Dad was very specific before his passing that he didn't want a "funeral"; i.e. people sitting around crying, wallowing in sadness. He would say, "I've lived a life second to none. I know you think I'm exaggerating when I say it, but I did." His instructions were to "get together for a little thing with the family" and remember him. "Your mother says you can do it at the church--but I mean it, Jenny, I don't want you all sitting around sad. I've lived a life second to none."
We decided shortly after his passing to wait a few weeks and have his memorial on Saturday, June 14, so that we could prepare for the day and be in a place emotionally to honor Dad's request. The day was beautiful--a perfect 70 degrees with pure sunshine and no wind, just as Dad loved it. The service began at 10:00 at a very packed (no seats to spare!) New Life Church in Cedarburg. Family friend, Paula, sang Amazing Grace acappella--no pun intended, but it was amazing. Josiah, Samuel and John Thomas delivered beautiful readings and Nedy played 'Twinkle' on her violin. Jackie and I delivered a eulogy that was "half tear-jerking, half Saturday Night Live skit," according to Dan. It was perfect in my book, as I imagine Dad absolutely loved it for its focus on family...and humor. Dan, Aunt Janet, Josiah, Mary Anne and Reagan all added stories and thoughts. The service ended with a beautiful rendition of "I'll Fly Away" (one of Dad's Branson, MO favorites) by Reagan and Mary Anne. The service was personal, meaningful, uplifting, and reflective of who Dad was--and is as he lives on in all of us. In accordance with our instructions, I think we knocked it out of the park. ;)
Afterward, everyone went across the street to Dad's favorite walking spot, Cedar Creek Park. At 11:30, the U.S. Air Force and local American Legion post bestowed Military Honors in a moving, formal ceremony. (Am I the only person who cries every time I hear Taps?) Mom stood at center, us kids behind her in a row. After the flag folding and rifle salute, the flag was brought to Mom by the Air Force representatives. And sincerely and quietly, on behalf of the President of the United States and the United States Air Force, he thanked my Mom for my Dad's service to our country and made note that it's not often that he has had the chance to perform this ceremony for someone who went through what Dad did at war, and that it was his absolute honor and privilege to do so. Unbeknownst to us, but captured by a few folks watching the ceremony, an eagle was circling high overhead. Amazing.
And then there was delicious lunch catered by Out-and-Out and fellowship of friends old and new. So many people shared such wonderful memories, usually about Dad's fun-loving spirit and his adoration of his kids, which apparently was slightly irritating to a few people when we were younger. ;) Funny.
The day closed with a coin hunt in the park. Dad had always been on the lookout for coins as he walked. He used to say that it got harder over the years because people didn't carry cash so much anymore. So as a special tribute, we threw lots and lots of pocket change into the area behind the pavilion--right where Dad walked every day and fed the ducks--and set the children loose. It was delightful to see their excitement as they hunted for coins in the grass; I know Dad absolutely loved it.
Person after person has told me it was the most wonderful of life celebrations because they felt his spirit there, that the day truly reflected him. I look at a memorial as a final gift you give a person; a marking of their legacy. As my friend Aleece said, "You guys did an amazing job." I agree. :) The day was beautiful, almost perfect, but that he wasn't there to enjoy it with us.
Special thanks to my friend Elisabeth for taking this gorgeous photo for us that afternoon: