Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have been 59. Cancer took him way too soon, just a few months after his 56th birthday. And today, as I talk about him to my son, his first grandchild that he unfortunately never got to meet, and with friends and family I of course recall all the wonderful things about him. My dad was a pretty amazing guy. But you know what, he knew that. He knew how much I and the rest of my family loved him because we said it. And it didn’t even take him getting sick for us to do it, although I know that helped us all be a little more intentional about it.
The saying, “Don’t give me flowers when I’m dead,” has been immortalized by several songs and countless poems. The sentiment is an important one to me.
Months after dad’s diagnosis in early 2010 my mom, sister and I started thinking about what we should do for his birthday. We knew it needed to be a good one. I don’t think any of us expected that his 56th would be his last but we all knew that was a possibility and that there wouldn’t be too many more after it. We organized a surprise party at the home of our close family friends and invited friends, family and coworkers.
Behind the scenes I was working on a special gift for my dad. It kind of went back to that whole, “don’t give me flowers when I’m dead,” idea. I reached out to our entire extended family — my dad’s in-laws, parents, nieces, nephews, etc. In our family we are super close to our extended family. And although dad was an “outlaw” as he like to refer to himself, he was closer to my mom’s family than most of his own considering her parents and siblings his own.
I had each family member write dad a note — a memory of dad, what he’s meant to them, a song lyric, whatever they wanted it to be. I compiled notes from every single person along with fun photos of each of them with dad over the years and created a hardback coffee table book.
The day of dad’s party arrived. Family had come from hours away and were hiding out waiting for the party to start. But of course things can’t go smoothly. He’d been in pain for days and mom ended up having to take him to the emergency room. So we had to ruin the surprise and tell him of the party, our fingers crossed they would find a cause for the pain and be able to ease it soon enough that he could come out and spend time with those closest to him.
After a couple hours and a pretty strong dose of pain medication they pulled up to the party. My dad, who always loved the role of center of attention, had the best time. He was such a gregarious, social guy. And the book, he loved the book. He treasured that book.
At the party he looked at each page. That night after the party he looked at each page. Weeks later when he was on the couch trying to muscle through excruciating pain he pulled out the book and thumbed through it.
The point of all of this, other than bringing me to tears at my desk this Friday morning, is to remember to tell those we love them while they are here so they can hear it. Don’t wait until their funeral to share your memories with your loved ones or how much they meant to you.