Adrian McCoy was a much-loved man with a lot of long and deep friendships. Those who had the privilege of knowing him knew that he was a non-comformist; his everyday attire was a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and Birkenstocks. He loved anything Madonna.

So when he died, after a stroke six months earlier, family and friends knew a traditional funeral would not be appropriate. It was only fitting that they would celebrate Adrian’s life with the same warmth that had permeated his friendships.

On Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015 more than 35 people gathered at the home of Jessica Peach and Michael Pirkle in Matthews, N.C. Jessica, who had known Adrian for 24 years, was often the common thread running through the relationships in the room.

“This service reflects all sides of Adrian — his goals in life, the music he loved and a reflection of his last year. It is non-religious but loving and caring,” said Lynn Query.

Adrian McCoy

Guests gathered in the living room where photos of Adrian filled the room, as did flickering candles. A large dining room table was filled with dishes catered by Encore — sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, tartlets, fruit trays and a variety of desserts. There were also dishes that family and friends brought. Another room had a full array of wine, beer and sodas.

Most of the people arriving hugged other friends or family members because the group was interconnected by Adrian.  It was clear that each and every person had a special relationship with Adrian and each other.

As everyone settled into a comfortable spot, Jessica rang a bell to signal the beginning of the service. “I knew Adrian for 24 years; he was like a brother to me. When you lose someone dear you have to be able to show your emotions,” she said holding a “talking stick,” an ancient Indian tradition whereby the person talking holds the talking stick and passes it to anyone who wants to say something — in this situation is was about Adrian.

“We are celebrating Adrian today. While we grieve, Adrian was a funny man; he would want us to laugh today.”

Jessica was the first to share some of her special memories of Adrian.

“I had always encouraged Adrian to take a chance at the slots,” she recalls. “We took a trip to Cherokee, and he won $20,000. I said ‘Now you can go to England with me.’ He did. We actually made several wonderful trips to England to see my mother before she passed.”

Another friend told of Adrian turning up in his pajamas with a cup of coffee for her in the wee hours of the morning at the emergency vet when it was time for her to say goodbye to her beloved cat.

For the celebration Michael prepared a special video, a montage of friends and family celebrations that ranged from funny to sad. With background music by Madonna — “Rebel Heart and Queens’ These Are The Days of Our Lives” — there were candid photos of happy days with Adrian with Jack Carnes, his partner of 37 years, at birthday parties and other special occasions to celebrate milestones in Adrian’s life.

By his 60th birthday on Feb. 3, 2015,  after struggling to overcome his stroke, friends could see his light dimming.

The last few years had been hard. Adrian had retired from Mecklenburg County Substance Abuse after working there for 20 years, and caring for and losing his long-time partner five years earlier. After his stroke he just didn’t seem to rebound.

During his last days, a team of friends made sure Adrian was never alone. Four people were there, two holding his hand, when he died.

“It gave Adrian and us support and comfort,” said Query, a nurse.

While there was an air of sadness at times at the loss everyone felt, it was more apparent how much he loved and how much he was loved. Although I was the only person in the room who hadn’t known Adrian, the loving sentiment brought a tear to my eye. I know I would have loved him too.

Everyone who knew Adrian knew he was always laid back and casual. He didn’t like long meetings, didn’t want conversations to drag on. He wouldn’t want a stuffy, formal funeral service.

So he was cremated, the ashes in a box in a room that was a sanctuary devoted to Adrian with his college graduation pictures, a portrait, and photos with friends.

Many of the people paying their respects were people who had worked with Adrian over the years in the Detox Stabilization Unit. Dr. Ann Newman, his graduate professor, lauded Adrian for being a trailblazer, reminding everyone that he was the first male nurse in North Carolina.

“Funerals are usually so formal and somber you feel like you have to shut down your grief. We wanted everyone to be able to share their feelings — happy and sad — with people who cared about Adrian,” said Jessica. “There are no canned comments; we are sharing who he is and his life.”

No doubt he would have been proud.

info: Michaele Ballard is a professional freelance writer, writer/reporter with People Magazine for over 15 years.