Lessons Learned from an Unexpected Loss


I learned so much when I unexpectedly lost my dad. This pandemic hijacked my grief. Right at the peak of the anger phase.

I wanted to share what I learned about life and the logistics of planning my first funeral. This virus delayed putting my original thoughts into words. Who wants to think or talk about death at a time like this? Perhaps this is the perfect time to start those conversations.

The “End of Life” Talk

My dad and I spoke about it often with the realistic outlook that one day we all pass away. We talked about the details: the plots, the plans, the policies, and his preferences. He started adding me to accounts, and we were in the process of drawing up power of attorney and a will.  

If you don’t currently have life insurance, stop what you’re doing right now and go look up an agent. Go. I’ll wait . . .

We purchased a life insurance policy on me after a childhood friend passed away in her sleep when we were only 38 years old. I was a healthy stay-at-home mom with three young children, including a child with special needs.

A small monthly investment covered a large policy that would pay to hire someone to do all I do for our kids. I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years later and would have been uninsurable. The cost to bury someone can easily reach five digits.

I will never again second guess the need for a GoFundMe to cover funeral expenses.

You know when you attend a memorial service (back when they allowed more than ten people) and you see the awesome photo tribute capturing the highlights of someone’s life? Someone had to go dig up, dust off, and gather together all those pictures.


Which photos would you want to include of your loved ones? Do you know where they all are? Can you get them together quickly? Can you include everyone and not leave anyone out?

With all this quarantine free time and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day approaching, now is a good chance to get those together. Make a photo album, slideshow, or video montage to share with family. Warm their hearts while we can’t get close enough to give hugs.

Making My Own Highlight Reel

These photos are going in my highlight reel. I’m making my own. (Nothing control freak-ish beyond the grave about that at all.)

I’m gathering all my favorite photos. This takes one thing off my family’s to-do list and will be my gift to them.

Stuff: We Can’t Take It With Us

Those we leave behind get to clean it up. In my parents’ case, we had two dumpsters full . . . of stuff. We couldn’t assume it was all toss-able. Among the clutter would be irreplaceable keepsakes. Staying home has allowed many to purge all the stuff.

The death of a parent puts you and your siblings back into each other’s daily lives. Original birth order roles attempt to re-emerge. I’m almost fifty years old, and my big brother is not the boss of me.

The responsibilities of caring for and burying parents doesn’t have to be literally divided equally. Allow everyone to contribute based on their strengths and abilities, and it all balances out.

Due to this coronavirus, we can’t just focus on how to help our mom (who has Alzheimer’s) grieve the loss of our dad while adjusting to her new home in assisted living.

We must stay informed and constantly assess the risk of returning her to a nursing home following an unrelated hospitalization. We only get one chance to do this right.

She has an advanced directive (which is another necessary discussion to have). If this virus gets her, she will be home surrounded by her family and not in a hospital alone.

The most impactful thing I learned from losing my dad is a new appreciation and empathy for those who have lost loved ones before me.

I Had Absolutely No Idea How Unbelievably Painful This Would Be

We say things to each other like, “At least he didn’t suffer,” or, “His suffering is over.” Our faith gives us hope that, “We will see them again one day in heaven.” Those are just words, and just simply not enough, but they’re often all we have.

To everyone I’ve ever uttered words like that to before, I am humbly, sincerely sorry. Now, I get it. 

I’ve often questioned our funeral customs. Why do we do it this way? Now that our traditions have been abruptly altered, limiting family to ten attendees to a brief service, I appreciate the way things were. The big hugs. The gestures of flowers and food. Hearing the laughter and stories you never would have known until they were shared standing in a receiving line at visitation.

This Quarantine Has Taken a Lot From Us

Let’s use this opportunity to make responsible plans and future provisions for our family. Let’s get our affairs in order and get our houses in order. Take the time to get mementos together and reflect on fond memories while making new ones.

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Cathy Tuggle Maple was born in Birmingham and grew up in Forestdale. After graduating from the University of Alabama her heart told her Mt. Olive is home. There she resides with her husband of 17 years Tony, son Cory Davis 20, a student at UAB , daughters Molly, 15 and Jesilyn, 14 and rescue dogs Brody and Bailey. After a 15 year career in marketing Cathy considers it a blessing to have experienced being a single mom, a working mom and now a stay at home mom ( since Molly, born with Down syndrome is a runner who is inclined to escape, jump out windows etc.) One of her favorite quotes “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.” Cathy is an 8 year breast cancer survivor. She very recently lost her father unexpectedly and days later moved her Mom, who has Alzheimer’s, into assisted living. Cathy balances it all through her faith, chocolate, yoga, and by sharing her life experiences and hopefully a few laughs


  1. Cathy a lot learned from your story. I knew your father and loved him. He was always the man I called when the TV didn’t work.? I love your Mother and she was the first neighbor to welcome me to the area. We sat in church with them several years. Your father had a great voice. You are a very strong girl to handle all that accrued when your passed. Family is everything. God bless you and family. Mary Holliman

    • They both love you and Doc and cherish your friendship. I know you know the challenges of being a full time caregiver. Allow others the blessing of helping you while giving yourself a much needed break. I’ll trade you Mom for Doc for an hour ?

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