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Grandfather’s Funeral

My grandfather’s funeral was beautiful.  All of his 19 grandchildren were there and 49 of his 52 great grandchildren were there.  It was mostly just family because when you are 95 most of your friends have gone before you.  So it was a family reunion of sorts.

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After the graveside prayer my family walked across the cemetery to my dad’s grave. We had some time just us together and it was peaceful.  Much different than a year ago when we were there.

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I got home later that night and slept for 12 hours.  It was an emotional draining day.  But still a good day.

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Facebook post Sunday February 16:

Today is a sad but joyous day. My 95-year-old grandfather passed away early this morning. He was the kindest man with a quick funny answer to anything you said to him. He was a great example and raised some of the best men I know. One of them being my dad. Love you grandpa.

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Additional Facebook post the same day:

I wanted to share a funny memory of my grandfather. Last Memorial Day we had a nice dinner before we went to the cemetery. We sat down to eat and I got an apron out for grandpa to wear so he wouldn’t get his white church shirt dirty. I said to him “Now grandpa this apron says Utah State Aggies on it. You should feel really special to be wearing it.” without a second of hesitation he said “Well you better turn it inside out. We can’t have that showing.” (He’s a huge BYU fan). He ate the whole dinner with it on inside out. Funny, especially since more than half of his grandchildren went to USU.

I have mixed emotions about his death.  I am so happy for him.  He has wanted to go for so long now.  But it feels like we just did this.  A year doesn’t seem very long in terms of going to another funeral. It reminds me a lot of those feelings a year ago.

It makes me miss my dad.

After dropping my son off at school yesterday at 7am I was driving down the same street I drive everyday and on the side of the road was an old man.  He had white hair and was dressed in suit pants, a white shirt and tie.  He was waving at everyone as they drove by and smiling.  He’s NEVER been there before.  He didn’t have a coat on.  (It was 30 degrees outside).  As I drove past him he looked me right in the eyes and had the hugest smile and waved. He looked so happy. I cried the rest of the way home. He reminded me so much of my grandfather.  Later when I left for work  the first song my iPod played is the song from my father’s funeral “Never Alone” by Lady Antebellum.  Ok, this song has NEVER been in my shuffle selection on my iPod EVER.  Then the next song after that was “Beautiful World” by Bon Jovi.  Really????  Let me add that my drive to work is all but 8 minutes from my house.

Do I believe in “signs” from the here after?  Coincidences? Not usually.

But yesterday I did.

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Answers

I get a lot of questions from people about how things were that last week with dad and how my family is doing now.  I have been putting off writing about it.  I am struggling right now and I don’t know if writing about it will make it better or worse.  But I am going to give it a shot.

How is my mom doing?   She is doing well as far as I can tell.  I don’t live close enough to see her every day, but I do call her every day.  She has her moments. She said that a week or so after he died she was making the bed and she was kinda joking to herself and said “This is why you left Allan, you didn’t want to help make the bed anymore.”  She said immediately in her mind she heard his voice say “I would be there right now helping you if I could.”  The nights are the hardest for her.  I called her one night and she said she was making dinner and I asked her what she was making.  She said a frozen microwave meal.  That made me so sad.  She said it wasn’t worth cooking something huge for one person.  She is trying to keep herself busy with her church and projects.  We are going to go visit for Easter.

My mom is the type of person that will one day just decided she is done being sad. She says it is ok to mourn for a little while and then after that it is just feeling sorry for yourself.

I hope she tells me when that day is….I am so tired of being sad.

How am I doing?  Alright.  Hanging in there.  Tolerable. Shitty.  Cry scale 9-10 every day.  Lots of Xanax, Wellbutrin, and Ambien.  I finally made an appointment with a counselor.  I need someone to help me work through all of this.  I don’t think it is the actual fact that he is gone that is causing me so much grief right now, it is the 9 days leading up to his death that I have the hardest time with.  Watching him die is the hardest thing I have ever done.  I am so glad I was there.  I wouldn’t take that back.  I just don’t think I realized how hard it was going to be.

