Thursday, October 04, 2007
Memorial service honors life of Barry Simon
By VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian
As a rainbow rose up and disappeared into the low clouds over nearby Blue Mountain and a teddy bear snuggled next to the young boy's body in an open casket, Barry Simon's family and friends gathered Wednesday morning to celebrate his short life on this earth.
Two of Simon's classroom teachers, Tamra Reschke and Ann Smith, remembered him as a talkative and ever-smiling “whirlwind” and his P.E. teacher, Glenn Moffatt, said whirlwind was “an understatement.”
Through their tears, his old classmates described a friend who could be counted on to pick them up when they were down, neighbors called him the sweetest boy they'd ever met and one of his older sisters, Brittany, called him her hero.
“I couldn't have picked a better brother,” she said. “I'm older, but in many ways he was my big brother. I'm so proud of him, how strong he was, how in the final days, instead of crying, he laughed.”
Laughed? Less than 24 hours before he died, Barry Simon was not only laughing. He apparently was still chasing girls.
“When I was over to see him Friday night,” said Madelyn Roy, one of Simon's old classmates and best friends, “he said, ‘So, Maddy, do you have a boyfriend?' ”
As she mimicked his tone, it was clear Barry was ready to apply for the job if it was open.
The next afternoon, Simon, 13, died in his mother's arms after a five-year battle with a rare genetic disease - for which there is no cure - called Fanconi anemia. Most of the last two years were spent in Seattle in a grueling attempt to prolong Simon's life into his 20s or 30s via a bone marrow transplant.
For some of the 100 or so people who gathered for the service at Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Missoula, a slide show highlighting Simon's 13 years - including pictures from Seattle - may have been their first glimpse as to what the boy had been through, and how hard he had fought, the last two years.
Simon left Missoula in August 2005 as a wiry 11-year-old but as infection after infection pounded him after the transplant, the medications he was on doubled his weight and inflated his head and torso to twice their normal size.
“Barry taught us all how to live life to the fullest,” one of his physicians from Seattle Children's Hospital said in a letter read at the service. “He never complained, yet he always challenged us to do the right thing for him and help him stay out of the hospital.”
Indeed, said his mother, Cindy Wamsley, his happiest days were his most recent, once the decision had been made to halt the daily blood transfusions and all but a handful of the medications that were keeping him alive.
That meant he could finally come home, to Missoula, where hundreds of people had sent him thousands of cards and letters during his stay in Seattle.
Simon stayed active up to the end, when a Hummer stretch limo arrived at the family's Missoula apartment on the morning of his death to take the boy and his family to Saturday's Montana-Weber State football game.
He'd gone to Little Grizzly football games two days before he died and spent several hours shopping at the mall the day before, but wasn't up to attending the Grizzly game, a trip arranged by Montana Highway Patrol Officer Richard Hader and the Montana Hope Project.
The same stretch limo returned to the apartment Wednesday to deliver Simon's family, including his mother and stepfather, Richard Wamsley, and sisters, Jamie Mullikin and Brittany, to the funeral.
Even after coming home to die, Simon had made new friends - from Mayor John Engen, who spoke at the service and admitted to filling Barry with “far too much caffeine and sugar” during an otherwise unsuccessful shopping trip to buy a Simon a ferret, to April Christofferson of Lolo, who told of meeting Cindy and Barry in a supermarket after they moved home last month.
“I was at the meat counter, Cindy was talking to the butcher, and from their conversation I could tell Barry was sick,” Christofferson said. “Barry came over and asked me what I was buying, and I showed him the salmon I had.”
The boy considered it for a moment, then walked behind the meat counter, grabbed something, came back out and slapped a -for-1” label on the salmon package.
“Now you can get more,” he told her with a mischievous smile.
Before they parted ways, Christofferson had learned of the boy's desire to get a pet ferret, and vowed to find him one - which she did, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
She delivered it two weeks ago.
One of Brittany's friends, who introduced herself as Mandy, told the crowd she had only met Barry once, “but it was like meeting an angel.”
“I said hi to him, and he said, ‘Come give me a hug,' ” she said. “I only knew him two hours, but he touched my life in a way nobody else has.”
A Missoula woman who met Wamsley and Simon at the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle while her son was sick, and whose son died in January, told the crowd she took great solace in the thought of “John and Barry being in heaven together, and saying, ‘Look at where we are.' ”
“Now,” she said, “they can be the little Tasmanian angels that they are.”
The Rev. Chuck Lee, chaplain to the Missoula County Sheriff's Department, officiated at the service, which included Simon's stepsister, Kellie Wamsley, singing “Heaven Must Have Needed a Hero” and Nita Hamilton Smith singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
“I never thought this day would come so soon,” said Madelyn Roy, the girl who had caught Simon's teenage eye. “Thirteen is unfair.”
Hader, the highway patrolman, marveled at “the dignity at which a young man, at the age of 13, had entered into the next world.”
“I was truly amazed,” he said.
And as the mourners filed past the open casket after the service for one last look at the boy, you knew Barry Simon had to be smiling someplace.
When her turn came, Madelyn Roy leaned in and kissed him.
Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at (406) 319-2117 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.