May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I hope that this blog post helps you in some way.

On Thursday, April 27, 2023, at 3:41 am EST, my father (82) unexpectedly passed away.

As his only child (Mom passed away on June 22, 2022, from Alzheimer’s), my wife and I were on a plane from our home in Houston, Texas, to their house an hour south of Orlando, Florida, within nine hours to begin the process of settling his estate.

I was at the funeral home on Friday morning, making arrangements for Dad’s service and cremation. 

This was surreal as I spoke to my father on Tuesday evening. He was not feeling well, but I had no idea my father would die within 33 hours.

Even though Dad was not feeling well, I expected he’d spend a few days in the hospital and then return home to resume his life.

That was not to be.

Because I couldn’t spend more than a week in Florida, I scheduled his service for Monday, May 1, at 11 am. 104 hours after his passing.

I opted not to have a chaplain conduct the service. Instead, I chose to do it.

And I decided to take an approach many attendees said was “refreshingly different.” Here’s how I began the service. (The first three rows were empty except for my wife and cousin.)

So I want to know, why y’all sitting in the back? (much laughter). 

We’re not here to mourn. We’re here to celebrate. I’m a positive person. Anyone here who knew my dad knows he’s an awesome person. So I choose to celebrate how awesome he was. 

And as for you fathers in the room, I’m sorry, but I had the best dad. 

After my parents had me, the rumor is that they looked at me and said, Oh, goodness gracious! This is more than we can handle!” And it turns out they were right. (Laughter)

From here, I shared stories about life with Dad as my father. Stories that had many laughs.

Most of those in attendance were from the community where my parents lived for over twenty years. They did not know any of the stories I shared because they happened before he and Mom moved there, stories from my youth.

Such as:

There was a time when I was a youngster, I don’t remember how old I was when I nearly killed my father and me. We had this gold riding lawnmower. After cutting the lawn, he invited me onto his lap to “drive” the lawnmower. I thought this was cool. It had a big steering wheel (to me!). 

Right next to our house was another house that had a small hill. I did not know I wasn’t supposed to go up the hill. So, I did. And we flipped over.

Fortunately, the blades were turned off, and we were not injured. But that’s something my father and I have never forgotten: that I nearly killed us.

There is no rule (that I’m aware of) that states you must mourn the loss of a loved one.

You can if that’s what YOU want to do.

But I chose to celebrate my Dad and his 82 years on this planet.

After the service, we all returned to his community’s clubhouse for cake and punch, and I shared more memories with them. Again, more laughter.

I received so many compliments about how I handled the service.

We are not promised another week, day, hour, minute, or second.

During Mental Health Month (and even the other eleven months of the year), make it a priority to take care of yourself: emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

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