Arranging the Service

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In the middle of difficult moments, we are told to check in with our bodies to explore the reactions we are having. What do our stomachs feel like? Are our hands clenched? Is our heart racing? The idea is to ground ourselves by noticing that our eyes are scrunching up; and to take a breath. I know my forehead and eyebrows shoot up to the sky and my eyes pop out when I am upset. My heart starts racing too.

I probably looked like a rabid rabbit on steroids when my Mom said “No service” for my Dad the evening he passed. This was a man who never missed a party. He loved and lived for his friends and family. I couldn’t walk down the street in his 35-year old neighborhood without having multiple people stop me while in their cars, walking their dogs, or weeding their lawns to talk and ask about my Dad.

I was with Dad and his walker on his last jaunt around the neighborhood before he moved to assisted living. He literally couldn’t get off the street because his neighbors were talking and talking and talking to him, sharing jokes and smiles. I finally said “He has to pee. We will try to get right back out”. He was exhausted.

My Dad had golf buddies, fishing guys, dinner party friends, Friday night tennis group, medical school groupies, yearly skiing friends, and of course the college gang of guys who drove the hearse onto the football field together the night before Homecoming. He had to retire at 55, he was just having too much fun with friends, trips, and events to continue working. After 88 years, he had amassed a real following!

My Dad was all about his friends. And he had a lot of friends who missed him already, before he even passed. So I calmly told Mom I would call the minister myself and set an appointment to arrange the service. She could attend the meeting if she wanted. I put my foot firmly down, not quite stomping (that comes later in my story).

Other folks had an easier time with the initial decision. Liz V’s family all agreed their Mom and family needed a service to commemorate her time amongst them after a 3-year battle with cancer. It was 2021 though, so the pandemic got in the way. Although she passed in March, the lakeside party was held in July. That way relatives, friends, and neighbors could attend. They had more of a party than a church service, with an open bar, lots of catered tasties, many toasts, and plenty of laughs. Liz V’s Mom was known for her infectious laughter and cheerfulness, right up to the end. Her children may not agree now on how to organize the lakefront property without her there. But they knew a good party was necessary.

Gabrielle planned her Dad’s service within three weeks of her Dad’s plane crash. Her Dad’s death was a surprise obviously. But the 3 daughters and divorced Mom got it together and had a very nice service and house party afterwards. It was held in New Jersey, far from Gabrielle’s home in Colorado in his home town. There were plenty of differing opinions on the service style, the homily, the food afterwards. And surprises too. Dad’s girlfriend was in attendance, and had her own opinions and wishes (that the daughters over-ruled). When the extra girlfriend on the side showed up to the service as well, Gabrielle’s patience with family decisions and opinions had about run its course. Her Dad was young, and young at heart as well, and liked to live.

The considerations for the service are varied. Some people want God to usher them out of this world, and provide some comforting Christian words of wisdom about ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we will all be together in the end. Other families (such as Peggy’s) seem to want only to be together, honor their Mom, and have a drink. After attending that service, I called my children and let them know I believe in heaven and God; so when I die, please mention that at my service.

My minister friend Mark advised me that it is important to plan as much as possible for the service as early as possible before “the event”. He explained that everyone has a lot of nervous tension and energy to plan and pull together ideas until our loved on passes. Then we go into a fog zone and energy really takes a big nose dive. There is no more adrenaline. So I put together a list of topics to think over while considering a service and deciding how or what to have:

Closure for attendees – will they want to say something at the service?

Health of attendees – Can they attend in person? Can they stand up for any period of time?

Spiritual requests from our parent beforehand – If Dad expects a service before he passes, then we better provide one!

Honor for our parent – How would it feel best to honor their long or loving life?

Stories we want to share out loud to others – Not all stories need to be shared, but it is nice to share the ones we love best.

Time together to celebrate or grieve our parent – Not the least consideration is the importance of the time together to comfort each other and to let each other know the parent loved and lived well.

My Dad was uber-outgoing, but Mom is an introvert. So although he would have loved an all-night party at the house after the service, she was the one who would have to put out the energy for it. So we didn’t have beers and cocktails at the house. We had quiet lemonade in the Church foyer. He had five buddies get up to tell stories. Even my brothers got in laughs with the stories of the running chainsaw dropped in the lake and Dad secretly getting hit by a bus in China (the piece of jade in his pocket broke, but he was unharmed). It wasn’t perfect, but we did a compromise that worked. We all got to chuckle, the minister was not too appalled, and I know Dad happy with it. I saw him swinging from the rafters at the church, enjoying himself.

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