How did you handle those 9 days leading up to his death?  Honestly I don’t know.  I think I was on autopilot. My dad didn’t like any noise at that point.  So there was no TV, radio or much talking going on.  It was very quiet most of the time.  Before he went into the coma, and before he was in the hospital bed, 2 of us were always in the room in case he wanted to get up.  He so desperately wanted to be self sufficient still.

After he was in the coma one of us was always in the room with him.  Sitting by him, holding his hand, putting chapstick on his lips, wiping him with cool wash clothes. We slept by his bed at night.  He would still squeeze our hand until Saturday if we squeezed his.  But he never woke up again after Thursday.  We still talked to him.  Told him we loved him trillion times and told him it was ok to go. We would be alright.

We spent a lot of time on our laptops.  Playing Plants vs Zombies of all things.  Very mind numbing. We all look like crap in this picture.  This was day 9 I think.  So those are crazy delirious posed smiles.

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How did you get through planning the funeral/choose a funeral home? One thing about my dad’s cancer was we knew he was terminal. We had the time to plan that most people don’t. We had met with a funeral home earlier in January. If I can give anyone one piece of advice on this subject is you do have choices. If you have the time and it is an option to talk to more than one funeral home do it.

The first place we went to was nice. It is where our family has done funerals in the past. They were familiar. I’m not a pro at this and don’t have any experience to go off of but this one, but it felt like a business deal. They had a form with prices and “add ons”. They had a room of caskets like a car dealership.  They checked boxes and used a calculator. I asked them what would happen if dad died at night. They said they had some college boys that helped them at night. We took the information home thinking it was done.

Then we got the name another funeral home through a family friend. We decided to talk to them too. The difference between the 2 experiences was night and day. He came to my mom’s house. He asked us about our family, about dad. He didn’t have a form with prices and “add ons”.  He had a nice book with pictures of caskets.  He said they would do everything, even going to the length of buying dad’s new clothes to be buried in so mom didn’t have to worry about it.  I asked him what they would do if dad died at night and he said he would personally come no matter the time.  He made us feel like family. We decided to go with them. (They were also almost $3,000 cheaper).

I planned the whole funeral and wrote the obituary for my mom in the quiet of those last few days dad was alive. She just couldn’t do it. I had finished the video life sketch in early January that I wanted to use during the funeral. My mom agreed it would be perfect. It was hard to decide who was going to do what at the funeral so to make it easier we just went with immediate family and my dad’s best friend. The funeral home was is constant email contact with me sending me proofs of the program and answering questions. They even gave us a name of florist they used a lot and she came over to my mom’s and we got the flowers taken care of. We referred everyone to her that asked where they should order flowers from so they all could be delivered together.

This mortuary went above and beyond anything I have ever seen.  At the viewing the night before the funeral they had tables with bottles of water, mints and chocolates on them.  The day of the funeral they had them set up again, plus baskets of little Kleenex packages for anyone.  Who does that?  Maybe all funeral homes, I haven’t been to a funeral in a long time.  But those little things stand out in my mind and go a long way. They gave a little comfort in an absolutely emotionally horrible day.

Was I in the room when dad died?  Yes.  I am not going to write a lot about those moments.  They are special to me.  I will say that it was incredible.  Not scary like I was worried it was going to be.  My mom, sister and I were kneeling around his bed with him and it was calm and quiet.  He took his last breath and was gone.  There was an amazing amount of electricity in the air that I could feel. (My mom and sister experienced it differently).  I have no doubt he was there.  I have no doubt there is life after this one.  If it feels like that when I die I am not afraid.  It was the most comforting feeling I have ever felt.

