On April the 9th of 2016, I awoke like any other day. There was nothing really notable about it whatsoever.
Breakfast, tea, feed the cat and do what I had planned on for that day. Or so I thought. This was a once in a lifetime day where it all seemingly went sideways. My unassuming thoughts and measured daily milestones became not so ordinary. That morning was the day my dad died.
It all seemed surreal. Death is part of everybody else’s timeline. Not mine. Yet, here it was, time to face the fact that my father’s transition had arrived despite the fact that he remained a healthy 45 year old in my mind. What came next was a series of phone calls, frantic messages, interrupted cryptic messages, texts and any other form of current communication channels presently known to mankind.
I found myself dazed and confused by all of this mayhem. I knew my dad had been battling Alzheimer’s disease for a number of years along with it’s ugly best friend Dementia. I knew that at some point his little body would finally succumb the disease but nevertheless, the moment and the moments that followed felt like a vacuum. Ending every phone call and sending every text was a constant reminder that there was a close to every conversation only to have repeated over and over and over again. It was exhausting, terrifying and unlike any road trip or best laid business plan, it was uncharted for me.
My earlierst experience of loss of this near magnitude was my grandmother Julia who I was very close with growing up in rural South Texas. She was an adorable woman, but even here, the careful details of remembering her life were left to those who were older. Uncles in this case were the go to decision makers while my mother and her sister were in astonishment. In the end, my cousin and I were allowed to provide an eulogy at her memorial church service. This was a bit of a departure for the Catholic ritual but even at 19 I refused to allow someone other than a family member to express their remembrances of her. So at 19, this proved to be the first life lesson in putting together some thoughts and deliver them to those who came to remember her. I had no guidance except my dear cousin and a few pictures to put together something to say. And in the end, our families broke with conventional ritual and with that, I leaned on coming up with something appropriate for my dad’s memorial services.
I immediately boarded a plane to headed to my hometown not knowing what the immediate future held for me except for a meal on the plane. After several meals (not everyone on the plane ate so I had their meals…I was already exhausted), I took pen to paper. I had very little time to prepare for the service which amounted to basically 4 hours of public interaction. The same cannot be said for the planning of this monumental unplanned event. I knew that I had at most 7 days for a variety of reasons including availability of resources, my mom and dad’s religious beliefs, my dad’s wishes and my support for how my mother would like to carry this out on behalf of our family.
In these great moments, it sometime just comes down to you as the ring master. There will always be support and in some cases you may find yourself in complete disagreement with immediate family members, but this was not my experience. In some ways, I left to my own devices. People all around my nuclear family were in shock and rightly so for these transitions even in the best of circumstances can be planned ahead of time. We all face the inevitable and can speak to one another at great lengths about all sorts of colorful topics about how you would like to have it all handled…or just avoid it all together. What is certain there will be the chaos and seismic undulating waves of emotions that you could have never rehearsed or planned.
It’s been a sobering year to look back and it’s only now that I have been given a chance to begin expressing a few thoughts about the constant companion of my father’s memories. It will be the only companion I have for him as there are no more to be made. The “best used by” date has passed. I preserve what are now echos of his life by documenting them as best as I can for each day the sound of his voice, the smell of his working days, the laughter which was constant, the immeasurable story telling and the absolute love for his wife and kids grows just a little bit fainter.
This site will have a number of dedications each as special as the next. It is my hope that the chaos and noise that I felt planning my father’s last wishes is made less so through my own story telling and that of other’s. It is my hope that in our way, we are able to help you gather your thoughts and resources and help those who would otherwise be completely lost, a road map if you will to assist you with either designing your own memorial or designing and planning one.