Grandma Great originally didn't want to have any type of memorial service for her late husband at all. At first, she just wanted to have a private ceremony with just us family members and call it a day. But her children talked her into having a full service so that all the folks in Findlay who knew Dean would have a chance to pay their respects. Little did I know that it would turn into... all the folks in Findlay.
I seriously thought the town must have shut down from 11am-1pm that day. Once the doors opened and people began coming in, they didn't stop - for over 2 straight hours. The line of people was out the door the entire time. Since I didn't grow up in Findlay, I had to continuously introduce myself as Mommy B's husband or sometimes even as "Grandma C's son-in-law." However, with the advent of a little social media website called Facebook, just about everyone in town knew who I was. Well, let me rephrase... they knew who my kids were. Mommy B and I honestly felt like Internet celebrities with the sheer number of people who follow the repostings of Grandma C's pictures with the A-team. Many of her friends might not have known me from Adam, but once they knew I was the father of Grandma C's "adorable grandchildren," the association was made and I became as loved as anyone else in the family.
That's the wonderful thing about marrying into this family... they have all treated me like family since the moment I set foot in that small town over 12 years ago. And it wasn't hard to see why - Dean was like that. All the time. He worked at Cooper Tire in the Payroll department for over 40 years. Back in the day before direct bank deposits, he used to walk the floor of the plant and hand-deliver payroll checks to 900+ employees. He may not have always be able to put a person's face to their name, but he could put their face to their employee payroll number. "Oh, there's Sammy... number 35298." In a town that small (especially back in those days,) it's no wonder the whole town showed up for his memorial service. He had probably cut a check to just about everyone in town at one point or another during his tenure there. I've only been to one other funeral in my life, and it was for my own grandmother back in 2006. But I have never felt more like "part of the family" than I did that day.
It became very clear to me as I watched the steady stream of people make their way through the line of family members that Dean had influenced so many lives in his 79 years on this earth. But not just touched them, I mean really impacted them. I couldn't count the number of stories Grandma Great recalled about how she and Dean had met the person she was talking to. The woman has a memory like a steel trap. Gee, I wonder where my children get it? Every one of them talked about how much Dean smiled, and how much he loved and was so very proud of his family. I know how much a smile means to people. If you were to look back at my wedding pictures and examine the group of groomsmen I had assembled, you'd find that they're all very different from one another. However, the one thing they all have in common was that I kept them around because they made me smile. A smile is infectious, in the best way possible. And that's exactly how Dean lived his life - with a smile on his face and a laugh in his voice. In 12 years of being around Dean during family gatherings, I don't think I ever once saw him upset or down.
Once everyone finally made it through and we had shaken and/or hugged them all, it was time to begin the service. The whole family sat up front, with myself to the right of Mommy B, who was to the right of Grandma Great. To get things started, two retired military members walked in, picked up the folded flag from the table, gave it a slow salute and officially presented it to Grandma Great. Then as one headed to the side door, the other lifted his head and said "Prepare yourselves for rifle fire." The side doors opened and in walked another man with a set of bagpipes. He began playing "Amazing Grace," which made everything all too real, all at once. Once the song concluded, three rounds of seven rifles all fired in unison, to which a trumpet then chimed in to conclude the military honors. By then everyone in the front row was reaching for their second tissue. I still get goosebumps even now thinking about it.
The family's pastor then began telling stories that the family had shared about Dean. Everything from sibling rivalries to children's memories of their father to wisdom passed to grandchildren. Some of the stories I knew, some I didn't. Dean was one of five children, and all the siblings look exactly alike. Each time one came into the room I could spot them from a mile away. Everyone had some good laughs recounting some of Dean's funnier moments. The pastor went on to remind everyone that Dean had lost a considerable amount of weight by joining Weight Watchers, completely transforming his body within a couple short years so that he could have as many more years as possible. And through it all, there he was... smiling from ear to ear. He may not have had the easiest life nor the longest, but he had the best by the way he lived it. That was my biggest takeaway from the experience, and I vowed to try to live my life by it from that day forward. And don't think I'm ignorant to the coincidence surrounding that statement especially given my current (un)employment situation.
