My 40-year-old son, Jeff, passed away very unexpectedly on 12/13/2018. I thought my sister’s death was the worse thing I would ever go through. Then Jeff died. It is difficult to describe the feelings. Profound sadness and heartache beyond anything I have ever felt before.
Recently, I thought about Jeff’s celebration of life. Jeff struggled with his beliefs so I knew he wouldn’t want a pastor that didn’t know him talking about him and his life. Jeff’s viewing was on 12/18 and the next morning he went out for cremation. We had the celebration on 12/19 with an empty urn present. I had asked 3 of his good friends to speak and they all agreed.
The first speaker was Joe. Joe and Jeff had been very good friends for many years. Joe talked about Jeff’s antics as a younger man and spoke about Jeff’s abundant kindness. Joe and Jeff shared the love for The Chicago Bears and spent every Sunday during the season watching football. Joe spoke about how many people loved Jeff and referred to him as their best friend. Jeff never met a stranger. He greeted everyone with a hug and a huge smile.
The second speaker was Addrian. Addrian was Jeff’s personal trainer. On May 1, 2017, Jeff stepped on the scale and the number flashing back at him was 450 lbs! He changed that day. He started eating low carb and working out 6 days a week. Addrian helped him with the workouts. By November of 2017,  Jeff had lost 100 lbs. He was doing it. Watching the transformation was amazing. I was beyond proud.
By March of 2018, he was down 150 lbs. Addrian intensified his workouts and added running to them. Jeff fell in love with running. He ran all over our small community. He ran a few 5K’s and started training for half marathons. By June 1,2018, 13 months after seeing that 450 lb number, Jeff hit his original goal of losing 200 lbs! He became an inspiration to many of his friends who were ‘big’. He took the time to speak to each of them and helped them get started. From September to November of 2018, in a 44 day stretch he ran in 3 half marathons. The last one he broke the 2 hour mark, finishing in 1:59.23! He was thrilled, happier than I had ever seen him.
The third speaker was a high school friend, Jason. Jason shared a lot of humor with us. Jeff was always witty and could get laughs anywhere he went, Jason was a lot like Jeff. It was good to hear the laughter that day, Jeff would have been happy to hear it.
What could have been a somber day, was a true celebration. It was so heartwarming to hear all the kind words for my son.
I’m not sure how I did it, but I also spoke at Jeff’s celebration. I didn’t say a lot, just thanking everyone for the outpouring of love given to me, his dad, my daughter, Kasey and Jeff’s nephews, Henry and Teddy.
When I look back on that day, I smile through the tears. Our little community celebrated my son’s life like nothing I have ever seen before.

Shirley Wiles-Dickinson

Shirley Wiles-Dickinson is the youngest of four girls in a Midwestern family. In 2009, her sister was brutally murdered. She writes about her experience following this loss.

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