How To Celebrate a Life
Rich wasn’t a funeral kinda guy. Which is good, because I’m not a funeral kind of gal. But I knew when he was diagnosed that there would only be one outcome, and so I started brainstorming.
How could I celebrate everything I loved about Rich, an everything that everyone else loved about him, and keep it light?
When I think of a funeral, I think sad, somber and all in black. I knew we couldn’t avoid moments of sadness, but the other two I could definitely tackle!
First an interjection: if you attended the event, thank you! This may seem redundant to you — although many people told me later they missed things, so maybe you will learn something new! Plus at the end of this post I have a link to the video tributes, which you might find interesting. A lot of this is geared towards people who may be in a similar planning situation. A lot of people have asked me how I did the party. Hopefully someone can glean some suggestions that might make their own event easier to plan.
My first task was choosing when we would have the party. I needed time to get organized and plan, plus I needed it to be when both the ids could attend, which meant December. We chose the date based on Sailor Boy’s schedule. The Navy allows holiday leave to either start or end on December 28th, so we ether had to do it the week of Christmas or the week after. For many reasons we knew Christmas week was a bad choice. And we had to do the Thursday, because Friday and Saturday were too pricey, and Monday was New Year’s Day, and Singer Girl had to go back to school on the 2nd. So December 29th was the only fit. Mind you, I was more worried about my boy making it on time than anything else: his flights from overseas finally had him arriving mere hours before the party!
Date selected, we moved to the venue. I needed a place that could hold a lot of people, and was easy for people to get to. Ultimately we probably had almost 350 guests, and the venue we chose, the Metropolitan Ballroom, was a great fit. Light and bright, with lots of levels and nooks and crannies to space things out and create pockets of fun. I also liked that it was easily accessible by freeway (and lots of free parking!). We accessorized the very stylish room with our own touches. I’ll talk more about that later. As for sustenance, I tried to keep things like Rich would’ve liked. TBH, when we discussed what he would like to see, he wanted it to be in our front yard with food trucks supplying burgers and brats. Since we were doing this in December, that wasn’t going to work (plus, I really didn’t want 350 people using my bathroom). So there were sliders, and tater tots, and Vegas themed desserts, among other options. Oh and the bar was a cash one, as I knew these people. If I paid for all their liquor, I’d have been washing dishes for weeks. However, we did have a specialty drink feature: the RT G & T: Bombay Sapphire, tonic, and a badly cut lime. If you know, you know.
During the course of Rich’s illness, I learned many things about my husband, even though I had known him for almost 40 years. Primarily, I learned about who he was a work — a mentor, friend, leader, coach, resource. I learned from his coworkers that he was known for “Richisms,” little nuggets of one-liner wisdom on subjects as diverse as work, marriage, life and dogs. I typed them up, and scattered them about the room. They were nuggets of gold, and I will be blogging about them later! When learning these things, it dawned on me that we often only know one or two facets of a person. So I set about revealing the many sides of Rich through “stations” set up around the room.
We had a table dedicated to Rich as a family man, with photos and mementos (people loved the wedding album!). I had Sailor Boy and Singer Girl pick their favorite pictures of them with their dad and displayed those prominently.
Folks who knew Rich only as an adult, needed to know his beginnings, so there was a table featuring Rich as a young guy, with baby pictures and prom photos and certificates from his days as an alter boy and newspaper clippings from high school sporting days.
Folks not knowing who he was at work needed to know his passion and commitment there. So there was a work table, featuring a binder with his certificates and awards and even the resume that got him hired at Cargill.
Folks thinking of him as always cool and collected made me want to show off his fun side. There was a table that was just silly, with various desktop toys and knickknacks that revealed the fun-loving guy I was privileged to love. The running table had all his marathon medals, as well as his favorite running t shirt.
We also decided to have a table honoring his brother Tito, who sadly died 7 weeks after Rich (yeah, 2022 was a real winner.) I was glad we are able to do that. Rich’s family created a beautiful photo montage display for that, which I appreciated.