To wrap things up, Mommy B was to read a poem to the audience. I told her I would accompany her up to the podium and read it for her if she was too distraught. But, she made it through like a trooper - her voice only faltering on the last two lines. The pastor said a few more words and the service was over. We all wiped what tears we had left and said goodbye to those who were still there. There were quite a few people I was happy to see had made it - Grandpa Ron, Mommy B's best friend Jamie drove up from Dayton with her son, and all of Grandma C's friends that I've gotten to know pretty well over the last decade. They were all heartbroken at the fact that Dean was actually gone, but held firm in their belief that he was in a better place now. Probably walking Jada.
We packed up a few things and went over to Grandma Great's house to eat our emotions away thanks to all the homemade food everyone had dropped off the day before. We spent the rest of the afternoon sharing more family stories about Dean and stuffing our faces with all the comfort foods you come to expect when someone passes away. Since it had been such an emotional day, we called in an early night and went back to Grandma C's for some much needed rest. The next day was Grandma Great's birthday (July 3rd), so we went over to Uncle Tim's house and repeated the process from the day before of eating ourselves silly. Not to mention that a couple of us added some beers to the mix as well. We even had some ice cream cake for Grandma Great, so that she could celebrate her 79th birthday in style. That morning while Grandma C let me drive her Harley-Davidson Road King all by myself, Mommy B had dug into her closet and found the letters that Dean had written to her while she was away at college. She brought her favorites to the cookout that afternoon, and we all laughed until our faces hurt at the content of said letters. It was the second time hearing them for me, since I was typically present when they arrived at Mommy B's apartment. But it was even better hearing them all these years later... proving once again that Dean could always make you smile, even after he was gone.
We flew home on Saturday and were supposed to get into Charleston just in time to hop in the car, drive to my parent's house, and head out on their boat with the kiddos to watch the fireworks in the harbor. Well, little did we know that some seriously bad weather had moved into the Charleston area that afternoon, and things were not looking good for that evening. After having our first flight delayed, we completely changed airlines in hopes of getting into town on time. Well, that flight was then delayed to the point where we were likely going to miss our connecting flight to Charleston. We landed in Atlanta and I hauled ass to our gate and was relieved to see that the airplane was still there and the door was still open. However, because we thought we weren't going to make that flight, we had our original airline confirm us on a later flight so we could at least get into town that night. We tried calling them back to have them switch us back to the original flight (that was literally 30 yards away with the door still open), but they were unable to get the computers to match up. So there we were, watching our flight get pushed back and take off without us - taking with it our only hopes of watching the fireworks with our kids. Talk about being down in the dumps.
Well, come to find out, the weather had gotten so bad in Charleston that my parents pulled the plug on the whole boat outing anyway. They simply did not want to take the chance of heading out onto the water in bad weather with our children while we weren't around. So Mommy B and I sat in the Atlanta airport and had some drinks to help pass the time. Obviously we weren't missing any festivities back home, so we tried to make the best of the situation. All we could do at that point was smile, because we knew that's what Dean would have done. We eventually made it home and the rain had cleared out a bit which made our descent much easier. And best part was, the next night's weather was amazing and our neighborhood put on a fireworks show of their own - just a short golf cart ride away.
Needless to say we were glad to be back home and done with what needed to be done. I'm certainly glad we made the trip to not only see the rest of the family, but pay our respects to someone who certainly deserved it. Dean will definitely be missed by those that knew him, and luckily he has passed on some things that he'll always be remembered for. Fortunately for me, many of them are present in my wife. She got his flat feet, infectious smile, and a heart that was made to love. As a nurse, she treats everyone like they are part of her family - because she genuinely cares about them as such. As a wife, she has always been there to help me up when I'm down because that's what best friends do. And as a mother, she loves and is so proud of the children we are raising together.
So long, Dean-o... we're really going to miss you.