Written November 11, 2019
This is PART THREE of a three part post on the life and death of my oldest son. Today’s post is about the day of his funeral. If you have any unease about this, you should leave this website now. PART ONE covers parts of his life up to the day before he died and PART TWO is the day of the accident and Jeff’s death.
Compared to the week before when Jeff had been fatally injured on the job – a warm 70°, humid, thunderstorms – the day of his funeral was absolutely frigid. The temperatures were in the 20s and the air was filled with a light icy mix coming from the gray clouds above.
Kansas . . . summertime one minute, winter the next.
I hadn’t expected such a big change in weather, so was not prepared. With Jerry still in the nursing facility for at least one more week, I had to dig through storage tubs for warmer clothes for him and our winter coats. The funeral wasn’t until 2:00 p.m., so I had time.
The days between Jeff’s death and his funeral were filled with people constantly showing up at Amanda’s door, dropping off ready-made meals and groceries, giving the family words of support and sympathy. Flowers and cards, then more flowers and cards. Me answering and making phone calls on her behalf, handling things related to Jeff’s employment, setting up conference calls with the company to get things done related to insurance, workman’s comp., etc. Confirming times and days and places. Taking care of things with the grandkids and their school. Housework, laundry, cooking. And and and . . .
This and that and everything else.
I do not know if I had time to breath between all the things that were going on. But I guess I did.
I got things done that no one else seemed able to think about or do. I spent every day at Amanda’s, doing whatever needed done in the moment. Her mom and dad (divorced years before), were there nearly every day also, as were her sisters and their families. Amanda and the kids were sleeping together on the livingroom floor each night, unable to be very far from each other. If she thought I was taking too long to come over each morning, she would call to see if I was okay and ask when I would be there.
John was there nearly every day, also. He had that awful haunted look in his eyes that never went away. The one that, when you see it, you know the person has experienced something so horrible that it can’t be put into words. He had not gone back to work – in my heart, I knew he couldn’t, and wouldn’t, ever go back to that job. As much as I could, I kept a close eye on my son.
[THIS SECTION UPDATED 1-20-2022]
There were several television and print news stories about what happened at Airgas that day; the ones I could find at the time are no longer where the websites had them:
Airgas employee dies from injury; probe underway
Airgas employee dead after cylinder accident
His love of Chiefs was only topped by love for family
There were several errors in the last one: Jeff grew up in Hutchinson, we only lived in Dodge City for about 3 years; and the organ donation was a decision made by Amanda (with me supporting her), not Jeff – he couldn’t have cared less about organ donation.
The one bright spot in all of this was a very special person who made things so much easier for us. Our family was extremely blessed to have Angie Hayes as our funeral director. At the time, she was with Elliott Mortuary here in town, but is now with the Smith Family Mortuaries in the Wichita area. She was right there with us from the get-go, helping and guiding us through the difficult days and decisions. It was Angie’s touch that made Jeff’s funeral so special. She wrote and handled his obituary and funeral program perfectly. When all of us arrived at the church nearly two hours before the funeral was to begin, we saw the whole building wrapped in the memories of his life. Flowers absolutely filled the sanctuary. Cards and gifts given by family, friends, co-workers, and the company were on tables in the lobby and hallway. The pictures and mementos we had piled on Angie of Jeff’s life through the years covered several displays and tables. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful tribute.
uninformed, brothers, about those who
are asleep, that you may not grieve as
others do who have no hope.
I Thessalonians 4:13
Impressed with how she handled everything for our family, I’d asked Angie at one point what had made her decide to become a funeral director. She related to us how her own family had endured a horrible experience with a funeral home when she was young. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. She decided right then and there that she would do everything within her power to keep that from happening to another family. She completed extensive – and expensive! – education for this career. If I remember correctly, she had to go out-of-state for some of it.