The main rule for the evening: no funereal clothes. Rich was well known for wearing what Singer Girl called his “pimp shirts”: fun garb that bordered on the outright loud and tacky. I encouraged people to dress like they were in Vegas — or like they were Rich in Vegas. The kids and I, as well as other family members and friends, wore some of his wardrobe. For example, I wore his “dogs playing poker” shirt — a classic. I think people had a lot of fun with it, and it meant there were lots of smiles and laughter as different outfits appeared. The place was sparkly and flashy and cheerful!
One thing I knew I did NOT want: photo boards. We’ve all seen them at funerals: fantastic collections of family photos, meant to initiate walks down memory lane. They are great, but often overwhelming. I get that they are the easiest way to share such memories, but since we had time, I wanted to do something a little more. So, I asked a friend to help me make video slideshows (links to the slideshows are posted at the end of this blog post).
I spent weeks collecting, scanning and organizing photos. We had one main montage, that was just pictures of Rich. That played in the background on large video screens throughout the evening. The second show was more curated. Split into 4 parts, each part introduced a speaker. The first section was photos of Rich at work, and led into the speech by one of his former colleagues. Next up was the family section: first, Rich as a brother, uncle, son, etc., then clips of him as a dad. Sailor Boy spoke after that (thankfully he kept it short and irreverent. I was grateful I didn’t have cause to bawl like a baby!). The third section was Rich as a friend. We divided this section into Rich as a friend to many, then Rich as a member of the Unicorn Squad.
The Unicorns are Mike, Erika, Sandi and Kurt, our closest friends. These are our ride or dies, the ones with whom we travel, party, or just hang out. They got on stage collectively, three lining up behind while the fourth was the spokesperson for the group. I loved the symbolism of that. We are a team at all times.
The last slideshow was mine. It was all pictures of Rich and I in all phases of our relationship — from our days in college to our travels and date nights and up until the last. Then I spoke — very briefly. It was just a thank you for coming thing. But it also served one last purpose.
This party had a lot of goals. Obviously, I wanted to honor Rich. But I also wanted to thank everyone who had been there for us through the long days of a very short year. So it had to be fun — upbeat music, colorful clothes, good food, lots of comradery, etc. Originally when I was planning things I wanted there to be craps tables and make it really something we would have loved, but I guess you cant do even non-gambling craps tables in Minnesota (lame). So I had to do the next best thing: puppies.
At the end of my spiel, I revealed that there was a litter of puppies waiting to be cuddled. Surprise! As the Puppy Party Coordinator for Secondhand Hounds here in Minnesota, I felt it was fitting. People loved it (of course). It gave folks another reason to mingle and smile Rich would have approved.
There was one final goal for the evening: I wanted his family, especially his mom, to feel what I had felt for all those wretched months: the outpouring of love and support. When we moved to the Midwest decades ago I never could have known what an amazing world we would create here. People have literally come out of the woodwork to help in ways big and small, and I still get people reching out, asking how they can help.
I am so lucky.
We were so lucky.
This is the link to the video tribute of just Rich.
A-Vailing Ourselves of Colorado
While blessed with many, many friends, there is only one Unicorn Squad.
The Squad is the three couples that Vegas together yearly, plus make merry in countless other ways. We have distanced ourselves a lot since spring, but have convened in the great out of doors when we have felt safe (and the rules have allowed it). But we needed more than a few hours around a bonfire — and Vegas was neither in the cards nor on the table.
We had a bunch of timeshare points burning a hole in our pockets, but clearly 2020 has not been a great travel year. I wanted to take us all somewhere we could be outside, and where it wouldn’t be crowded, and where we could stay in separate condos. I wanted to have fun, but wanted to minimize risks — so we went to Vail, the week before the ski slopes opened (it didn’t hurt that one of the Unicorn offspring lives and works there so we got to see her in her element!).
After piling into the not so glamourous but highly functional multi-passenger not quite windowless van (there were many van down by the river jokes that weekend), we headed west from Denver airport through the stunning mountains to Vail. On the way, we stopped for lunch at the highly recommended (and rightly so ) Beau Jo’s for pizza and beer. Before we arrived, the Vail Offspring asked us to pick her up an order of crust with honey. We were baffled. Then we tried it. Oh my…I am a convert!
Back on the road, we hit up a grocery store for provisions. Wisely, We separated by couples to make it quicker. Foolishly, we did not compare carts so there was much overlap (more on that later).
