Dad passed away May 22, 2020 after two years and seven months of battling mesothelioma, a cancer doctors told would kill him in 12 to 16 months after diagnosis. We said goodbye to Dad only two weeks after we were all together to celebrate his birthday. For much of my life I denied a day like that could ever come. My family is my world and to now be living in a world without my dad in in still feels foreign to me, though as I write this, it’s almost been a year.
Because of covid, we were unable to have any kind of memorial for him soon after his death. In some ways I’m grateful for that because I don’t know how anyone can pull themselves together enough to organize something so quickly. Though I remember the evening after Dad died vividly, sitting with Mom on the dock on a beautiful spring evening watching the rest of the world carry on as usual while our world had just crashed to a standstill, the months after Dad’s death feel very much like a blur to me now.
However, I also see how funerals, memorials, and celebration of life ceremonies help bring some closure to losing a loved one, and we decided in late 2020 we would schedule Dad’s celebration of life for May 1, 2021, on his birthday weekend, on which he would have turned 80 years old.
As the date crept closer, Mom, Kris, and I pieced together the details. We knew that despite how hard the day might be to get through, we wanted to tone to be celebratory, to honor Dad’s spirit. Things came together nicely and before we knew it, it was the week leading up to the event.
The Monday before, which was last Monday, everything hit me like a ton of bricks. My feelings of anxiety and sadness shot through the roof. I don’t even know if I could pinpoint the exact reason- the fact that a marking of his death would make it feel more final? Wanting to do my feelings for him justice in the words I chose to say? The fear of truly not being able to handle it because I still am unable to talk about him without tears welling up in my eyes? Probably a combination of all of that, and more.
I actually shared this on Instagram stories and was overwhelmed with the response I received; hundreds of messages filled with prayers, encouragement, love, and advice from those that have walked this path of losing a dear parent. I can’t tell you how much those messages helped. Not only the tangible advice (waterproof mascara), but the urging to let myself experience the emotions that came up through the week and not to repress them and the assurance that I’d be surrounded by such love that day and would feel held by it.
The whole week was full of emotional ups and downs as I watched the weather, worked on my words I wanted to say, and tried to find an outfit (which I failed miserably at and ended up wearing an old dress from my closet that Dad liked and ended up being the perfect choice). Then on Thursday afternoon, the day before we left, I got a sign that I swear came straight from Dad himself and it gave me the nudge I needed to walk into the weekend with peace.
Friday morning we loaded up and headed down to Georgia, arriving by lunchtime. Mom, Kris, David, the girls, and I went to the venue for a test set up. My brother is the tech wizard of the family and wanted to get the slideshow he put together up and running so we knew there wouldn’t be any hiccups the next day. I had seen the slideshow before but pictures and music are a powerful combination, and just hearing the music paired with the memories choked me up and I had to walk out for fresh air.
Late afternoon on Friday we welcomes family to the house. My Aunt Pat (Dad’s sister), my cousins, Kristin and Erika, and cousins of Dad’s, many of whom I had never met, all came over for food, wine, and conversation. Mom’s friends had all generously dropped off a dish to contribute so Mom didn’t have to think about food, and the vibe was merry and joyful.
We filled our plates and sat on the porch and listened to the kids shriek while trying to catch frogs, and got to know each other better while sharing stories of Dad. It really was a wonderful intro to the weekend.
Saturday morning I woke up feeling pretty good. We fell into the typical routine of coffee and making breakfast for the kids that aren’t allowed out of their room until 8:00 (though we clearly heard them up since 6:15).
The event started at 2:00 but we knew we wanted to make a morning visit to set up and make sure everything was in place. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful spring day. It was warming up nicely but without the humidity that Georgia is so well known for.
However, this is when the emotions started to hit me. Perhaps it’s the music from the slideshow or seeing the venue set up that made it feel so real, but tears started to bubble up as the reason all this was happening hit me hard.
