Empty Nexter: How to plan your funeral in three easy steps

carrie and dad

Carrie and her brother, Kevin, with their dad, Wayne Simpson, on a family vacation in Maine, 2009.

By Carrie Perrien Smith

I got the call from Mom at 4:10 on the afternoon of Saturday, February 21. It was punctuated with “I don’t know what I will do without your father.”

At age 72, Dad was gone.

I put three changes of clothes, my toiletries, and a few essentials into my duffel bag and headed to Sapulpa, OK, where I grew up. The two-hour drive felt like an eternity. But it gave me time to think through all the details I would need to help Mom with over the coming days and weeks.

When I pulled into the driveway of the home I grew up in — just like I’d done thousands of times — suddenly I found myself in unfamiliar territory. My parents raised us to be teachable and independent so we were prepared for a world that would make us street-smart and strong.

A friend told me that we are never really an adult until our father passes away. As I stood on the threshold of my 50th birthday, this was a rite of passage.

But Dad had one more lesson for me. Over the next few days, I learned his three steps for how to plan your funeral.

Step 1: Drop some breadcrumbs.

Dad didn’t leave us many specifics. I had asked several times during our kitchen table conversations about his final wishes. He’d give me a vague answer and change the subject. He told Mom there was a document on his computer that provided some information. My brother and I reviewed it but it provided few details.

He had considered cremation and burial but left it up to us to choose. He did ask that if we cremated him, that we don’t just set them in an urn on a shelf. He wanted his ashes scattered.

He requested a non-religious funeral. When my parents married and left their families’ Nazarene church for an Old Testament faith, it sparked a firestorm of controversy that divided the family for decades. A non-religious memorial gathering would provide neutral ground.

When we looked for a location to host Dad’s memorial, I remembered the new conference center in town. He showed it to me in December. Turns out he showed it to Mom and my brother too.

We realized Dad had again dropped some breadcrumbs. We rented a meeting room there that overlooked the fountain.

It was perfect for a gathering of 25 people. It also gave a view of the snow that fell throughout his memorial.

The second step to planning your funeral? Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Dad had a quirky sense of humor. Frankly, I didn’t always get it. But I laughed because he laughed. He left us with a lot of material. We were a technology family so we had lots of fun photos for the memorial PowerPoint.

There were usually smartphones on our dinner table in later years. I pressed record on mine to record what turned out to be Dad’s last Thanksgiving blessing on the food. We played that at the memorial too.

Dad was in a writer’s club at the library. They had several writing activities but he enjoyed writing haikus the most. You know those three-line Japanese poems? He wrote hundreds of them, most laced with his quirky humor and often scribed on small scraps of paper.

We read some of his haikus at the memorial:

The world’s full of pests,
So please neuter your pets, and
Weird relatives, too.

Cop’s toilet stolen.
They’re working hard on it, but
They have nothing to go on.

And sometimes he was just the voice of reason:

If you leave the house
After dark, aren’t you really,
Leaving after light?

Last summer, Dad performed his rendition of the 1950s hit Splish Splash at the library’s talent review. I videotaped it and put it on YouTube.

It too was injected with a funny moment where he joked about forgetting the words. It made people laugh, but I don’ think he really forgot them. It made people giggle at the memorial too. Watch it here:

Dad was a musician. I remembered him singing a song called Joy to the World by the 1970s rock band, Three Dog Night. I downloaded the karaoke version and passed out lyric sheets at the memorial and we had a sing-along to close it out. It was epic — Joy to the world, all the boys and girls now. Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me. (Click here to see the Three Dog Night version)

Dad didn’t take himself too seriously. He would have loved that he made us laugh.

The last step in planning your funeral is to live your passion.

Dad was passionate about the people of Israel. He was a noted author and speaker on Old Testament history. He never earned a college degree but he learned Hebrew, Latin, and German so that he could translate ancient texts and turn them into research tools for the next generation.

I will probably remember most Dad’s passion for music. He had a dance band when I was very young. They wore gold lamé jackets and played big band music — songs like Take the A Train, Sentimental Journey, and Pardon me, boy. Is that the Chattanooga choo choo? They practiced at our house on Monday nights. My closed bedroom door bumped to the beat against the door jam long after my bedtime.

