Early January of 2018, my dad and I had plans to go watch the NCAA football championship game together. He was complaining of a bad stomachache and stayed behind instead. The pain got so bad he drove himself to the hospital where they determined his gallbladder needed to be removed. Four weeks later he passed away at hospice. My two brothers and my mom were understandably in a state of shock. How could the man we looked to as a source of unwavering strength be taken away so unexpectedly? Things happened so fast we could not think past the moment. As we left the hospice center, we discussed plans for how to support each other going forward. It was 3 p.m., and we agreed we all needed to go be alone for a while to process on our own. We were to meet back at mom’s house to open dad’s lockbox and begin to make a plan for his funeral.
When we arrived at mom’s house we ate and tried to comfort each other not knowing where to start and/or maybe just feeling reluctant to take the next step in this process. When we were all ready, we put the key in the old gray metal box he had so carefully maintained for 50 years. What I found inside was a set of four envelopes. I passed them around the table like playing cards. Mine was marked “will.” Inside were the lawyer’s documents detailing to whom and what was to be done in this exact moment. To my left, my brother had a deed to the cemetery plot he was to be laid to rest in. Across from me was my sister-in-law, she had a copy of a worksheet completed for a nearby funeral home that detailed exactly how he wanted his services conducted. And mom had in her hands a life insurance policy that was intended to cover the expenses for the entire service and burial, complete with instructions on who to call.
Through the organization in this box my dad had removed all distractions and stress of the administrative side of laying him to rest. My dad was a very thoughtful person. Proof of that was in the bottom of that old gray box under all the paperwork. Below all the funeral plans and will, were all the pictures and mementos he saved of the memories we had made as a family. These memories and mementos included notes we had written him on Father’s Day as elementary children, pictures of the trips we had taken together and an entire photo album of the record-setting fish he caught in Michigan at the campground he took us as kids. We proudly displayed that stuffed fish at his wake.
If my dad had not have been thoughtful enough to plan for that moment, our attention would have been taken away from celebrating the man my dad was and the legacy he left behind. It’s impossible to even type the words without getting emotional. The emotions are joy and appreciation for my dad’s thoughtfulness. It was one more gift from beyond the grave – giving us the freedom to focus on his friends and our family instead of scrambling to plan and pay for his arrangements.
The above photo features Andy's parents getting an autograph from Heavyweight Olympic Champion Rulon Gardner.