I went back and forth on writing this. Meaning, this sat in my drafts on and off for about two months. On one had it’s pretty grim but on the other had there’s probably a lot of people that wonder what happens when someone in your immediate family dies. I think we all kind of imagine the scenario and wonder how we’d act. We wonder if we’d be strong or if we’d simply fall apart. No matter how much wondering you do it can obviously never prepare you for when that moment comes. Luckily (but not really for me), I’m one of the few in my group of friends that have had to go through this. I started writing this blog to help me and to maybe help others understand what it’s like. So, if I never write about the uncomfortable stuff what’s the point? The sad fact is that I know one day another person I’m close to will have this happen, then a few more will join the club, and then one day this will happen more often than not. So, if I write about the worst days of my life and someone reads it and feels like they have a better understanding of the situation isn’t that a good thing?
So let’s start. Firstly I should point out that obviously no two situations are alike. They can be similar but everyone deals with their own things in their own way. This is just how it happened for me and my family. We knew basically from his diagnosis that my dad didn’t have more than a year left so we had a lot of family discussions about what we were going to do when my dad passed. To be honest though my dad was overly prepared from the start. Even before he was sick he had given my mom an envelope of “last wishes.” Now he gave her that note over 10 years ago so things were a little outdated but at least we had an idea of what to do. As things progressed and the end got closer my dad was adamant about us burying him over a weekend because “people shouldn’t have to take off work to come to my funeral.” They day he died we cracked the joke that OF COURSE he just HAD to die on a Sunday and make things difficult for us. This is the second thing I should note. Waiting nearly a week to bury someone really isn’t the gold standard. I can’t imagine doing what we did in 3-4 days in the span of 1-2 days and I commend anyone that’s had to.
As I mentioned previously, my dad died in our house. Immediately after he passed we had to call the hospice team so they could officially declare a time of death. In the mean time we gave a lot of people time to come over for goodbyes (even though our house already had plenty of people in it) before we called the funeral director to come and take him. Up until John (our amazing funeral director) came I was doing relatively well. As mentioned before I was the one to find my dad. I took my time after I knew he was gone to tell everyone else and I took a few minutes after some people had gone through to lay in bed with him and hold his hand. Besides that… I didn’t cry too much. There was too many other people crying that I had to worry about. Once John got to the house I went into the basement because I just couldn’t watch him be carried out. My heart still hurts for my friends Matt and Ryan and my boyfriend who had to help do that. I couldn’t even watch it so I can’t imagine what that had to be like doing it. The rest of the night was spent with friends until the early hours of the morning. The next few days would be long and busy so it felt good to be surrounded by love.
Like I said, my dad wanted to be buried on a Saturday so we had to wait 4 days until the wake and funeral would take place. Honestly the week is a bit of a blur. My mom, Zack, and me all went out to dinner on Monday night. I remember that because there was a special on Miller Lite and we joked that he was already looking out for us. I know at some point I went to my Aunt’s to get pictures of my dad from his childhood. I remembered that because I’m pretty sure that’s the first time Zack met her. I remember John coming over and helping us pick out mass cards, asking for a picture of my dad for the back of them, and picking out the prayer. I remember that because they literally give you a giant catalog to search through. It’s like flipping through a Kohl’s catalog except everything is funeral related and it’s really bizarre. Eventually I had to pick out (from another giant book of course) an urn. I remember doing that that because I picked one out that was biodegradable but we couldn’t use it since Catholic cemeteries only allow 2 types of urns. I know one day our church sent over a volunteer to help us plan the mass out. I remember because she was actually our neighbor and she asked the church specifically to come help us out. It was nice to have someone who actually knew my dad. Like I said… all of these events were a mish-mash from Monday-Thursday. I can’t really tell you when they happened but they did and all of them were awkward and uncomfortable but they pale in comparison to creating the picture boards.
One thing that was specifically in my dad’s old “last wishes” note was that he absolutely 100% did not want picture boards at his wake. Now, I’m an incredibly sentimental person so that was just not going to fly with me. So I sent Zack out to get some poster board and started sifting through the pictures. I had this idea that we’d have 5 of them: one with pictures of me, my mom, and my dad, one with pictures of his side of the family, one with pictures of my mom’s side of the family, one with his friends, and one with his adoptive children (aka my friends). At first going through the pictures was a lot of fun. Zack was with me so he got a pretty long trip down Allison’s memory lane. However one hour turned to two, then three, then four, and so on. After we’d sorted through the pictures I was emotionally exhausted and I hadn’t even cut them down to the pictures that would eventually make the boards let alone glue anything on. This was my first real break down since my dad had passed. What originally started out as a fun thing to take my mind off what was happening became an agonizing journey through every amazing moment I shared with my dad and every amazing moment he had in all 64 years. It became painful, tiring, and it left me feeling raw. I probably cried harder then than I had during the whole three month ordeal. It was the first time I realized, while surrounded by years worth of pictures of him, that there would be no more pictures. He was dead and that was the end of that. My suggestion here is to always have help in making these boards. Zack saved my sanity when it came to putting these together. He ran out and got all the supplies and took a lot of the responsibility of attaching each picture to each board. Don’t do this alone. I know you might think you’re the only one who can do this but you’re not. Ask for help.
Thursday night came and I was scared to death. I remember going to bed and being awake for about an hour with my mind just pacing. With the exception of the memory board break down I had done pretty well all week. I was so worried that Friday would just shatter me. It was going to be a long day and I’d have to see all these people who loved my dad and for the first time I wondered if I’d even be able to handle it. I went to bed uneasy. I’ve come to the conclusion that wakes aren’t really for the family. I mean… of course they are but really wakes are for others to come and pay their respects. People were going to be devastated so on Friday morning I decided I had to be strong for them.
My dad’s wake ran from 2pm to 9pm. We got there early to set up the coffee room and spend some time with my dad’s sister and brother. My mom and I went into the chapel first to see him and needless to say I didn’t take it very well. One of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer is jaundice- meaning your skin turns yellow. Towards the end my dad was pretty yellow and the combination of that and waiting 4 days to wake him meant that he needed quite a bit of makeup. To me, he didn’t look like himself. Everyone else commented on how great he looked and how he looked like himself but I couldn’t see it. Thinking back, he probably did look fine- thin and a little caked with makeup but fine. But that’s my dad… so I don’t think I was ever going to be happy with seeing him in a casket. Honestly no one would be.
That’s where I’ll leave this for today. It’s a really long post and I don’t want to bog you all down. I think I’ll pick up with the rest of it another day. I hope this maybe shed some light on what it’s like and what I had gone through. Maybe this was better left unsaid… who knows. I just want to be honest.