A formal funeral service did NOT feel right, at all. It just didn’t seem like Dad. He did love his traditions, but was far from traditional himself. He would have chuckled at calling it a “Celebration of Life,” but taking the memorial in that direction made more sense. So we settled on a good old backyard barbecue, just like Dad hosted so many times before. We wanted it to be about Dad, so we filtered all of our decisions through: what would he like?

We asked my Uncle (and Godfather) Frank to be our “officiant” of sorts. To lead us in songs, stories and through the program. The whole evening was just three activities: the program (a few songs performed by my aunts and sharing stories), dinner, and a self-guided walking tour.

Yes, I said a self-guided walking tour. You see, 22 years ago my parents bought a piece of land that would become our home. It was nothing but a field that butted up against a creek. The property was developed in phases. First, a road, lined with baby cottonwood trees. Next, a shop, partially used as a home while construction of the house began. A garden was planted, pastures fenced for future horses, and two little kids given the opportunity to grow up on a farm.

Dad had a lot to be proud of, especially having done so much of the work on the property with his own two hands. Whenever someone would visit the Slutz Ranch for the first time they were almost always in for a tour. So for the memorial service, we wanted to recreate that experience. We picked out ten of Dad’s favorite stops on the tour, provided the background story of what made it special, and included a map in the program for each guest. Before the program started and after dinner, guests would make their way around each stop and take it all in.

We had some family come into town on Friday and the extra hands to help get everything finished was wonderful. My beautiful friend Lauren flew in and stayed with us the entire week, helping to run errands, finish projects, lighten the load and make our event even more special. The whole week had really felt pretty good. We’d stayed busy, had our to-do lists and stayed focused. It was on Saturday, just a couple hours before guests were to begin arriving, that I had a moment of overwhelm. It started to hit me what we were doing all this work for. And I began anticipating all of the conversations I’d have to have and questions I’d have to answer. Anxiety kicked in, so I went to Mom. We sat together, with Lucy, and talked about it. We acknowledged the feelings of overwhelm. We shared out loud how we were feeling. We refocused on what this event was really for. And that was what I needed to get recentered. I took some more time alone to get myself ready (this hair doesn’t curl itself) and headed downstairs to meet our guests.

I mentioned a portion of the evening was dedicated to sharing stories. This will forever be my favorite part of the event. I learned things about my father I never would have known if not for the platform we provided that night. The impact he had on others. The ways he supported them. How he showed up. I’m grateful we have every minute recorded. In the planning phases we decided to video the event, from the walking tour to the stories. We wanted the friends and family who weren’t able to attend to not miss a moment, and of course for us to look back on. I couldn’t bear to watch it now, but I know in the future these will be part of the stories I hang on to forever.

And of course we had to serve barbecue. Dad’s Texas roots had his taste for the grill rather specific, and there was one (of only a few) restaurant chains that met his standards so we chose Dickey’s BBQ to cater a full meal while the family threw in a couple more sides. It was all incredibly delicious, although it took most of the night for my appetite to show up. I was preoccupied catching up with people. There were so many I hadn’t seen in years, and they all had a connection with Dad to share. I did everything I could to soak it all in. While everyone was finishing up with dinner, you could hear so much laughter and talking and see all the little kids running around. The whole backyard just sounded happy.

Exactly how Dad would have wanted it.

If you’re wondering, my mom did ask Dad if he had anything in mind for this event, as well as if he had a preference over cremation or burial. His answer? “Those things are for you dear, I’ll be dead.”

Oooh Dad.

We opted for cremation and throwing one heck of a party. We haven’t decided yet how we’ll scatter Dad’s ashes at the house, we just know we’ll do it there. Half of them, that is. The other half now reside in Texas. I’ll be getting to that…

Saturday ended with a bonfire, smores, and more beers. Sunday, we woke up and got the visiting family on the road home. Ben and Meredith also set out on their drive back to Eugene, which left Mom and I (and Lucy) on our own.

My mother and I have always been close, as have my father and I. I’ve recognized for years how special it is that I’ve had genuine friendships with both of my parents and, let me tell you, in their own ways they are each incredible human beings. And together, they demonstrated what true partnership looks like.

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My mom is one of my best friends, and this whole experience would have been a lot harder without having her around. I truly am half and half – half my mom and half my dad – so given that we’re pretty similar it’s always been easy for her and I to get along. On this Sunday, like we’d been doing all along, we followed our emotions to what felt right and after dropping off some family at the airport, that was some good ol’ fashioned retail therapy. Once home, we settled in with some leftover pizza and watched a movie.

The whole next week was another big blessing. We again, could take our time. Each day had a small list of priority items that we meandered our way through. This infused lots of time to go in whatever direction felt good. Shopping, TV watching, puttering around outside, tiptoeing back into work, eating up leftovers, making phone calls, sorting paperwork, and overall just laying low.

Lucy and I had moved back in with my parents right before Dad was admitted into the hospital. Mom and I had already agreed that I’d stay with her after Dad passed for as long as we felt we needed, for me just as much as for her. But I think we were able to accomplish a lot in those first two weeks. A lot of processing, grieving, and healing. I know we’re far from finished but by the end of week two we were feeling a semblance of balance and itching for some routine and normalcy.

Ben has extended time off from work and also made the same offer to stay with Mom, and I’m so grateful. The time he has is a real gift he can give to her, especially in these coming months when we don’t fully know what to expect. I’ll be getting back to work full time so it worked out so wonderfully that he’ll be able to be there, unhindered, for as long as they both need.

So as week two wrapped up, I packed up to move back home. On Thursday, I dropped Lucy off with her Godparents (her last foster home) and Friday morning we made the flight down to Dad’s hometown of Vega, Texas for our second memorial service.