It was a beautiful night. There was a gentle breeze drifting through the trees—a breeze that cooled the night air, creating a welcome change from the heat of the previous days. The velvet black of the sky formed the perfect backdrop for the stars that were sprinkled across it—a million pinpoints of light shining down on a quiet world.
I found myself walking under this magnificent sky along a path laid out years before . . . walking in the silence that so often envelopes the final resting place of the dead. Normally you won’t find me traversing a cemetery at night, but that night was different. That night I had been invited to stand watch over the grave of one who had given his life in the line of duty, on exactly the date he had heroically rushed toward the danger, at precisely the moment his life had ended.
It wasn’t his official time of death. That would come later, when the medical professionals had done their best to save him and then acknowledged the futility of their efforts. But his friends knew. Those who were with him when tragedy struck knew the moment Life surrounded to Death.
We gathered in the darkness, quietly waiting, conversations held in whispers as the candles we held warmed our hands. Some had placed them on the grave. Others continued to hold them until the warmth became uncomfortable. As we waited, a car pulled into the drive, followed by another, and another, and another—a line of over 30 law enforcement, first responders, and medical personnel, lights flashing, silently approaching his place of rest, driving past in a show of respect and honor for one of their own. As they slowly moved to the grassy field beside the drive, parking side by side with lights still flashing, his mother spoke in a voice filled with emotion and awe, “It’s just like that night . . .” That night when they brought him home. That night when his body lay in state while countless people came to say goodbye. That night . . .
A few fitting words were spoken . . . a scripture read . . . a prayer said. In the silence that followed, his mother observed, “All we need now is a Taylor Swift song.” Anyone who knew him knew he loved Taylor Swift and to grant her wish, her husband pulled out his phone and found “Back to December”. From atop his monument—his monument covered with flowers and flags, candles and bottles of Mello Yello—the music filled the air.
It was a beautiful night. A beautiful night for remembering a beautiful soul.
Matthew Stephen Locke
March 6, 1991 ~ September 25, 2021
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.