Huntington Beach, CA
June 23, 2017
"Congratulations on whatever it is you guys are celebrating,” the caterer said as he was packing up after four hours of serving the nearly 200 guests at my mom’s funeral. That’s when we knew we’d succeeded.
My mom was diagnosed in November and died in June. In the meantime, I gave birth to my second kid, received some pretty disappointing news about my job prospects at the major bank I was working for, my sister started her law career, and my dad earned an unofficial MD through countless doctor’s visits, treatments and medication schedules. It was a busy six months. From the beginning we knew this was “treatable, not curable” cancer and that death was bearing down on us, but we couldn’t fathom spending one minute planning for the time after my mom was gone if we could spend that minute being in the present moment.
My dad knew we’d have “a party” for my mom. He had clear ideas of how it would go - like all of our parties, no formal program or coordinated events just all of her friends and colleagues together in one place to send her off in her favorite place, her backyard. We called in favors from the caterer we used for my wedding and babyshower and we knew enough to hire extra serving staff. We did our best to estimate the alcohol need (as running out was simply NOT an option) and I made 3 trips to Costco, schlepping cases of beer and handles of gin with a 7 week old baby strapped to my chest. My dad made dozens of collages from scanned photos to hang in the “toasting room” where he’d set up a table with shot glasses and a few bottles of whiskey. My sister calculated a food order for an ever-fluctuating headcount. We all found ways to laugh and reminisce as we coordinated these details in honor of my mom. It felt good and right. We called it “a party,” but today I see it as my first newfashioned funeral. It was perfect.
The flipside to that experience is stark. I’m a natural optimist, but it’s not fair for me to share my joyful experience without also sharing the struggle. Each of us made dozens of phone calls to former colleagues, sewing friends, tap dance classmates, family near and far. The phonecalls were the worst and hardest part of the entire process and in no way did it help me to process or heal. Breaking horrible news over and over, consoling people who had lost a friend when I had just lost a mom, listening to grown men cry and then trying to communicate specific details for the party - nothing about that was positive or necessary. If it hadn’t been for the discomfort of making those calls and the disappointment of inadvertently missing an extremely important invitation, I might not have ever conceived of starting this business. In fact, my first idea was simply to act as a notification service to families in my position; from there it has grown beyond expectation.