Once the linens were out and the microphone was tested, we went back to the house for lunch. My stomach was in knots and I wasn’t able to eat much of anything. I took a few minutes to go sit on the dock in the sun with my eyes closed to center myself. Dad would do this quite often and anytime I’m near water I feel connected to him.
Around 1:00 we all headed to the venue. We turned the music on, watched the food and drinks get set up, and got ready to welcome our friends and family. I was doing OK emotionally as long as I avoided the slideshow; just hearing the songs would trigger my tears.
Soon, people began to arrive, as a trickle at first, then they began pouring it. It was quite surreal and a mix of emotions if I’m being honest. Seeing so many people from throughout the different stages of my dad’s life was incredibly touching, as was seeing friends of mine I haven’t had the chance to hug in so long. I felt a mix of joy at all the love in the room and the impact of the reason why we were all here. I smiled and laughed, then would break into tears when hugged.
The beginning was quite a whirlwind. In a twisted way it was like being the bride at the wedding, in high demand. Everyone wanted to pay their respects, give a hug, and many (my favorite thing) told a story or memory about Dad.
Despite forgoing any kind of alcoholic beverage (I wasn’t sure if it would take the edge off or heighten my emotion and I wanted to be fully present so I abstained), the first hour was a blur of emotion and conversations. At 3:00 it was time to move to the tent.
Banks and Shane, an Atlanta band, has been tied to my family’s life for decades. My mom and dad’s first date was seeing them at a Steak and Ale in Atlanta. They played at the party for my mom’s 40th birthday. They played and mine and David’s wedding. We even saw them all together in 2019. And for this occasion, Paul Shane asked if he could pay his respects in music. And so he did.
He played Carolina in My Mind, Three Wooden Crosses, and ended by playing my parents’ song, like I had heard him do so many times over the years and dedicate to them, Desperado. Hearing the words, watching Mom- this was when my tears really started flowing.
After Paul sang, Mom got up to say her speech. It was beautiful. She recalled memories from how they met to poignant moments in their life together. She was so eloquently able to put into words their relationship and Dad’s essence as her best friend and love of over 42 years.
Kris spoke after Mom. His words walked us through special moments and memories of childhood through adulthood. He made everyone laugh at times, and cry at others. I was so proud of him.
The kids, unprompted, stood close by and would run and give hugs after the speeches. It was heart warming and brought some levity to the tent.
Then it was my turn. I had been in turmoil about what I wanted to say all week, wanting to do Dad justice and adequately express how much he means to me. Mom, at one point, finally reminded that we could stand up there and talk all day and we wouldn’t be able to say enough to convey what Dad really meant to us all and that resonated with me. So I stood up and poured my heart out the best I could.
I tried to speak as slowly and clearly as possible, however I felt my voice shaking and tears fall as I made my way through my words. Still, I felt very much in the moment and saying aloud to everyone what was in my heart was a true release and felt healing for me. It’s a moment I know I’ll carry with me forever.
We opened up the floor to anyone else who might have some words they wanted to say and laughed as people recounted Dad’s actions of the golf course when a shot didn’t go his way and heard stories of how he helped people through his practice.
As we were wrapping things up, Kaitlyn ran up and grabbed the microphone and my left eyebrow immediately shot up. What the heck was she planning on saying here? Before any of us could ask she stood behind the table, that hid most of her, and said clearly into the microphone how much she loved Papa John and how he would always make her laugh by tickling her. My heart burst right open; it was so pure. Kyla and Hailey followed suit and it was such a sweet moment!
Mom tied things up by reading a beautiful poem she had come across and then that was it. For me, it felt like an enormous exhale. The tears stopped; the story telling, catching up with friends, and laughter began.
People trickled out slowly, but we stayed and chatted with friends that were able to stick around. A silver lining was getting to see people we love but don’t often get to spend time with.
Soon it was time to go to the family dinner so we hugged friends goodbye, took one last deep breath, staring at the beautiful outdoor space, then loaded the kids in the car to head to the clubhouse.
