Getting pretty for him…one last time.

Wed-Thurs

August 24-25, 2016

It was late August and Bryon had been sick since March and I clearly had ignored my appearance.  I hadn’t worn makeup during that time.  My nails were bitten off due to the stress and I don’t want to think about how many gray hairs I had.  There were several instances over the course of Bryon’s five month stay in the ICU where he came very close to dying and I was too afraid to leave his side and went days without showering and I would wear the same clothes for days. Before this health crisis, I never would have dreamed of going more than 24 hours without showering or wearing dirty clothes but I learned that showering and clean clothes were actually optional.

Amidst planning Bryon’s funeral/farewell party, I realized that I needed to do something about my appearance.  I was talking to my good friend (and daughter’s godmother) and we both agreed that I shouldn’t look like a tired widow and that Bryon would actually be hurt if I didn’t get all prettied up for him and his farewell party.

My hair needed the most help but I was dreading going to the salon I had been going to.  Normally I don’t mind small talk but the last thing I wanted was to have to talk to the hairstylists.  I hadn’t been to salon in awhile and I know I would be asked about what was going on in my life.  I did not want to talk about how my husband died.  I shared these concerns with my friend and she told me not to worry.  She said she would call her salon and get me an appointment with the instructions to just do my hair.  The owner of the salon did my hair and she did talk to me but did not bring up Bryon’s death.  We chatted about how we knew mutual friends and we talked about our kids.

I decided to get acrylics put on my nails even though I hate them because Bryon liked my nails long.  He didn’t care if my nails are real or fake, he just liked them long.  But I honestly can’t tell you which nail salon I went to.  I have no recollection of getting my nails done but I know I had them done.  Perhaps “widow fog” (it’s a real thing, similar to “pregnancy brain”) was beginning to set in.  Keep in mind, I can remember the conversation I had with the nail tech that did my nails for my cousins wedding in Florida in 2004.  I can tell you about the conversation I had with the nail tech who did my mani-pedi in New Orleans in 2014.  But I can’t tell you which salon I went to the week Bryon died.  I just know that I got my nails done and that they didn’t do a good job because they started popping off a day or two later.

I needed something to wear for the wake and the funeral.  I had a few tired black dresses in my closet that I have worn to countless weddings and they would have worked but I felt that these events deserved their own specific event dresses.  It was weird to buy a dress for Bryon’s funeral without Bryon there.  Bryon was a “guy’s guy” but he was a stylish dresser and many times he would find clothes for me try on.  I preferred shopping with him over anyone else.  He knew my style better than I did and he was honest about how items fit.  I always valued his input.  But I was going to have to do this one alone.

I began my search at a store that is local to us in Upstate NY called Boscov’s.  For some reason I usually have good luck in that store.  I don’t know if Bryon was guiding me but I made my way straight to a rack that had black dresses with white polka dots.  Bryon always liked me in polka dots though they were my thing long before he came into my life.  I decided that I could wear this dress for the wake but I needed something more somber for the funeral.  Something that was solid black.  I did not see anything else at Boscov’s so I made my purchase and then head over to my other “tried-and-true” shopping options- Macy’s.

At Macy’s I selected a few dresses to try on but as I passed the clearance rack on the way to the fitting room, a black dress caught my eye.  It was my size to I grabbed that one as well.  I went into the fitting room and tried on my choices but they didn’t work.  I tried on the clearance dress and it fit perfectly.  This was the dress.

As I looked in the mirror, I had another “punched in the stomach” moment.  I realized that this would be last dress I would buy to wear for Bryon.   This was it.  He was dead.  There would be no more dresses.  No  more celebrations.  No more anniversaries.  No more weddings. No more fancy dinners.  No more formal nights on cruises.  This would be the last time I would get pretty for Bryon.  I cried in the fitting room.

Before I purchased my dress, I went to the toddler section because my daughter needed dresses.  My mother had bought a white dress with black polka dots that she had seen in passing knowing how much I liked polka dots.  But we needed at least two dresses, preferably three because I wanted an extra dress in case one got dirty.  It was a little hard to find a mourning dress in the little girls section but I found two black and white dresses that would work.

