Finding a way to honor those we love after they have passed can be an extremely difficult and sensitive process for every member of the family. Though memorials are something that we can only do in remembrance of a deep connection, and the everlasting love that binds us to those we care for, they can also renew the grief that strikes with the news of our loved one's passing. In addition, it is often felt that no one can ever know the depth of love in each connection except those involved. It is often hard to put into words our feelings for our loved ones who are no longer with us. But, this is not the case with Reneé and her brother, Clayton.
Reneé ordered a cremation ring from close by me recently, and upon receiving her first email, I could sense her openness and dedication to her brother's memory. She is nothing short of devoted; a loving sister who thought the world of her little brother. In sharing about Clayton, Reneé had this to say:
"Let me tell you about my brother and our sibling relationship. He is me and my sister's biggest protector. He is handsome, funny, sweet, so unapologetically himself at all times, he is one of those guys that everyone just seems to love. No one ever has anything bad to say about Clayton. He's always the life of the party and brightens up a room whenever he walks in. Just the guy everyone wants to see and is excited to be around. That's who my little brother is. I'll attach a photo of my siblings and I at Clayton's high school graduation in 2018. I believe I thought we had a normal relationship, however when he passed away on September 8th 2019 people started saying to me 'wow, the three of you are the closest siblings I have ever seen!' People were amazed how close of a relationship we have to each other. Someone I've known almost my whole life even came up to me at his service and said 'I'll let you in on a little secret, ever since you and your siblings were little I always wished my kids had the same close relationship as you and your brother and sister.' It's crazy to me that people were surprised how close we are, it shows me that our relationship wasn't just a normal sibling relationship. We are this close because my little brother only had 20 years total to live in this life. I thank God every day that I was able to know him for his full 20 years, and be able to call him my brother. Of course, it wasn't enough time for me but there are bigger plans for my brother now. The picture I sent of him holding a baby is a week and two days before he was in his car accident. Those pictures of him are the most recent ones we have. That baby is his new Niece, my little sister had a baby (Paisley Shae) and we are grateful that little girl was able to meet her Uncle Clayt before he passed away. He was so excited for her to be around, one of the most from the beginning actually. He couldn't wait to meet her."
But, it was not only Reneé's undying love for Clayton that inspired me to write this blog post about them, but the love the community had for him as well. She shared many touching photos of his memorial, including those of a sign on someone's front porch that read "We will miss you Clayton", the long line of trucks that paraded through town in his honor, and the hood of his truck being signed with so many signatures of those who came to support his family in their time of need. When Reneé offered to share this information with me, I was more than happy to read it:
"Clayton's friends called him 'Lenny' from the character Lennie in 'Of Mice and Men'. That character overview is "A large, strong, lumbering, simple-minded man who is usually unaware of his actions and surroundings. His favorite thing to do is pet soft things." Clayton loved animals and kids he is the sweetest with them. He's also 6'7" and weighs 250lbs, but the most gentle giant you'd ever meet. My brother is one of those people that you meet and you immediately are drawn to them. He is a guy that is so easy to love, he is kind to everyone and absolutely hilarious. For his service and procession close to 500 people showed up. My family loves our trucks, modifying trucks and making them pulling and race vehicles is our hobby. Clayton has one of his own that was under repairs when he was in his car accident in his beater car (1999 Plymouth Neon). At his service we took off his truck's hood and tailgate and put them out on display for people to sign. My father is having them clear wrapped and put back on his truck for shows. Due to my family being into show trucks we have many connections to local businesses and other truck enthusiasts. We managed to put together a procession of our own, with no help from the funeral home, that included close to 300 trucks. This ended up to be a successful 12-15 minute straight procession line of trucks. Due to our connections our friends in law enforcement and Search and Rescue teams offered to lead the procession line making sure it wasn't broken. We also have some friends who own welding businesses, one of them made a 4ft long vault for my brother and gifted it to us. All of his friends and family were invited to add whatever they wanted to be buried with his ashes. I wrote a 14 page letter, laminated it, and added a small photo album with pictures of Clayton and our family. The vault along with the majority of his ashes were buried at our Cabin in upstate Pennsylvania, near New York. That is his favorite place on Earth, we grew up there and now he's there forever. All of this support just shows how much and how many people love my brother."
I say this often, but I have never made a piece in memory of someone who was not absolutely amazing, and it is clear that Clayton is no exception. I do not have the pleasure of meeting many of my clients due to the nature of my business, but I feel as though I have met Clayton through Reneé's words, and I know that he is deserving of all of the love that was shown by his family and community. For those looking for a way to memorialize their special person, please see Reneé, her family, and their community's efforts as a fantastic example of how to share and be shared with in return.
In addition to all of the memorials outlined above, Clayton's family has also set up a Go Fund Me account to rebuild his dream truck in his memory:
*All images and quotes used with permission from Reneé herself. Quotes were edited only for punctuation.