Later, our family moved to a two-story home. Dad’s music room was on the second floor over my bedroom. His dance band days were over but he still wandered upstairs after the demands of the day were behind him and played music late into the night. He always played a haunting melody that Julie Andrews sang in the movie Darling Lilly. … So walk me back home, my darling, tell me dreams really come true. Whistling, whistling, here in the dark with you. (Click here to listen to Julie Andrew’s version)

It’s been over three decades since I left home and it still echoes in the dark chambers of my memory, reminding me to live my passion.

Thanks, Dad, for 50 years of lessons.

My friend left a week later for Israel with a packet of Dad’s ashes to scatter while he’s there. Dad’s last lesson on how to plan your funeral for me is still fresh in my mind, but it will stay with me for the rest of my life:

Drop some bread crumbs.
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
And live your passion.

Carrie Perrien Smith-51-Twitter-SquareCarrie Perrien Smith is mama to Darcie and a pack of black dogs (Jazmin, Midgieboy, and Chloe — in pack order), grandma to Robert, wife to world-traveler and Walmart-blue-bleeding Tom, daughter to Wayne and Phyllis, speaker bureau and publishing company owner, Business: Engaged! small business radio show host, community activist, singer in a party band called Paper Jam, and home improvement enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @soarwitheagles or contact her at carrie@soarhigher.com.

Empty Nexter: Tips for deciding how much to give back

By Carrie Perrien Smith

calculatorWe just finished wrapping up reviewing our finances and taxes.

A big part of that is our charitable giving. I was thrilled we were able to give a nice sum of money.

I reflected on the early days of our charitable giving and what I’d learned. I thought I’d pass that along in my Empty Nexter blog.

Once we finally make it to our 40s, 50s, and 60s, we reflect on what we’ve learned and the legacy we’ll leave. We’ve raised children, built careers, and acquired some assets. This often allows us the opportunity to ramp up our effort to give more of our time and money.

We’ve volunteered at our children’s schools, community events, and company fund-raisers. It wasn’t always easy, but we gave what we could. Now we have a little more to give.

How Much to Give?

When my husband and I were working toward become debt-free fifteen years ago, we set a charitable giving goal. It was God’s money and we took seriously the responsibility for releasing it into the community. It took several years to work up to it, but we now give ten percent pre-tax on our income. We also donate items and volunteer a considerable amount of time in our community.

I am convinced that we would never have been able to do that if we hadn’t become debt free. As we paid off our debt, we upped our giving a little more.

Giving Strategically

Determining how you will give is a personal choice. Some of us have more money than time or vice versa. That shifts with each season of life. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Giving strategically means planning what, when, and how you will give.

You can give however your time or budget allows but as I’ve learned over the years, having some goals, guidelines, and plans helps. It allows you to help the community in the most efficient, satisfying way possible without burning yourself out.

I’ve learned that I need a strategy for my volunteer time. I try to volunteer in activities where the outlay of time will benefit more than one cause. I also try to volunteer in ways that allow me to use skills where I’m most effective and efficient or develop skills that I can use to build my resume.

We try to set aside our “first fruits” like the Bible suggests. It makes perfect sense to tithe it out before you have a chance to spend it. When I get busy and behind on our charitable giving, it becomes a chore. I end up a huge task to give it away at the end of the calendar year when there are so many other things to do. It is much better to have a plan to give throughout the year.

Three Questions to Answer When Planning Where You Will Give Time or Money:

What are my favorite causes?

What or who do you feel most passionately about. Did you grow up in foster care? Do you want to help homeless people or animals? Do you want to help entrepreneurs improve their chance of success?  In northwest Arkansas where I live, two counties are home to half the state’s non-profits. Now this is the Bible belt and a significant number are churches, but that is still a plentiful supply of choices. Be choosy. When you are passionate about who your cause, you’ll find yourself giving your time more joyously.

How can I help them?

When I first began to volunteer in the community, I didn’t have a particular focus. Some were activities my workplace was involved in. We raised money all year and then shopped for Christmas presents for needy children.  I baked cookies for school bake sales. I even volunteered as a band booster president. I eventually ran large charity events. When you want to volunteer time, choose something you enjoy.

What do I want to give?

Giving money is easy and needed by every organization. My policy for much of the last ten years has been that I would give time or money. I have rarely done both and my time is probably much more valuable.