What happened after he died?  I called the on call Hospice nurse since it was 9:30 at night.  I then texted our personal hospice nurse.  She had been over earlier and said she wanted to know when he died no matter the time.  She showed up within 20 minutes. The on call nurse was there in 30 minutes. We called my mom’s Bishop of her church and my dad’s close childhood friend.  They were there within 10 minutes. I called the mortuary  and he asked when I wanted him to come and I told them an hour. They were there in 60 minutes.

My mom couldn’t be in the room with my dad anymore so she sat in the living room with the bishop and the family friends while I was with dad and the hospice nurses.  I helped them take his shirt off so they gave him one last bath.  I was surprised at how pale he got so quickly.  I left the room at that point to give my dad privacy even though he wasn’t really there anymore.  They worked quietly and with great respect.  They changed him into clean clothes and covered him up to his shoulders.

While we waited for the mortuary to arrive we took all of dad’s medications and put them in a bottle full of kitty litter.  They had to document everything.  We had an HUGE amount of controlled substances.  (I kept commenting to my mom throughout the week before how much the street value would be for all the drugs. Morphine, Haldol, Oxycotton, all in liquid form.  That is how your brain thinks when you work for a police department I guess.)  After they emptied everything out into the bottle they filled it with water and shook it up.  They would take it back to their office to dispose of it.  I also didn’t want mom to wake up the next morning and have all of his other meds all over the house, so I went from room to room and gathered up 2 bags full of medication that just needed to be thrown away.  Hospice took all of it too.

What happened when the mortuary arrived? I have to comment here on how professional and loving these 2 men were.  They came in their suits, ties and dress coats.  It was almost 11pm.  It was a son and his father.  They treated us like we were their family.  They said we could have as much time as we wanted with dad.  They were in no hurry.  They hugged us and spoke in quiet tones.  When we were finally ready for them to take dad they gently wrapped him in the blanket that was on his bed (they washed it and gave it back to us later), wrapped a white sheet around him, except his head, and put him on a gurney.  My mom was still in the other room with my sister. They didn’t want to see any of this part of it all.  It was me and the hospice nurses.  They asked me if I was ready for them to cover him up.  I said I was.  They covered the rest of him with the sheet and then covered his whole body with a beautiful red velvet cover.  I walked them out and held the front door for them.  I watched them wheel him down to their car.  (They had a big Ford Expedition kind of car, not a hearse thank heavens). I watched them put him in the car and shut the doors. The son came back up and asked me if we needed anything else and I said no. He said it was unusual to have a family member watch them take the body out. I told him I had to. I had to make sure he was ok. He said that they would be with him that night. I went back in the house. The feeling of peace when my dad died was still with me.  Otherwise I think I would have been a crazy hysterical woman at that point.

What happened after everyone else left?  I have already written about my mom, sister and my “sleep over” that night in this post.  We were exhausted.  It was such a mixed bunch of feelings.  Sadness, relief, tiredness, emptiness.  We prayed with my mom for a long time that night before we went to sleep.  Dad was there with us.

How did you keep it together during the 2 days of the viewing and funeral?  Xanax and adrenalin.  It was a whirlwind.  So many people that I hadn’t seen for years.  I was so happy to see my friends and family and then would remember oh yeah, they are here because my dad died. Damn.

We had a viewing Sunday night before the funeral Monday .  It was at the church right behind my parent’s house.  You have to go down a big hill and turn a corner and the church is right there.  I held it together all weekend except for the minute we turned the corner to go to my mom’s and the hearse was parked in front of the church.  I lost my breath, it struck me so fast  and so hard  I wasn’t expecting it and it physically hurt. It was real right at that moment.  My dad was dead.  Even though I had seen him die.  Even though I was in the room when they covered him up and took him away.  It wasn’t real until I saw that hearse parked in front of that church.  That was the only time I really cried in those 2 days.

I’ve made up for in the last 5 weeks.

