Jennifer was inspired to write the following post in light of the upcoming first year anniversary of losing her father. She has worked for Williams Funeral Home for almost five years and currently serves as the Director of Finance and Legal Affairs. Jennifer has helped serve many families by writing obituaries, helping with insurance, answering end of life legal questions, and preparing simple estate documents. She shares her journey through grief in hopes it might help others in varying seasons of life and grief.
Today I stopped by to visit my Dad. My Dad now resides at Polk Memorial Gardens, well that is where we laid his body to rest. His soul is up in heaven praising Jesus. And while I was leaving the cemetery, I noticed a few others standing over and near the grave of their loved one. One stood in somber silence in The Arbors, and another was taking a photo in the garden of Good Shepard. As I pulled on out of the cemetery, it struck me, here we all are visiting our loved ones, taking photos, talking into the air with no one to audibly answer back, yet we do this because it is how we grieve.
I’ve worked in the funeral industry for nearly five years now. I never imagined I would be sitting on the other side of the table planning my Dad’s service at this point in my life. Sure, I figured I’d be planning a service at some point, but not when I was 32, and he was 56.
It’s been nearly a year since I suddenly lost my Dad. His illness, thankfully, was short lived. I didn’t have to spend years seeing him suffer. Granted, walking into the hospital and seeing my Dad hooked up to machines and knowing those machines were the only reason he still had breath in his lungs brought swells of tears to my eyes. Dad wasn’t responsive at the time, but there was a distinct moment I felt he knew we were all there with him – he was surrounded by his family that he loved so big. When my family had to tell the hospital staff we were ready for them to turn off the machines (but really how or when could we ever be ready) we knew it would only be a matter of minutes before my Dad would hear the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
The moments right after my Dad passed, my mom looked up, and in a quite voice simply asked, “What do we do now?” It shook me. I knew what to do next because I’ve worked in the industry. I knew what would happen over the next few days. I knew my Dad would be taken back to TN and prepared for his service. I knew we’d need to bring clothes, send in an obituary, pick out a space at the cemetery. I knew we’d need to pick out a casket (it had to be pine as that was the only thing my Dad really ever requested about his own funeral), choose a vault, select a theme for the memorial folders. I knew we would arrive an hour prior to the public to have family time with my Dad. I knew we would sit on the front row for the service. I knew we would get in our car and follow the hearse to the cemetery. I knew we would get out and see his casket placed into the vault. These are all the things I knew would happen, merely because I work in the industry. My family did not know. They had no idea all the choices and decisions that had to be made, so I made many decisions for them because I could, and it kept me going.
What I didn’t know and what no one could fully explain to me would be just how much I would miss my Dad. I mean I knew I would miss him, but the gut-wrenching pain on some days just made it nearly impossible to get up. I didn’t realize just how important having his memorial folder with me would mean. I had no idea the peace that the cemetery would bring. Seeing his memorial and his face each time I visit where his body rests makes it all the more real and at the same time it brings a sense of peace.
I have always believed a funeral, and a memorial are not for the dead, they are for the living. I’ve heard this many times. We try our best to educate, but sometimes people are not ready to think of the inevitable. I just want to encourage you to start now. Begin the conversation. Think about your loved ones that you will leave behind. There are many who walk through the funeral doors having no idea where to begin, and they are flat out exhausted. Many people have just spent weeks, or months, or even years making health decisions for their loved one. Sometimes they walk in after losing someone suddenly, and they cannot decide what to eat much less how to plan a funeral. Let me encourage you to plan a service and give your loved ones a place to visit you. This isn’t coming from a person in the industry, this is coming from someone who has lost her daddy. This is coming from someone who sits one week shy of his one-year anniversary, thankful that she has the memory of his service and a place to go and talk to the air. This comes from someone who finds peace at the foot of her Dad.