Joining in Grief for a Boy 'Impossible Not to Like'

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mourners arrived for Ryan Didone's funeral in northern Montgomery County yesterday in such numbers that they spilled from the sanctuary. They crammed into another chapel and watched the service on a projection screen. Hundreds more, unable to squeeze into either chamber, gathered in hallways or outside in the brisk air, listening to a broadcast.

"We bury Ryan this morning," the Rev. Daniel Francis, a relative of Ryan's, told about 1,700 people. "But we do not put in the coffin his smile. That's ours."

In the crowd were at least two teenagers, one in a wheelchair, who were with Ryan on Monday night when their Volvo station wagon veered off a road after they left a weekly Christian youth group meeting.

Ryan, 15, was remembered as a gregarious charmer and accomplished motocross rider who had recently committed himself deeply to his faith.

"I could never get Ryan to shut up," said the Rev. Ray Scheck, Ryan's minister, drawing laughs and nods. "And the problem was that he had that wonderful smile, and he would say he was going to stop, but it actually meant nothing. . . . It was impossible not to like him."

By 10:15 a.m., 45 minutes before the funeral started, hundreds of mourners had taken their seats at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Damascus. Up front, Ryan's blue coffin was topped by a bouquet of red flowers. Lining the walls was a chain made of paper loops that bore messages written by other students -- notes directly to Ryan and condolences to his family

"Everything happens for a reason," one said. "I know."

"No one deserves what you guys are going through," another said.

"You were such a good friend," said still another, "and knew how to make anyone laugh."

Early in the service, Scheck looked to the first row, where Ryan's family was seated, welcoming those "who have come because you have a love for a father whose heart is broken, who have come to love a mother whose heart is broken, who have come to love a sister whose heart is broken."

Scheck talked briefly about the events of Monday night, recalling how Ryan's mother told him that things didn't look good and how he met up with the family at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore and went to his bedside.

"You could tell even when we gathered that time was short," he said, adding that Ryan was gone five minutes later.

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