10/24/2014 11:00 EDT | Updated 12/24/2014 05:59 EST

Nathan Cirillo: What it's like to hear a city mourn

Tonight, I joined thousands of people in saying goodbye to Nathan Cirillo.

I left my apartment just after 7:30 p.m. and found a city I didn’t recognize. It felt strange in a way that was almost undefinable – I guess it’s hard to quantify collective mourning.

It felt different, and certainly sounded different. There was a weight and a stillness in the air that was altogether uncomfortable for a Friday evening.

Turning onto Main Street, I started to see people. In another place, and another time, they easily could have been there for a Canada Day parade.

Instead, thousands lined the streets draped in our nation’s colours with nothing to celebrate.

I saw families, children, and seniors. There were people in team Canada Olympic jerseys, and people wrapped in the Canadian flag. I saw dogs with Canadian scarves, and red and white ties.

No one smiled. Barely anyone spoke.

As I made my way west on Main, the gaggle of people became thicker. It stretched as far as I could see – thousands of Hamiltonians hugging the edge of the sidewalk out of a sense of duty, obligation and pride.

I stopped just outside city hall. Softly, in the distance, I could hear O Canada’s melody being sung on the wind.

It wasn’t sung with the swelling sense of pride reserved for sporting events and holidays, or even with the begrudging sense of duty of a school assembly.

Then I realized: this was the first time I had ever heard O Canada sung in complete sadness.

I hope I never hear it that way again.

Under a dark sky, surrounded by people I didn’t know, I started to sing, too. The melody became louder, and from over the hill, flashing lights came, illuminating the faces of those standing there, hoping to catch a glimpse of a man they all felt they somehow knew.

There were a lot of tears.

Motorcycles passed, and the hearse appeared. People started to applaud – again, not in a way I had ever heard applause before. They clapped with a restrained sorrow, and a wish that things hadn’t come to this.

As we clapped and sang, Nathan Cirillo moved past us, down Main Street. His brothers from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders came in cars behind him, windows down, watching the scores of people who had come out to say goodbye.

And then, suddenly, it was over. Cirillo was gone, with the procession moving down the street so everyone else could say goodbye. Some parents hugged their children while some others just stood there – staring at nothing.

I looked at the woman next to me. She shrugged, and said, “I guess I should go home. I don’t know what else to do.”

I nodded, and she walked away. I felt the same way.

All around me, people unsure of what to do with themselves started to leave.

But as we all drifted away from the street, I knew I had felt a city and its people all mourn at the same time, in the same way, and for the same young man — who didn't deserve to die this way. 

Visitation for Nathan Cirillo is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday at the Markey-Dermody funeral home on King Street East. The funeral is scheduled for 12 p.m. on Tuesday at Christ's Church Cathedral on James Street North.