Ronnie Polaneczky: Jack was loved. We hope he knew that.

A firefighter honor guard carries colleague Jack Slivinski from St. Timothy Roman Catholic Church yesterday.
A firefighter honor guard carries colleague Jack Slivinski from St. Timothy Roman Catholic Church yesterday. (RONNIE POLANECZKY / Daily News staff)
Posted: June 30, 2011

HOW MUCH was Jack Slivinski loved?

So much so that on Tuesday night at Burns Funeral Home, the line of mourners for him stretched a block down Frankford Avenue toward Primrose Road.

So much so that the scene repeated itself yesterday morning at a second viewing there, as dozens of firefighters lined the walkway from the funeral home to the curb. Saluting Slivinski's casket as it was borne before them, en route to St. Timothy Roman Catholic Church for a funeral Mass, many wiped tears from beneath their sunglasses.

So much so that, later, at the cavernous St. Tim's, the pews sagged with nearly 700 family members, friends and colleagues who looked shell-shocked for the reason they were together:

Slivinski, 31, put a gun to his head last Saturday morning and pulled the trigger.

And you have to wonder: Did Slivinski, in the moments leading up to the most permanent decision of his life, simply not know how much he was loved? Is it possible that he didn't fathom how many people would've gladly helped him find a different way to relieve his pain?

I know. Suicide prevention isn't as simple as being there with a perky word of support. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, at least 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable psychiatric illness, like depression. Treating it requires much more than crying on someone's shoulder for a few minutes.

Still, when you're struggling mentally, knowing how much you're loved can give you the courage to seek help.

That's why, during Slivinski's beautiful funeral yesterday, I couldn't help wishing that we held funeral-style fetes for people before they died, not afterward. We praise people at their retirement dinners, don't we? And speak glowingly of them at their weddings, landmark birthdays and anniversaries?

Why wait for a formal occasion to make a big deal out of someone we cherish, when the fuss of love can have so much import, right now?

Forgive my daydreaming. It's just that I interviewed Jack Slivinski two months ago, when he was embroiled in a standoff with Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers. The Commish was peeved that Slivinski had posed shirtless for a fundraising beefcake calendar without seeking Ayers' permission.

It was a silly brouhaha caused by a miscommunication, and it all worked out in the end. But before it did, I talked with Slivinski about his career in the department, why he loved it and how he hoped the calendar would raise money for his union's Firefighters Widow Fund.

Slivinski, a chiseled, blue-eyed, sweet-smiled former Marine, wasn't just easy on the eyes. He was also kind and sunny, and spoke with touching pride about working at Rescue 1, at 4th and Girard, the elite squad that conducts daring rescues.

After our interview, I was wowed that Philly had such a skilled, technically capable, coolheaded and devoted public servant in its ranks. And I imagined how, for those caught in a terrifying rescue crisis, when Slivinski arrives, it must feel like Superman himself has swooped in. How heartbreaking that, at Slivinski's time of crisis, he was unable to recognize his own worthiness of rescue.

At the end of his homily at yesterday's Mass, Father Patrick McCormick, parochial vicar at St. Tim's, emphasized that, as anguishing as it is to know how Slivinski died, it needn't be the last word on his life.

"God has the last word," McCormick said. "He can bring inestimable good from Jack's death."

With that, the cantor led the congregation in a hymn whose chorus was hard to sing: "All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you."

The words, I believe, were supposed to remind Slivinski's family and friends that his love for them was complete.

I hope Jack knew that he was loved in the same way, by 700 people who'd give anything to tell him so in person, instead of in song.

Email polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Ronnie. Read Ronnie's blog at www.philly.com/RonnieBlog.

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