The inside page of the funeral program that lists details (above) reads:
Jeffrey Alan Enslinger
July 4, 1979
November 5, 2013
CrossPoint Church, Westbrook Campus
November 11, 2013
Pastor Andy Addis
“Ten Thousand Reasons”
“How He Loves Me”
Musicians – Matthew Atherton & James Talley
Recorded by Breaking Benjamin
Fairlawn Burial Park
If going in procession to the cemetery you
are required by Hutchinson City Ordinance to
turn on Emergency Flashers and Bright Lights.
The back cover (above) reads:
I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an Afterglow
of smiles when day is done.
I’d like to leave an echo . . .
whispering softly down the ways of happy times and
laughing times and bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve to dry
before the sun of happy memories that I leave behind
when day is done.
Arrangements by Elliott Mortuary
When Amanda was trying to decide what photo of Jeff to use for the obituary and other items, I saw the one we now call “the wink.” It’s much better in its original version on her iPhone. One of the things I learned when I was a website and graphic designer is that images degrade quickly as they pass through various programs and applications (email, data and image editing, texting, etc.). Here is the original after I had retouched it . . .
And here is the version used by the funeral home after they cropped it (editing program) and then printed it (data processing program) – you can see how grainy it became along with the color being totally way off . . .
Thus the reason newspapers and other places tell folks to provide them with a hardcopy (real) high-definition glossy photo (that they will scan with better technology) for wedding and anniversary announcements, news articles, etc. – not cellphone photos. But, it’s okay. We had limited time to get a “real” photo to her, so this was okay with us.
The story behind “the wink” comes from the Spring of 2012 when Jeff and John‘s cousin Aimee was getting married in Oklahoma. At the reception afterwards, Jeff had been flirting with Amanda. She’d just taken one photo of him when he suddenly winked at her and she happened to catch it on camera. It became one of her favorite photo moments of him. I thought it appropriately conveyed his love for her and told her she should use that one.
As the church filled with people, we visited with as many as we could before we were called into the sancuary for the short family time before the service began. Just after Angie had briefed all of us on how things would go during and after the memorial and then opened the doors to the sancuary for everyone else to enter, Patti (my ex’s wife) and I went to the front to take pictures of all the flowers. When we finished, I turned around and looked out on the congregation.
The whole center triangle section of pews in the middle, from very front to absolute back, where all of our immediate and extended families, close family friends, and some of our church’s members were seated, was a sea of bright red and yellow – the colors of the Kansas City Chiefs football team. In the article and obitiuary, we had asked everyone to wear their KC Chiefs attire to show support for Jeff and his family. It was an amazing feeling of emotion to see that!
As we sat waiting for those who were attending to arrive and be seated, I kind of rubbernecked now and then, just watching. After more people came in and filled the side pew sections, I turned to our right and saw all the other folks we knew in those pews – new and old neighbors from all over, people the boys had grown up with and their families, the families from our previous church in Newton, and so many more. Then I looked to our left and saw the “suits” filling that pew area – I learned later that these had been all the Airgas people from the corporate offices in Pennsylvania and other areas around the country (they have over 1,400 locations). What amazing support for one employee and the family for these company personnel to be there!
After a while, Pastor Andy welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming to support Jeff and his family. He said a few words, although I don’t remember exactly what, then sat while the first song played, which was “Dear Agony” by Breaking Benjamin . . . it had been Jeff’s favorite song at that time. When the fifth line began, Amanda couldn’t hold back her profound grief and cried uncontrollably.
“Carry me to Heaven’s arms…”
She hadn’t wanted to sit in the front row, so was directly behind us with the kids beside her, and her mom Jane was right behind her. Jane had said she wanted to do it that way so that when Amanda cried like that she could throw her arms around her to keep her up. Yes, you understand that right . . . to keep her from falling to the floor. That song seemed to last forever.
Pastor Andy went forward, said more words, and again I don’t remember exactly what. He introduced Matt A. and James T. who sang the other two songs. “10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)“ by Matt Redman had been my choice because it had resonated with me the first time I’d heard it. The last song was “How He Loves Me” (“How He Loves”) by David Crowder. Both of these songs are often sung at our church.
