Top Gun Wake

Friday 12:30pm

August 26, 2016


“Revvin’ up your engine

Listen to her howlin’ roar

Metal under tension

Beggin’ you to touch and go

Highway to the danger zone

Ride into the danger zone”

             ~Kenny Loggins

I walked into the viewing room at the Funeral Home to see Bryon for the last time.  Funeral Nick shut the doors behind me.  We walked up to the casket.  It had been a lengthy and rather difficult process to get Bryon’s body moved from New York City to Albany and Funeral Nick had told me the day before that he did not feel that Bryon was fit for a public viewing.  I had decided that was just as well because I wanted everyone to remember the version of Bryon that was full of life, not the sick and lifeless version of Bryon.

He was in his kilt.  Next to him were the three items I wanted him buried with: a rosary, a bottle of Maker’s Mark and a Top Gun DVD.  And Top Gun was playing on the two TV’s mounted on the wall on both sides of the casket.  Just like Bryon wanted.  My friends had done a phenomenal job at collecting photos of Bryon for the picture boards and they were displayed all over the room.

Funeral Nick had stayed up late working on his makeup which I thought was very kind of him considering that I would be the only person who would see him.  Funeral Nick was quick to cover Bryon’s hands, he didn’t want me to see them.  I didn’t question why.  I just assumed they were either discolored as they were turning blue during his final hours or that they were puffy because Bryon had a lot of extra fluid in his body or both.  Seeing Bryon all caked with makeup reassured me that I was making the right choice by having a closed casket.  Caked on funeral makeup was acceptable for my grandparents who lived into their 80’s and 90’s but not on a 30 year old man.

Funeral Nick closed the casket and left me alone to be with Bryon.  I went to walk around the room and look at the photos and flowers and I hear Maverick start singing, “You never close your eyes, anymore, when I kiss your lips.”  I could feel Bryon’s presence strongly.  I think he was trying to make me laugh.  He was right with me.  I laughed and cried at the same time.

When I had arrived I left my parents, daughter, extended family and close friends were out in the lobby. After I had a good look at each of the picture boards, I told a member of the funeral home staff that it was okay to let them in.  They kept me company. The funeral staff was bringing in the flowers that we still being delivered.  I remember that my best friend from Maine made sure that there would be no wardrobe malfunctions with my dress while the Top Gun volleyball scene came on.  Everyone looked at the picture boards until it was time for our pre-wake ceremony and for the priest to come by.

3pm was the official start of the viewing.  I remember that there was a long line of people.  I stood next to the casket and my daughter’s Godmother stood next to me.  People from so many areas of Bryon’s life came by; coworkers, friends from college and college, friends from politics,  friends from some of the various organizations he belonged to, friends of his parents, some of his relatives.  I remember that many of my relatives made it in from Boston, Florida and Maine.  My best friend and another friend arrived from Chicago.  During the procession, there was a break in visiting and my best friend from Maine brought me Wendy’s (perfectly timed) which I quickly ate in a conference room. The visiting hours ran from 3 pm to 8pm and it the line of people slowed down at times but never completely stopped.

I had gone to Target the day before and I bought a doll, a doll stroller and a Doc McStuffins doctors kit for my daughter to play with.  She is a trooper when it comes to having her around people but I wanted her to have some toys to play with.  And I wanted these toys to be a novelty so they had to be new.  My friends and my family all took turns playing with her.  I was greeting people and everyone made sure that I did not need to worry.  I remember a few times I would look around and not see her but someone always reassured me that she was being watched by someone.

So many people came to pay their respects for Bryon to our family and many friends stayed the whole evening.  I know the visiting hours were long but to be truthful, the whole night was a blur, a whirlwind.  After the visiting hours ended, a staff member of the funeral home sat down with my daughter’s Godmother and me and we discussed logistics for the next day and what to do with flowers.

It was late but a large group of friends went out after for dinner.  The group was comprised of close friends from different areas of our life; college, politics, local and out of town. I needed the company and to hear the stories about Bryon.  It was late and it was a big day tomorrow.

Getting pretty for him…one last time.


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.

