Expected baby gives solace to firefighter’s family
Things weren't supposed to end up like this.
Instead of getting married and living happily ever after with her fiance and their yet-unborn daughter, Melissa Schurman went to her future husband's funeral Sunday.
Nathan Honaker, a seemingly healthy 22-year-old volunteer firefighter for the De Soto Fire Department, died last month when his heart stopped beating for apparently no reason. Schurman and other family members are trying to cope with the surprise of his death and anxiously waiting for answers about what might have caused it.
In the meantime, Schurman said she was struggling with grief about losing Honaker, happiness about having their baby, and questions about what she'll do now.
"I'll just kind of, you know, pick up the pieces," she said. "There's a lot of stuff I'm worried about, a lot of stuff I'm excited about, a lot of stuff I feel -- 'How am I going to do this without him?'"
Honaker was working at Papa John's Pizza in Westport, Mo., where he was training to become a manger, when he died June 28.
During that evening's shift, a fellow employee remembers Honaker talking on his cell phone in the restaurant's kitchen.
When the co-worker glanced over moments later, Honaker was blue all over and had collapsed to the floor.
After failing to revive him at the scene, paramedics rushed Honaker to the University of Kansas Hospital, where he was pronounced dead soon afterward.
Instead of a traditional memorial service, family put on a "Celebration of Life" Sunday in downtown Lawrence.
Honaker's mother, Bobbie Hardeman, said it was only fitting for the way her son had lived.
"I really think his life needs to be celebrated, even if he's not walking around among us," she said. "He's probably watching down and saying 'Hey, that's really cool.'"
Hardeman described Honaker as "quite a character" who really loved life.
Schurman said he was talkative, outgoing and caring.
"He was just an all-around terrific guy. He loved to help people and he loved what he did," she said. "That's what I loved about him: He always put other people first."
churman said she and Honaker, friends and then sweethearts since high school, had decided to set their wedding date after the baby was born, Honaker was finished with school, and she was back on her feet.
They were going to look for a bigger place, too, and try to save up some money.
Very family-oriented, Honaker was thrilled about starting one himself.
"He didn't know his own father," Schurman said. "So being a father meant a lot to him."
Schurman said when she and Honaker discovered their child would be a girl, they chose the name Alexys Danielle Honaker.
Honaker circled the name 'Alexys' on a list of about 10 of Schurman's favorite girls' names.
"I like that one," he told Schurman.
Their baby is due in November.
When Honaker found out he would be a father, he was "absolutely ecstatic," Hardeman said.
"It's just unbelievable that this happened," she said of his untimely death. "I can't believe that God would take Nathaniel and then bring Alexys into the world and not get to know her dad."
Since her fiance's death, Schurman has been thinking of ways she'll be able to help her daughter learn about her father.
She's trying to save some tape recordings from Honaker's college days and maybe something from his cell phone so the baby can hear his voice. A scrapbook and some of his clothes, like his fire uniform, will be the best she can do to show the child what he looked like.
A former wrestler and football player, Honaker graduated from Lawrence High School in 2001. He had only lived in De Soto since March, when he joined Schurman, who had lived there since November.
Besides training at Papa John's, Honaker was an umpire for Douglas County Amateur Baseball Association and volunteered for two fire departments -- De Soto and Wakarusa. He was close to finishing requirements at Longview College and Western Missouri Regional Fire Academy to become a full-time firefighter.
Honaker first lost interest in his computer science major after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hardeman said. He wanted to do something to help people, she said, and instead focused his attention on becoming a rescue worker.
Honaker's choice to be an organ donor helped many others even after he died, Hardeman said.
During Sunday's services, friends and family shared thoughts and memories, both somber and comical. They released message-laden balloons in the park after Wakarusa firefighters took an urn holding Honaker's cremated remains for one last ride on a department fire truck, adorned with black shrouds for the occasion.
As an emergency worker, Honaker passed his physical tests with "flying colors," Hardeman said.
He had a brief bout with seizures when he was a small child but had been seizure-free for years and years, his mother said.
Schurman said Honaker went to the hospital earlier this year for having low levels of potassium, but he wasn't diagnosed with a particular problem.
Hardeman said she was told a cursory examination of her son's heart revealed nothing abnormal besides stress from the cardio-electric shocks and the adrenaline shot medics used when they tried to revive him.
"I am at a total loss as to why this happened," she said. "He was very healthy. He ran, he worked out at Gold's Gym when he could."
"Other than that God needed a special angel ..." she mused, trailing off into tears, "other than that, we won't know until the final report comes."
Thomas Young, a doctor at the Jackson County Medical Examiner's Office, said this week that the cause of death was still pending while Honaker's heart -- removed before he was cremated -- underwent further testing.
Young refused to make any guesses about what went wrong.
"We're still working on this," he said. "I'm not going to jump the gun on this sort of thing."
Although Young said it was uncommon for young people to die under similar circumstances, he said, "so