I don’t remember what Pastor Andy said after the songs. Amanda and I, along with Thomas (Jeff’s best friend) had given Andy plenty to work with for talking about Jeff. Thomas (Jeff’s best-friend) and I each gave Andy letters that we’d written to Jeff – we knew that we’d never make it through if we read them ourselves.
The only part of the funeral we could have done without was when Patti (my boys’ stepmom) read her 17-minute monologue she’d written about herself as Jeff’s step-mom, and she had insisted beforehand upon reading it herself. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that Amanda was fuming by the end of it. As Andy said later, “That’s the first time I’ve ever known someone to make the funeral all about themselves rather than the deceased.”
Ah, well, what’s done is done.
Amanda had piled loads of love letters and other things on Pastor Andy that she and Jeff had written to each other and exchanged over the years. I remember Andy saying that some of those things he wasn’t sure he should read, which brought chuckles from everyone in the church (I think we all needed that laughter right at that moment), but that he felt so privileged to know how deep their love was for each other.
Next was Thomas’ letter he wrote to Jeff (grammar and spelling errors and all haha) –
There is over a million words in the English language but not a single one seems appropriate to try and explain a single thing in this situation so I won’t even try. I can remember first meeting Jeff working at Target like a lot of us did. I remember it like it was yesterday, ironically because at first I felt threatened by him because he was so much like me and garnering the attention of others. That quickly went away as I realized how much we were indeed the same. I think it speaks volumes that I worked with Jeff for at least 6 months before I realized he had a birth defect, his outlook on life and magnetic personality didn’t allow you to realize it. We grew extremely close, extremely fast. I remember him working the closing shift and me coming into work the overnight shift and him saying “guess what? I bought tickets to The Chiefs vs Redskins game next month so I hope you can go” It was my first game to attend live and I wouldn’t have wanted to have shared that experience with anyone else. Though we fearfully joked we would end up on the couples cam we still had an incredible time and our friendship was set in stone from that day on. There’s not much we didn’t do together over the last several years. We have went to one game a year for 10 years straight, countless double dates with our wives, who knows how many concerts and a trip to Colorado two years ago, that now, is one of a million memories it kills me to think about. I keep thinking about how Sunday’s will never be the same. Those were our most vocal days in the fall, Fantasy football, Chiefs games and The Walking Dead. Jeff used to make joking comments to me that he just wanted to be as good as I was in fantasy, truth be told it was me who was trying to be as good as he was. We wanted so much to impress each other that it’s a running joke that we had a crush on each other. I am lucky enough to say that at least over the last few weeks Jeff and I got to have the best experience of our lives with the gift of club level tickets to a Chiefs game. We joked that day that we would hide in the concourse and live there forever. I am forever grateful to Jeff’s dad and step mom for giving us the opportunity for such an amazing memory, I just wish we all could’ve been there to see the sheer joy on Jeff’s face that day. Two weeks ago we had a small group together for dinner and some haunted houses in Wichita which I think he liked going to just to see Amanda squirm. I could go on for days about the experiences and stories Jeff and I shared, but I will save you all some embarrassing details. So in closing I will say this, the 10+ years we were friends was definitely not long enough, and if I would’ve known then that I was having the chance to text you 15 minutes before this tragedy I wouldn’t have joked about our wives having to deal with it when we played PS3 together all night, instead I would’ve told you that you were more than a friend to me, you were like a brother. I knew I could trust you unconditionally and that when push came to shove we always would stand behind each other even if one of us was wrong. And I would tell you that I love you like I love my own family. I know I’m never going to be the same without you around but I couldn’t ask for a better guardian angel. See you soon my friend, you will never be forgotten in anything I do.
Then Andy read my letter to my son –
Here it is, Sunday evening, and I still cannot un-jumble the words in my heart that I want… need… to write. Outliving a child goes against everything that is supposed to be true in nature. Remembering all those years of love and support. Knowing we will all have to go on in this earthly life without you, as hard as that will be for quite some time.
I like to remember the day you were born. You were actually due on July 6th, but you came two days early on July 4th. I always thought it was so cool that you were born on that day and called you my “firecracker baby” because of it. When the nurses finally got us to our room, I was actually able to hear the fireworks going off in neighborhoods around the hospital.
