddy" on the back of the van that his wife and two children were getting out of. Then saw a similar message on the back of a car a few blocks away. I came home and Googled the info and found your blog.
    I am a father of 2 and a former police officer. Your comments brought tears to my eyes just reading them. While I did not know Danny, I do know that he was a great man that impacted everyone he came in contact with. He is the measuring stick we should all strive to be measured by, knowing we will never reach his heights. RIP 439

    ReplyDelete