Nine-month-old Will Riley sat in the lap of family members on the front row in Cathedral of Christ the King. It was a beautiful, sunny March Tuesday afternoon in Lexington, Kentucky.
The priest conducted the Mass memorial service. The cathedral was filled with the songs and prayers of those mourning and celebrating eternal life.
After the Eucharist and Communion, family members spoke of fond memories of a young life cut short. Near the end of the two hour service, the Sigma Chi White Rose ceremony was conducted by current Sigma Chi Grand Consul Bob Jones, with remarks given by past Grand Consul Dick Hester.
As Brother Hester's remarks came to a close, more than 300 Sigma Chi brothers in attendance slowly began to stand. They formed a procession that soon lined the walls of the cathedral, each brother holding a single white rose.
Each brother, one-by-one, walked by the family, consoling and comforting. Will's mother, Kate, stood strong and hugged each brother as they passed. And then, each brother released his white rose in front of her.
Will, pacifier in mouth, just stared at the people around him. He did not know. How could he? Or did he?
As I approached the family, I leaned toward Will, and grasped his small hand - his gentle touch on my index finger washed over me. Kate looked on, and my emotions released.
I turned around with my white rose and leaned toward the urn that contained the remains of Will's father, Christopher Todd Riley. More than 100 white roses already surrounded the urn. My hands hugged the urn; my wedding ring produced a small metallic sound on the lid as I whispered, "I love you, buddy." A sense of calm and isolation came over me, but as I looked back into the cathedral I realized that hundreds more felt what I felt.
More than 200 brothers followed. The procession of Sigma Chis in that great cathedral was one of the more spiritual experiences I have ever had.
As the service came to a close, I shook hands with brothers from Denver, from Orlando, from Chicago and everywhere in between. Todd was truly loved and admired by many. One would have thought Todd was 70-years-old with the following that was there, but alas, Todd left this earth at the young age of 33. A life cut short, but done so at the calling of God.
Will, you won't know your father physically, but the memories provided that day and the people in attendance will certainly provide you with the everlasting love that Todd gave to you while on this earth.
Will, your father loved you so much. I was with him a couple weeks ago at Tennessee Tech and the first thing he spoke of was you and Kate. I have a text message on my phone from him that Saturday, February 21, telling me he was "on campus now."
Will, many of us have promised to be by your side when you go to college and pledge Sigma Chi, somewhere around 2027. Until then and forever more, you have a lot of uncles by your side.
Will, your dad was a man of good character, he possessed good morals and had a high sense of honor. He fought the good fight. He wore the White Cross of Sigma Chi worthily through life. I was honored to know him, to be his friend, to be his brother.
Rest in peace, Todd.
All honor to his name.