Finding the final resting place


August 23, 2016

Bryon and I were both fans of the show How I Met Your Mother.  Bryon liked to think he was like Barney because they both were full of snarky comments.  I saw him more him in Marshall, the lawyer.  Whenever Marshall would win an argument by logic, he would proudly proclaim, “Lawyered!” I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times Bryon “lawyered” me in an argument, however, I can tell that I have lawyered him twice.  One time may or may not have been an argument about one of our families so I will refrain from discussing that here.  The second time I lawyered him was an argument about cemeteries.

Bryon and I didn’t talk extensively about death.  We spoke about our parents plans for what they wanted to do with their remains.  I asked Bryon what he wanted.  He said to be buried and I was happy because that was what I wanted.  Bryon then said he wanted a huge obelisk monument and a bench and a courtyard for all his mourners.  He also thought it would be cool to buy a huge section of a cemetery so all of his descendants could be buried there.  He was not one to think small.  I told him he better start saving money because cemetery plots are not cheap.

A few years later, we got into a discussion about which cemetery we should be buried in when we die.  You know, decades later after we have lived long and full lives.  Bryon talked about his desire to be buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.  Albany Rural Cemetery is full of history and has many famous politicians buried there, the most notable being President Chester A. Arthur.  I said we need to be buried in a Catholic Cemetery because we are Catholic.  Bryon brought up that his grandparents were buried there and I pointed out that that section of the cemetery seemed to be crowded.  Bryon states that there we available plots in the back of that section, near the woods.  I ended the discussion by stating “Well, I guess whoever dies first loses this argument!”  Bryon just looked at me and I said “You have been lawyered.”  Granted I didn’t necessarily win the argument by logic but I logically ended the argument or at least pushed it to a later time.  I know Bryon would go into a court hoping to get the hearing delayed so therefore I think I can correctly considering this “lawyering.”

My two friends picked me up again the that morning.  We first had a meeting with our Parish Priest in the rectory to discuss the funeral Mass.  I was given a book full of readings to choose from and suggestions of songs, though I already knew what I wanted for music.  

After the meeting at church, we made our way over to Albany Rural Cemetery.  We arrived at the cemetery early so we decided to explore a little bit.  I showed my friends where Bryon’s grandparents were buried.  We drove by President Chester A. Arthur’s grave.  Then we got lost looking for the main office.  We continued to drive around the cemetery until we finally found a sign that directed us to the main office.

We arrived at the main office and met the staff member who would helping us select a plot.  We decided that it would be easiest if he drove around with us.  We drove to the first plot.  I stood on the plot and just tried to see what I felt.  The day before I experienced the most surreal moment of my life while choosing Bryon’s casket but this moment is definitely a close second. The cemetery worker asked me if I wanted to buy this plot.  I was not satisfied. I thought this was supposed to be like House Hunters.  I wanted to know what all our options are before making a choice.  This would be where Bryon would be located forever.  I wanted to make the right choice. I would be purchasing two adjacent plots even though I don’t know what my life is going to bring but I want to make sure I have a place for me next to Bryon should I need it.

I stood at the second plot.  Like the first plot, I stood on the actual plot but it did was not restful. I could hear lots of cars on a nearby freeway.  This was not our plot.

The third plot was off the beaten path in a beautiful, quiet wooded area.  We didn’t even get out of the car.  While Bryon would have appreciated that people had to drive out of the way to see him but he was the social and would want to be where the party was. It would have been perfect for me but it was not the place for Bryon.

We finally arrived at the fourth plot.  It was in a part of the cemetery with a more “populated” location.  I realized that it was the same section that Bryon’s grandparents.  Like Bryon has said in our cemetery argument, there was a row in back right before the woods began that was empty.  I stood on a couple of different plots to get a feeling and then I made my choice.  This was it.

We drove back to the cemetery office to finalize the purchase.  I was given a folder with cemetery information and a list of rules for picking out a headstone.  I asked a few questions.  I handed over my Capital One credit card.  With the swipe of a credit card, I bought my second piece of property and it was not the lakeside cabin I always envisioned.

My crash course in funeral planning


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.