Saying Goodbye--Joe's last gift

Yesterday I composed an entry about the passing of Joe Higgins, a former  fire chief and the OEM Coordinator for Woodcliff Lake. Let me step back and reflect on the past few days. I learned of Joe's passing via e-mail from Herb Kuehlke the current OEM Coordinator and Joe's friend for over forty years. Even though I knew Joe was sick, and the news wasn't a shock, I immediately hopped on my scooter and drove to Fuscos where George confirmed Joe had passed away Friday night. One of the things I vividly remember George saying was Joe passed away at home, surrounded  by his family. For some reason I felt the same way  as I did when my grandparents passed, after a long battle, he finally won the war. Joe was in Heaven now doing was he always did looked oout for those he cared about.
That evening I heard the announcement over the radio, it had finally sunk in. Being the popular fellow Joe was, Spearings Funeral held a wake both Tuesday and  yesterday with the mass today. My mother kindly suggested the wake might be too much and I  should just go to the mass. I kept my word but did a driveby yesterday in Park Ridge, kind of my way of saying goodbye. Of course I was spotted by everyone and even talked to Mike, his son who I went to school with, but kept my promise, I didn't go into the funeral home. I wanted to but I knew if I tried something might happen. I also knew i f I got dressed up yesterday it would have tipped my folks off.
This morning I awoke, took a shower and got ready. Since mom had a doctor's appointment she dropped me off at the church. I knew she wondered if I would be alright, but when she saw Mayor and Mrs Kettler (who happened to be my former CCD  Teacher) it made us both feel better. I accompanied the Kettlers into the church and sat down. From my seat I could see trucks from Woodcliff Lake, Montvale and Saddle River parked in the other lot. Soon the service began, Joe's brother Peter gave the perfect tribute.
After the service I stood in the doorway and watched as they loaded the casket onto the back of Montvale's antique engine. Just then Bruce, one of the ex-chiefs, gently tapped me on the shoulder. In a soft but authoritative voice he just said "Follow me". I wanted to tell him my folks  were expecting my call, but let him escort me to Engine 72 where the ex-chiefs were waiting. I didn't resist when Bruce helped me get into the engine. Nothing much was said when we drove from the church. Even less was said when we drove firehouse to the cemetery in Mahwah. Nothing needed to be said. Although I did manage to update my Facebook status so I could have proof this wasn't a daydream
I got home and went for my usual sandwich at Fusco's. Part of me was sad I lost another friend. Another part of me was grateful the chiefs knew how much Joe meant to me and that's why they did it. I thought about Joe, he was smiling down on me. RIP my friend

Click to hear a recording of Joe's last call
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