Billy. (Or: People within three decades of me have no business leaving early)

I’m 40.  My birthday is November 15th.  I share it with that great American actor, Ed Asner.  The rest of the list is a muddled collection of historical figures, none of whom stand out as greatly.  [Late correction:  apparently Randy “Macho Man” Savage shared this date, too.  So make that two famous people.]

Yesterday, I, along with hundreds of others, said goodbye to Bill “Billy” May of R&M Trucking.  He wasn’t the William R. May on the signs at the Chapel or in his obituary.  He was “Billy”.  And he was only 41.

Billy was coming home last Friday night / Saturday morning on his motorcycle on the Kennedy and sadly lost control and was critically injured.  Billy leaves behind more family than you can count, as well as and six children of his own, the eldest of whom is nearly twelve.

The Mays, and R&M (founded by Billy’s mom and dad), have been a fixture in our line of work in Chicago for longer than I’ve been doing this.  They sold  (years blur to me now) to Towne Air Freight and were their Chicago trucking and warehousing operation for a period of time, but it wasn’t what anybody thought or expected, and they bought the company back.  In November, 2010, the May family buried their patriarch, Robert.  Today, they bury a brother and a son.

After waiting in a line that started outside the funeral home for nearly an hour before reaching the casket, there really weren’t words to offer that hadn’t been heard or will be repeated.  I took the few moments I had with them to make a joke about his hair (a picture of he and his brothers featured Billy in quite the impressive and textbook mullet) and to just reinforce that all they have to do is look around and realize that if they think for a second that they’re alone on this journey, they couldn’t be more wrong.  They have a large family, but the surrounding circle of friends both business and otherwise is an order of magnitude larger, and all I can do is hope that the strength they can draw from them, and that we can give them, carries this day and the days, weeks, months and years to come.

If you live in Illinois and haven’t done so already, register to be an organ and tissue donor and tell your family of your wishes.  If your state or country offers the same thing, please do so.  If something has to happen to you, then perhaps you can leave behind more than memories, but also something to help other people who are staring into the great abyss knowing that there’s only one way out of their predicament:  somebody else’s death is required for them to live.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite songs by the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies.  It’s a dirge-like, calliope-sounding tune called “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel”.  I can only imagine that it ended something like this lyric line (sub motorcycle for car).

No commotion, no screaming brakes
Most of it’s over before I awake
From the ceiling, my coffee cup drips
While out my window, the horizon does flips
The worst part was hitting the ground –
Not the feeling so much as the sound
Can’t help but wonder if all this is real
Cause tonight is the night I fell asleep at the wheel

Good luck, Billy.

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