Death is not easy. It's certainly not something we choose to deal with every day. Actually, it's not something we choose to deal with ANY day. Still, it happens. It is as much a part of life as living. By now, everyone reading this knows that my wife died last Sunday. Certainly not something I'd wish on anyone. Still, it forces a few things upon us when it does happen, and we are put in a position to examine, reexamine, question, and plan as never before. It is, in short, a life-changing scenario. I was asked, shortly after it happened, "Dave, why do these things always (seemingly) happen to you?" First, I don't think I have any more or less negative experiences than anyone else. My personal belief system allows me to expect things to happen as a matter of destiny, then try to understand the lesson I am to be learning from it. It doesn't work for everyone, but suits my needs. It's how I choose to deal with situations such as this and make sense of them, if even in a small way. This particular situation has brought many revelations and clearer meaning even in the short time I have had to examine it. For many, these lessons need to be shared and repeated. If what I have to offer helps anyone in the future, then the lessons and pain have not been in vain.
The first lessons I can share involve planning. I will always be the person, from this day forward, that stresses the need for planning 'In the event of...' an unexpected emergency. Allow me to ask of you a few questions. Do you have a will? If so, great - you are a head of the curve. If not, why not? Do you have your papers in a safe place where someone knows where to find them? I suggest everyone go to Wal-Mart and buy a fireproof lockbox for $25 - $30. Place your will, life insurance policies, instructions for your funeral, etc, in that box, then label it, "OPEN ME FIRST IN EVENT OF DEATH." If you think that sounds morbid, cold, callous...you ought to see what happens when you don't have this in place. A nightmare - trust me. Are your named beneficiaries current and as you truly wish them to be?" Just because you think something will go to the people you want to take care of, don't assume. PLEASE. You never know, there might be a policy you forgot to update. Your spouse might be thinking they can use that policy to help cover some of the costs of the funeral. If you haven't updated the policy, you might be gifting a former spouse that was abusive to you....all because you assumed it had been done or you were too lazy to take care of it. Look around your home at the people you love - your wife, husband, children - are you really too lazy to fill out a form to ensure they aren't struggling at the time of your death? Trust me, all you want them to do is miss you and grieve. If you were not maintaining your policies, their grief may be short-lived as they try to figure out how to cover the costs of your ill-timed demise. Please, for the sake of the people that share your life with you, plan for the eventual end. That includes considering pre-paying your funeral. It's similar to a term-life insurance policy. You make a payment for a period of 10 years, then the costs are covered. The good news is, if you make one payment and something unexpected happens, the costs are covered. 100%. Completely. Why am I making an issue of this? Because when the funeral director says, "Here's the cost for the package you've chosen," he will expect a check. No, there are no payment plans at that point. Your plan then is to hand him a check. I have yet to find a package that is less than 5 figures. Do the math and take care of paying it ahead of time. It's the message I have, and I'm spreading the word.
The other lessons I have gleaned from this experience involve the importance of friends. Not just having them, but of being one. I was amazed and speechless at the outpouring of love, caring, and kindness shown by so many people from all across the country. For what seemed like days, I was carrying two phones and receiving calls from people almost non-stop sending their condolences. In the days after her death and as the plans were being made, people began to arrive in Alabama. They came from Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and as far away as the State of Washington. I received cards, thoughts on Facebook, and individual e-mails from people expressing their concern and sorrow, while asking if they could do anything. My response to these calls was to let them know that the only thing I really wanted them to do was turn back time. In the absence of that, there was nothing they could do...or so I thought. The calls I received were, honestly, enough for me. To know there are people in your life that take the time to attempt to console you during these periods, is amazing and wonderful. The fact that many of them continued to call (and still are, actually) is something that makes me shake my head in wonder and disbelief. Again, powerful and amazing. I realized, too, that many of them made the comment, as I thanked them for being there, calling, etc, "Don't be silly, you'd be the first one there if it happened to me." It's nice to have them acknowledge that as I strive to be that kind of friend. Of course, they are the same (as they showed this past week) and, truth be told, I will always be there for them. I just hope it never has to be for the same reason.
I have been blessed with amazing, incredible friends and this is an open letter of thanks to you all. The words, thoughts, prayers, kindness, and concern you have shown for me, not only this past week but in general, touch me beyond belief. You have absolutely no idea how it affects me in such a positive way. One couple could not attend...yet made certain that we were all fed after the viewing. A caterer showed up at 2:00 on the dot...and proceeded to put out a spread to feed many. We walked in to the funeral home and the floral arrangement above greeted us - something near & dear to Sharon's heart - and these were sent from our Penn State friends ('family', actually), along with a few Crimson Tide fans (more 'family'). There were coworkers of Sharon's that had not seen her for over three years...yet they always loved her and attended her service. To have someone tell you that your wife considered you the 'love of her life' is something we all want to hear, and when they shared it, it brought tears to my eyes. To have people continually call just to, "see how you're doing," is something that, for me at least, will never get old. To have a home filled with people that will share their fondest memories of your spouse, the times they spent with you both, and the crazy things the two of you did, is what it takes to ease the pain. My home was filled with laughter a few nights ago as we recalled a life that, while taken too soon, was lived as fully as possible and I appreciate all of you for making me smile. This is not going to be easy, I realize that. The support has come from my family - my daughter, my mother, my sisters....and all of you. I cannot consider you anything BUT family. I have said since the day it happened - I will continue to wake up, get dressed, put one foot in front of the other...and breathe. I said at her funeral that I wanted hers to be a celebration of life rather than a somber occasion. This situation, more than any I can recall, made me think of a quote I think we've all heard - "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." I could be incredibly, horribly sad and, though I am having my moments, will admit to being grateful that I had seven years of a great life. I consider this the end of a chapter, not the book. The rest of my journey begins now - in fact it's already begun - and I want each and every one of you along for the ride. You are my support, my family, my life. I promise to make yours as special as you have made mine. Thank you from the heart...and more than I can ever express. I love you all.
Until next time.......