On your first day of Kindergarten, just before I took you to school, you asked, “But who is going to play with John while I’m at school?” We tried to do our best to get you through all of the ups and downs of growing up, enduring the teenage years and, in return, seeing you turn back into a human being.
There is a special bond between a parent and adult child that is priceless and special. Just this past summer, the good Lord saw fit to turn what I thought was an immense inconvenience for myself, and for you, Amanda and the kids, into almost three months of being close to you while I had to stay with you guys while waiting for repairs of extensive flood damage to be done. I was able to have many one-to-one conversations and time with you that I would not have had otherwise.
It says a lot about a man and his life in the friends he’s made and the family he loves. You’ve never really been a “showy” person when it comes to emotions, but I’ve been privileged to learn just how much you loved Amanda, Andrew, Madison and Kara. I have watched each day this past week as more and more people in the span of your short lifetime have contacted us in various ways – many of whom I never even knew about before now – each one telling how your touch on their lives impacted them. I’m so proud to be your mama right now… so proud!
I love you, son. I will see you again one day when God calls my name.
Two of the best things I heard about Jeff were his loyalty and his love.
1 Corinthians 13:7 – “If you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.” (The Living Bible)
1 Corinthians 14:1a – “Let Love be your greatest aim…” (The Living Bible)
The rest of the memorial service is long gone from my memory. When it was time, our family began filing out of the sanctuary to go to our waiting cars. As we entered the lobby and hallways, I was overwhelmed to see every inch of wall space filled with dozens of people who had stood respectfully throughout the entire service because there wasn’t enough room for more folks to sit in the sanctuary. I remembered then that Angie had whispered to me right before the service began that she was leaving the doors of the sanctuary open for “some people” to be able to hear since there was no more room to seat anyone. As we walked by all these folks, many gave us small nods and smiles of encouragement. I wish I could have stopped to meet each and every one of them.
It was at that instant that I realized just how far-reaching Jeff’s life touch had been.
Amanda, Madison, Kara, Jane, Catina, Jerry, and myself were in the lead car driven by Angie (behind the first police vehicle). There was no hearse since Amanda was carrying the box that held Jeff’s ashes. Right behind us was John driving Jeff’s blue Mustang, Andrew riding with him. In the third car was George and Patti, with Christopher and Johnathan. Right after them were Thomas and his wife Joanna, and then everyone else.
By the time we all got to the cemetery, the wind had increased and was slinging icy pellets at us. Several men helped to get Jerry and his wheelchair to the family tent at graveside. Bless Angie for thinking way ahead and piling blankets into the trunk of that car for all of us.
Andy repeated words of love and hope and peace over Jeff and the rest of us. I felt a slight panic inside me as he was speaking. It made me catch my breath. My heart screamed, “Too soon! Too soon!”
Jeff’s life, over way too soon.
As Andy finished with prayer, people began filing past us, shaking our hands, introducing themselves if we didn’t know them, speaking small words of encouragement and sympathy and love.
A couple minutes into that, I noticed Jerry was now visibly shaking from the freezing, ice-filled wind, even with three layers of blankets. I worried that he might be going into hypothermia. I barely had the words out to ask for help when the same men, plus some, got Jerry quickly back into the warmth of the car. I was so thankful that Angie had restarted it several minutes before to get the heater going for us.
Jerry warmed up pretty quick as we just sat in the car, everyone else visiting with the family. Due to the weather getting worse, people soon began leaving, and those of us who were family and close friends returned to the church to have a light supper provided by the ladies of the church.
At the end of the afternoon, we all divvied up flower and plant arrangements. We hugged, some cried, everyone hugged some more, many cried a lot more. Sent everyone home with wishes of safe travel. I started the car and hesitated. Jerry and I were the last to drive away.
Ohhh, the empty finality of it all.
This was PART THREE of a three part post on the life and death of my oldest son. PART ONE covers parts of his life up to the day before he died and PART TWO is the day of the accident and Jeff’s death.