How are my kids and husband?  Better than I am.  My 5 year old talks about Grandpa being in heaven and who is with him and that he is happy.  She does comment that mom cries a lot.  My older son doesn’t live at home anymore so I think he is ok.  He doesn’t talk about it when we speak on the phone.  My 14 year old has had a harder time.  He broke down the other day about it all.  He was very close to my dad.  Tony and the boys were pal bearers.  My 14 year old wore my dad’s shoes those 2 days with his suit and older son wore my dad’s suit.  They all wore one of my dad’s ties.

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What has helped me the most the most the past 5 weeks?  Besides prescription drugs,  my friends.  So many kind emails, texts, phone calls and visits.

girls(2 of my best friends.  Donna on my left has been my best friend for over 25 years.  Kristi on the right has been one of my closest friends for 15 years.  Her husband Pete is who presented my mom with the flag at the cemetery.)

And comments from everyone here on my blog.  Thank you for your kind words and prayers.  You will really never know how much they help.

Dad’s Funeral Tribute

I thought I would post the talk I gave at my dad’s funeral.  There is a private link to the video I showed for his life sketch.

It is so amazing to stand here and see so many faces of people that have been a part of my parent’s lives, and mine, for so many years. Many of you I have known almost my whole life and others of you are new friends of my parents. For those of you that are newer friends I am Heather, Allan and Alice’s oldest daughter. Also known as Friendly Frog and Heather Berry by my dad, and more recently the dominate bossy daughter by his doctors and nurses.

Before I say what I have prepared I want to publicly thank everyone that has been such a great support to our family over the past year.  I imagine everyone in this room has done something for our family, whether it be visiting my parents, bringing over food, to keeping us in your prayers.  All of this has been a great comfort and we have felt your support and love.  I would also like to thank all the hospice staff, especially our “angel” as I like to call her, Cassie.  She was with us twice a day the last week dad was with us. She was our bright spot in every day.

In a blessing my dad received when he was 13 it said:

“Cultivate the spirit of friendliness and cheerfulness, the doors shall be opened unto you, and you will be the means of instilling faith in the lives of other people.  You shall serve in many capacities among the children of our Heavenly Father.  Cultivate the spirit of love.  Refrain from hasty judgment, that you may be wise and just in your dealings with your fellow men.”

My dad was probably the least judgmental, most friendly cheerful man I have ever known. Always positive. Never angry. Well unless it had to do with a lost BYU football game. Even after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer he stayed positive. I never heard him say anything negative and I never saw him feel sorry for himself. He said “It is what it is and I’m going to fight it.” And that’s what he did. He went through chemo and radiation with a smile on his face. He spent the summer doing what he loved. Camping, fishing, traveling with his best friends, celebrating birthdays and holidays with his family making wonderful memories.

My dad lived a life of harmony and unity. Our home growing up was a place of refuge. My parents taught us love and respect by example.  There were never harsh words or anger between them.  No arguments or fighting.  My dad called my mom everyday at lunch to tell her he loved her.  Their love is truly a happily ever after story. Watching my mom care for my dad this past year and especially in his last few weeks was a privileged experience for me. I know now more of selfless love by her example.

I asked my mom if I could give my dad’s life sketch because I wanted to pay tribute to the man I have loved the most and the longest in my life. I’m not one that usually leans towards the traditional. I didn’t want to just stand here and read off of a piece of paper my father’s life to you. I wanted to show you he has lived a good life, full of lots of accomplishments, happiness and joy.

I spent a few weeks putting this video together and it gave me much peace and comfort. It made me realize all the things he had done in his life and all we had done as a family growing up, all the places we had gone, and all the things he taught us kids. He lived a full and amazing life and then in turn gave us one.

Whenever I hear the words to the song on this video I think they are the words my dad would be saying to us.  You are never alone; I’ll be in every beat of your heart when you face the unknown. Wherever you fly this isn’t goodbye. My love will follow you, stay with you, you’re never alone.