The last thing I needed to look pretty for Bryon’s funeral was makeup.  I hadn’t worn makeup in over five months and I couldn’t remember the last time I bought makeup before that.  So I went to the Mac counter within Macy’s.  I must have had a blank stare on my face because the makeup artist came over and asked me if he could help me with anything.  I just blurted out “my husband’s funeral is on Saturday and I don’t want to look like a tired old widow.”  He was sympathetic, sat me down and got to work picking out some simple makeup.  He said that we should skip the mascara and I agreed.  I bought the makeup and I was ready to go.  Bring on the wake and the funeral.

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My crash course in funeral planning

Monday

August 22, 2016

One thing about growing up Boston-Irish is that you are not a stranger to funeral homes. When I smell an abundant amount of flowers, I think of funeral homes.  My Uncle Peter (my father’s brother) used to refer to the obituaries as the “Irish Sports Pages.”   My father always said that his father, my Grandpa Sullivan, had impressed upon him that when someone dies, you must pay your respects.  Unfortunately through the years my family has lost three grandparents, two uncles (including Uncle Peter) and many great-aunts, uncles and friends.  And each time someone died, you paid your respects by attending the wake and the funeral.

Given our ages, Bryon and I did not discuss funerals in great detail except for a two day period where we attended the funeral of a close friend’s father on one day and the funeral of his best friend’s grandfather on the next day.  Bryon was always a party planner.  When we were planning our wedding Bryon was not the stereotypically passive groom.  He was not only involved in the whole process, but he pretty much organized the whole day.  He asked for my input and what I liked and factored that in. So it didn’t phase me when he started making notes for his funeral.  I told him to write it all down but he never did.  I had to rely on my memory because who plans on dying when they are 30?  

My two friends that were with me the previous day (My daughter’s Godmother and her significant other) picked me up midmorning and the three of us drove to the funeral home.  We were all completely exhausted and still didn’t know what had hit us.  We just knew that we had to plan the best farewell party for Bryon.  A farewell party that would be legendary.

I went into the funeral planning process with four major points: Top Gun had to be playing on loop during the wake, St Francis had to be the featured saint when it came to prayer cards and hymns, his best friend had to say a eulogy and it had to be better than his Best Man speech at our wedding and we had to have an open bar reception after the funeral Mass.

At the funeral home we were greeted by the smell of flowers and the undertaker named Nick.  Over the course of the next couple of days, we would start referring to him as Funeral Nick in our conversations because we kept confusing him with our friend Nick.  Funeral Nick had a last name but I was too exhausted to remember it. (Funeral Nick, if for some reason you are reading this, I hope you aren’t offended.  You did a phenomenal job.) Funeral Nick brought us into a conference room, gave us some bottled water and presented us with a binder that was full of funeral planning options.

Over the next several hours, we discussed many of the funeral details.  We had to decide if we wanted a Thursday wake with a Friday funeral or a Friday wake with a Saturday funeral.  We had many people travelling from out of town, some as far away as Florida and Chicago so we opted for a Friday wake with a Saturday funeral.  We discussed the logistics of transporting his body from New York City back to Albany.   We discussed the transportation to the church, cemetery, and the bar that the reception would be held.  We chose the flowers.  We decided how many pallbearers to have.  We decided that obituary would be published in the local paper, The Times Union and his hometown paper, The Saratogian.  We couldn’t have Top Gun playing and a photo slideshow.  We decided that Top Gun was more important so we decided to have photo boards lining the room.  We picked out the sign in guest book and prayer cards. I poured over the binder, making my choices. I would stop and ask my friends for their input.  The three of us had a good idea on what Bryon would have liked.

Then it was time to pick out the casket. Funeral Nick showed all my options on a projector.  I felt like I had just been kicked in the stomach.  I was picking out the box that was going to hold Bryon’s bodily remains forever.  Bryon’s body was going to go into this box and this box was going to be buried underground forever.  This was and continues to be the most surreal moment of my life.

Bryon’s law partner (and close friend and Godfather to our daughter) showed up at the funeral home and it took the four of us, plus Funeral Nick to write his obituary.  I have spent many times looking at obituaries for my job and as part of my genealogy research.  I knew that these words were to sum up his life.  How we portrayed Bryon in the obituary would be set in stone for the rest of history.  This would be the document that our daughter and her children and grandchildren will read to try to learn about the person Bryon was.  We had the responsibility to choose these words carefully.  We spent at least an hour making sure everything was worded properly and that we include all aspects of his life.  We finally had a piece that we were satisfied with and it was immediately published on the funeral home’s website and sent it to the newspapers.

We left the funeral home in the middle of the afternoon.  We knew we had another important task the next day.  We would be picking out the cemetery plot.