Mom, Kris, and I all immediately ordered martinis and it began to feel the true celebration part of the day.
Surrounded by family, from cousins and aunts and uncles that I’ve known my whole life to Dad’s cousins we were just beginning to get to know, there was so much connection and love in that room.
Eventually that started to wind down, too. David took one for the team and took the kids home to bed while Kris, Cara, and I basically closed the place down with heartfelt, raw conversations over a final martini.
When I finally made it into bed that night, I felt a peace. Life will never be the same (as some friends that have also lost a parent told me “you lost your dad and that will never be OK), but the family Mom and Dad built is one I’ll be grateful to be part of for the rest of my life. There is so much love and laughter to be had and I’m ready to continue to walk forward with Dad in my heart.
kim weigand says
There was so much love in this post. I recently lost my Dad also. He and Mom built a beautiful life together and brought 4 beautiful families into this world. I myself have 3 daughters and 6 granddaughters, all thanks to their beautiful relationship. Much love!!
Brittany Dixon says
I’m so sorry you recently lost your dad as well. It’s like walking in a different world, isn’t it? I admire your ability to focus on the love and families that came forth from your mom and dad’s relationship; there is so much beauty in that. Sending you a big hug!
Lynn Thow says
What a beautiful celebration for your dad. Thank you for sharing all of these special details that made this day truly special. I love the last sentence of this blog so much!
Brittany Dixon says
Dad’s favorite saying, he derived from Zorba the Greek, was “Live Life and Enjoy It!” and that is certainly what he wanted us to continue to do. <3 Thank you, Lynn!
What a great read. I thoroughly enjoyed this as there is no doubt you poured your heart and soul into the post. Without even knowing you it’s obvious your dad was a positive constant throughout your entire life, and he brought you immense joy. I truly hope the weekend helped you feel less heavy sadness, although I’m aware it will rear it’s ugly head at times. Hopefully writing it all out and going back to the event, both physically by pictures and emotionally with the words, you still find yourself pointing forward. Thank you again for your authenticity.
Brittany Dixon says
Oh Stacey, you are so spot on. I feel a lot of peace moving forward now, but know that grief in missing him is something I will carry with me forever. Thank you for taking the time to send your love and writing a note. I really appreciate the connection <3
Jenny Ewanciw says
Such a beautiful and loving post. Having walked in similar shoes, I was weepy reading your words. How special it was you had a bit of time to process, and later celebrate your dad’s life in the best way you all knew how. I especially loved the part about the band-so touching! Music is something that can be so triggering, in the worst, or the BEST way. Sending love and hugs for continued peace and healing XOXO
Brittany Dixon says
I’m so sorry you’ve walked in similar shoes <3 and I agree with you about music; it's so powerful. Dad and I used to send song lyrics back and forth sometime that spoke to us. Thanks so much for your love!
Thanks for sharing, Brittany. I teared up. Lots of love from a long time reader from across the pond.
Brittany Dixon says
Thank you so much, Anne <3 <3
This is beautiful, Brittany. I got choked up reading it. What a great celebration and way to honor your dad. I lost my dad unexpectedly in September of 2012. He had a heart attack while driving and my last conversation with him we had an argument. I never got to make amends. We loved each other deeply and had a great relationship, but had a stupid disagreement and I am forever haunted by the fact that I didn’t get to make up with him or say “I love you” one last time. I remember laying in bed sobbing listening to “My Wish” by Rascall Flatts (my dad always said this was his song to my brother, sister, and I) and calling his cell phone number just to hear his voice on the voicemail. Part of me thought maybe it was just a dream and he would actually answer. His funeral was days after he passed and it was three days long…the visitation, funeral, and burial. It was just exhausting and I don’t remember much about that day. It gave me a great appreciation for what your family chose to do for your dad. I know the reason for the delay was due to covid, but I think having that time to process and thoughtfully put together a celebration of life can really be helpful. What a gift to love someone and be loved so deeply…but that just makes the grief that much harder. Sending love and prayers to you and your family. ❤️
Brittany Dixon says
I wish I could give you a big hug. Thank you for sharing your story with me. I have a good friend who lost her dad suddenly and we had many heart wrenching conversations about which was harder: seeing the train coming for you, or being hit out of nowhere. We concluded they are both terrible and there is never an easy way to say goodbye, but I love how you know in your heart how much you and your dad loved each other and there is no doubt he knew that, too. Sending you a lot of love back.
