PetWill Radio

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

That's what I told my mom the day after my dad died.  "It's the first day of the rest of your life - a whole new chapter.  An opportunity."

Now, I'm trying to take that advice to heart.  I returned home yesterday after spending a week with my mom.  I feel like I've lost (not in a bad way) a week of my life.  My dad, John A. Hoyt, died on Sunday April 15, 2012, at approximately 9 a.m.  He had visited me earlier that morning in my dream - actually saying good bye - so I wasn't surprised to learn when I returned from my horse back ride that he had passed.  Also, during my ride, I fell off my horse.  Actually, this doesn't happen very often and it was one of the strangest falls I've ever taken.  It's almost as if it didn't happen.  Sure, my horse spooked at a cow and her baby who suddenly appeared out of the bushes, but the actually falling was so uneventful I did even get dirty and definitely not hurt.  I've convinced myself it was my dad who caught me and kept me safe.

I always knew when the day came that my dad was no longer the head of our family I would undoubtedly be the one that would take charge.  Everyone did their part and all the important tasks got done.  First things first - Monday morning mom and I went to the funeral home to finalize our prepaid arrangements.  We've had these arrangements for more than two years.  I took my own advice and made sure, in advance, that we knew what to expect.  In addition, my dad donated his brain to the Cure PSP organization so we definitely had to have a coordinated effort at the time of death.  The funeral home picked him up, delivered him to Mary Washington hospital for the donation and then took him back to the funeral home.  It actually all happened faster and smoother than I expected.  Since he had been out of the custody of the funeral home for a period of time, mom and I were required to identify him.  I wasn't sure this was something I wanted to do, but my mom seemed fine with it, so I joined her.  It was bitter sweet.  Finally, he was at peace.

Then, off to the nursing home to retrieve his remaining belongings.  Then, shopping for a suitable urn for his cremains.  If nothing, we are practical.  We didn't want to spend upwards of $600 on a funeral home urn when we felt we could probably find something we (and he) would be just as happy with.  And, we did.  It is a beautiful earthen ware urn in manly, but warm colors.  Our family plan was to include the cremains for two babies - one still born and one who lived just a few minutes - the children of my sisters Julie and Karen.
I don't think the phone stopped ringing all week.  The Humane Society of the United States took care of preparing a press release for all the major papers, including the Associated Press.  As a result, we received a lot of calls - friends, family, reporters.   Stories appeared in all the major papers including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the New York Times.

It seems like Tuesday we mostly received guests, flowers and food offerings.  It was a little more subdued, as if we really didn't have anything pressing.  We did spend considerable time thinking about the organization of the upcoming memorial service and all that would entail.  We actually came up with a format that we really liked - something for everyone.  Mom would play the piano for the prelude and the hymns, each of the children would read and even the grandchildren had significant roles from passing out bulletins to running the "boom box" to spreading flower petals on the grave.  Both Anne and Karen wrote poems or letters they wanted to share.  Mostly we read what dad had already written - from his book, "I Live But Once."

When we met with the minister on Wednesday he was probably surprised.  We already had the program planned - he simply needed to fill in the prayers and the sermon.  Shortly before my dad's passing he joined the Reynolds Memorial Baptist Church in Sperryville, Virginia. Pastor, Jon Huddleston welcomed my dad back to the church after my mother's church (also Baptist) wouldn't accept his request for membership.  My dad went full circle - son of a Baptist minister, Baptist minister, Presbyterian minister, member of no church from 1970 to 2011 and then a member of the Baptist church, again.  Pastor Huddleston had an opportunity to meet, but never actually speak, to my dad.  Still, he captured his spirit.

Thursday was gratefully a day without too many plans - mom had a funeral for a friend's granddaughter.  I went back to Sperryville and spent time with Anne and Dennis looking at property.  Found a gorgeous piece and everything for a future in Virginia seems to be falling into place.

Friday we dealt with the last minute details, including picking up dad, as we had to travel two hours to the funeral.  By this time we are mostly ready to have it over - not sure exactly how it will go.

Saturday dawned beautiful.  I picked the flower petals we needed for the grave.  Everyone showed up on time.  There were about fifty in attendance.  Mostly close family and a few friends.  All of dad's siblings were there and a few of the cousins.  The program was perfect - mom played the hymns and everyone had something to read or to say.  We opened the floor for comments from everyone.  We had both a church and a graveside service.  We ended by laying flowers on the grave site.

A very casual family dinner followed.  Then to the hotel for more socializing with family.  Sad that it takes a funeral to get people together.  It was good to reconnect and see our family in celebration of one man's life - John A. Hoyt.