I feel reasonably confident in asserting that prior to the funeral I attended last Saturday, very few eulogies in the long history of mankind have ever included an anecdote about blowing up a toilet.
My son Alex and several of his friends had, in fact, blown up a discarded toilet several years ago at their friend Sam’s house, just outside of Ashland—an event immortalized on video and in the remarks that Sam’s aunt Suzy delivered at her nephew’s memorial service last weekend.
Though the news reports said an 18-year-old Fulton man had been killed while riding his motorcycle on August 5, those of us who have known Sam Schiltz since he was little will tell you that he was still just a boy in our eyes. A good, happy, and goofy boy who loved his family, his friends, living for the moment, and blowing up the occasional toilet.
For years, Sam and Alex were as close as any two friends could be. They played video games, swam, had paintball battles, and broke things—typical teenaged boy stuff. They did everything together. One summer, Sam’s family even took Alex with them on their annual vacation in Michigan. The Schiltz clan always treated my son like a member of their family, and I will be forever grateful to them for that.
Sam was an honorary member of our family, too. Sam and Alex were like brothers, and even though they had drifted apart since Sam and his family moved to Fulton, nothing—not even death—can break the bond between brothers. As for Bethany and me, we hope that this is as close as we will ever get to losing a child of our own. I honestly don’t know how I would survive such pain.
Our hearts are broken for Sam’s parents Paul and Cathy and Sam’s sisters Hannah and Molly. And I am simply in awe of their strength. Each of them got up and spoke at Sam’s Celebration of Life, and each of them took the time to share a hug and/or handshake with hundreds of mourners after the service ended.
When it was my turn to express my condolences, I hugged Cathy and Paul tightly. I told them how sorry I was for their loss, and how Bethany and I loved Sam like a son. I cried all the tears I’d been trying to hold back for the last week, and as I sobbed, I told them both, “Sam was such a good boy.” And he was.
Sam was a little ornery, to be sure, but he was good. And hilarious. Whenever he ate at our house, he insisted on using chopsticks, regardless of the fare. It was especially humorous to watch him eat spaghetti and meatballs this way. Once, Bethany walked into the kitchen while Sam was holding his plate vertically in front of his face, licking it clean. He didn’t notice her until he was finished and began to lower the plate. He hesitated for a moment, his eyes peeking over the top of the dish as they met Bethany’s. “Samuel!” she shouted in feigned exasperation.
“Oh, hello,” he said casually. And then he laughed. Sam’s laugh reminded me of the sound a hyena makes. Alex adopted the same laugh, and it often sounded like a pack of hyenas were devouring a carcass in our basement whenever Sam was over. When Sam was around, there was sure to be lots of laughter.
Against all odds, our basement was filled with laughter just a few short hours after Sam’s funeral. A dozen of Sam’s closest friends from Ashland and Fulton spent Saturday night in our home at Alex’s invitation. “The Lads”, as they call themselves, wanted to get together to honor the memory of their friend and to comfort one another. It was good for the boys to have a chance to share some laughter, (and eat all of our food), after shedding so many tears.
The boys promised Paul and Cathy to hold future “Lads’ Nights” at their home in Fulton. I can tell you that having a pack of wild teenagers hanging around the house can actually be very therapeutic for grieving parents. Sam’s folks will need heavy doses of hyena laughter to get them through the coming weeks and months.
To Paul, Cathy, Hannah, and Molly I say again how terribly sorry I am for your overwhelming loss. Sam, by virtue of being uniquely Sam, made this world a much better place. He brightened the lives of everyone who knew him. Thank you for raising him to be the young man we all grew to love. Please remember that there are a lot of people in Ashland and Fulton who love you and are here when you need us.
And Sam, thank you for being my son’s friend. I’m so glad he knew you.