PS: I understand the voicemails. I saved all the ones I had from my dad and will still sometimes go listen to them just to hear his voice. <3
Jennifer Mennella says
I think the celebration of life is so beautiful. I very much feel like the above poster. My mom died while I was in California and I had to fly across the country get myself and three kids ready for a funeral and then speak about her at the funeral. Looking back that was a terrible way to remember her and we should’ve done a celebration as you speak and there’s more time to process. Sending love to you.
I have tears running down my face. We’re strangers, but I’ve been reading your blog for so long, you and your family seem like long-lost cousins to me! What a beautiful tribute and a beautiful day. I love how your dad gave you a sign. Thank you so much for sharing this with us – we care and are sending so much love to you.
Brittany Dixon says
Thank you so much, Erin; I feel the love and it’s helped carry me through! <3
Thank you for sharing this, Brittany. I loved reading about this special day. I have been following you for a long time and one thing I loved about your dad (from a far) was that he was always one of the first people to comment on your blog. I would look for it on every post of yours, and he never missed one. He was clearly very proud of you! The all around love in your family is beautiful to witness.. Thank you again for opening up to us. I wish you peace in your mind and heart.💗
Brittany Dixon says
It touches my heart at how many long time readers remember his comments always being one of the first. He was such a supportive dad like that <3 Thank you, Kelly!
This just brought me to tears. I am so happy you were able to feel some peace after the celebration in honor of your dad! I also appreciate that you’ve created this community, and this corner of the internet where it’s ok to not be ok sometimes. Life is beautiful and sometimes really hard! Keep looking for those signs, he is still with you ❤️
Brittany, I’m a long time reader and you feel like a friend. I got so choked up reading this. It’s evident over the years of following you how much your Dad means to you. You have such a special, loving family and what a beautiful celebration you had. I hope it brought you peace. Thanks for sharing this so authentically. Big hugs to you.
What a beautiful celebration of Life <3 Thank you for sharing it with us. Wishing you Peace and Love!
And what a beautiful celebration it was! The weather, the vibe, the people – it was all so serene and celebratory, as your dad would have enjoyed. I’m so glad I was able to join in honoring him! I’ll never forget my favorite saying of his, when I was having a hard time: “just change the channel in your head”. I repeat That to myself often!
And your speech was beautiful & heartfelt. Your dad is so proud 🙂
Brittany Dixon says
He had so many great sayings that I think of daily, too! Thank you so much for being there; loved getting to hug you and meet sweet Duke! <3
What a beautiful post. Like other readers, this made me tear up – and reminded me of the memorial service we had after my grandpa passed seven years ago. I am sending love.
Jennifer Keller says
What a beautiful post and celebration for your dad! I always loved seeing his encouraging and loving comments on your posts, you could always feel the love he had for you! Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt and beautiful day with us, I know it wasn’t easy!
There is much love in this post and in this family. I am once again so sorry you have had to go through this, but how wonderful to be able to celebrate SUCH a legacy.
We were honored to be part of the celebration and see the love in your family. Thanks for sharing it all!
This is a really beautiful post, Brittany and my heart just breaks for you and your family. But what a wonderful send off for someone who was obviously a well loved husband, father, and grandfather. I hope you find laughter through tears and feel what you need to feel to live with your grief. <3
Brittany Dixon says
Thank you so much <3 It was a very healing weekend, one that we all probably needed more than we realized.