We were staying at the Marriott Streamside. Each of us had cute one bedroom condos with 2 baths, our own kitchens, living rooms, fireplaces and balconies. It was perfect for spreading out so no one felt on top of each other. I think we all felt the need for a change of scenery from our homes. Who hasn’t seen more of their home’s inside in the past several months? Within an hour of checking in, I was out on the balcony, watching a gorgeous fox wander around outside. In case you were wondering, he didn’t say much. But he was stunning, and came to visit often during our stay.
That night we made our first foray to Vail Village, where we enjoyed dinner at The George, another fave of the Vail Offspring and her man. It was super casual and comfy — noshing plum duck on the couch surrounded by friends and cold beer? Yes, please. The place was pretty empty, which we appreciated. All the folks there seemed to work at the resorts, and were enjoying their last few days of calm before the tourist storm hit. I can totally picture this pace busy filled with the après ski set, smelling of damp wool sweaters, ringing with laughter, offering glimpses of the snow outside world through steamed up windows.
The next day we tried to kick off with breakfast at another fave spot, but they were closed. So we found another cool spot known for Bloody Mary’s, the Westside Cafe. It was here I discovered hatch chile chili, which immediately became by Vail food obsession (I ordered it everywhere I could).
After breakfast we headed to Vail village, where I had set up the morning’s activity. We were doing a Scavenger Hunt, from Let’s Roam. When I announced this game, I now my friends’ eyes rolled behind my back, but when we were done even the grumpiest skeptic agreed it was a fun way to see the area. This particular hunt focused on art, so we were always searching for hidden and not so hidden pieces of pubic art. We also had to do fun activities! I love doing these! I highly recommend you find out of there is one in your home town, and in the next place you travel!
Dinner was at The Fall Line, where we were probably a little loud and silly for such a nice place. I think altitude, lack of sleep and adult beverages contributed to our silliness.
We slept in the next morning, and ate in our rooms. Then it was off to the famous hot springs. It was a gorgeous drive, about an hour long, to get to where we were supposed to be going.
But we never made it there — because we (I) put the wrong hot springs place into the GPS. While we did find a hot springs establishment, it was a little more like the swimming pool in Cocoon than the natural, glamorous place we had picked out. In fact, at one point we saw three women gliding about that totally were a glimpse into our future. One blond, one brunette, one with a crazy leopard print hat (guess which one I was?).
We needed a night in, so the couples decided to pool our resources and meet in our condo. Clearly, we had similar tastes, as we each brought meat and cheese platters to the party.
After much laughter, and an 80s trivia gane we all decimated, we crashed so we could enjoy our last full day in Vail.
For breakfast we finally made it to the restaurant we’d been aiming for the first morning, the famous Little Diner. My hunger meter guided me towards a spicy bloody and pork green chili, and I was not disappointed!
Today was our wander and shop day. You could tell the slopes were opening the next day. The energy was different. Shops were stocking up and decorating for the holidays. As the day progressed, more people were in the village. Ordinarily, I would like some hustle and bustle, and I would like to return when it’s “normal.” But we started to feel a little more vulnerable, and were glad that we would be leaving before the crowds arrived.
With cocktail breaks at El Segundo and the Red Lion, we finished up our shopping. My fave purchases were some super splurgy leather mittens for myself, an some antique dice cufflinks for HWSNBN to wear on our next Vegas trip. Then it was time to chill before dinner. When planning for the trip, I had struggled finding places that were open for more than just takeout. Again, most weren’t opening until we left. I chose a place called The Fitz. It was a bit too casual for our last night, so that was disappointing, but the food was good!
This definitely seems like a great place to eat outside and enjoy the view, so on a return trip we might try that out.
We made the Vail Offspring and beau come back to the condos with us so we could load them up with all the food and alcohol we wouldn’t be finishing. Sa you can see, they were set for awhile.
Leaving Vail was sad, but, as I said, it was started to get busy so timing was perfect. I wouldn’t have felt okay about the trip if it had been crowded. Being able to spread out inside and be outside in the sunshine was just perfect. Batteries recharged, we headed back to Minnesota. Not sure when the Squad will get to travel together again, but we are planning it — and we know it will be fun.
Oh: and helpful hint — oxygen canisters for the win in high altitudes (and maybe a good Vegas pick me up, too, lol!)