If you want to volunteer, consider what you like to do. Do you like to plan events? Is asking for money or donations your thing? Do you like to build or repair things? Do you like to work with people or alone?

When you give time, do something that is highly valuable for that organization that perhaps very few people can do. And for heaven’s sake, if the only task they have for you is something you would hate doing, turn it down. You will be a prisoner and may not even complete the task.

Deciding Where to Give

Some people get really wrapped up in how well the organization uses their financial or volunteer resources or whether the recipients are grateful. I subscribe to this school of thought: Love them all and let God sort them out.

I do my homework too. I check out national organizations on www.give.org. It is the Better Business Bureau website for national charities.

In recent years, we have increased the amount we give locally and give much less to national organizations. To check out local organizations, ask them to put you on their e-mail or newsletter list. Attend an event, volunteer to help with a day-of-event activity, tour their facility, or meet with the executive director.

Local non-profits are small organizations where the volunteers and donors are the lifeblood of their existence. I’ve become good friends with many executive directors, and it makes me feel good to support their work. If in doubt, I start with a small donation and watch them for awhile.

As our ability to give grew, we began to prioritize our funds based on how we felt led to give. Here is the guide I currently use. Level 1 is the highest level of giving.

  • Level 1: Hunger and education (includes our grandson’s college savings fund)
  • Level 2: Church, homelessness, and abuse (human and animal)
  • Level 3: Local and national service organizations, missions, and individuals or families with an acute need (house fire, serious illness)
  • Level 4: National causes we support on a small scale

We choose to spread our charity funds around in smaller portions, but some donors give most of their funds to just a few or even one organization. Larger donations can allow the donor to make a larger impact.

Non-profit Versus Politics or Family

It is a huge help with your tax burden to give to registered 501(C)3 charities. I do carefully consider where we give. However, this is God’s money and we need to use it where He’d want us to. That means I may not always give money to a tax-deductible cause. I may buy school supplies with it for a needy family or cook a few meals for a friend with cancer. We also put some of our charity money into an educational fund for our grandson.

We have done some fun things in the past like tying money to the handle on a gas nozzle at the convenience store in the poorer part of town, paid off Christmas layaways, and given secret gifts for people who needed a lift. Those aren’t tax deductible and we don’t always know who it helped. Make no mistake though, we had fun planning how we were going to surprise someone. Full hearts and memories made while sneaking around will trump tax deductions.

We give to some political causes too. We support candidates and organizations that will support missions and causes we believe in. Political donations are not tax deductible either. Sometimes you have to place more emphasis on the greater good your money will do than on the tax deduction.

Just Do It

Whatever you decide to do, do it with all your heart and give a little more than you think you can afford. What you have means so much to those who need your generous gift of time and money.

Carrie Perrien Smith-51-Twitter-SquareCarrie Perrien Smith is mama to Darcie and a pack of black dogs (Jazmin, Midgieboy, and Chloe — in pack order), grandma to Robert, wife to world-traveler and Walmart-blue-bleeding Tom, daughter to Wayne and Phyllis, speaker bureau and publishing company owner, Business: Engaged! small business radio show host, community activist, singer in a party band called Paper Jam, and home improvement enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @soarwitheagles or contact her at carrie@soarhigher.com.

Empty Nexter: It’s our time to take the lead

By Carrie Perrien Smith

I love the flexibility and freedom that empty nesting provides me.

We all give so much to our family during our child-rearing years that we need the break — but never for long. We have much left to give so we turn to our communities or dive deeper into our career.

Like so many other parents, I volunteered to help with activities my daughter was involved in. We build a nice volunteer résumé and a strong portfolio of skills in the process. By the time our kids are grown, we are ready to stretch our wings even more.

We sharpened our communication, sales, motivation, project management, and human relations skills. Most of us are ready for the challenge.

Over the last ten years, my résumé has grown to include leadership roles in eighteen charity organizations. They all challenged me — in good ways and uncomfortable ways. But it’s all good. I promise. At the bare minimum, I learned a lot.

Leading takes some guts, whether it is in your company or your community. Sometimes just overcoming a difficult situation with your dignity intact is a big victory. But at the bottom of it all, we gain that sense of accomplishment that comes from serving with purpose.

Finding the Place to Reflect on My Challenges

I’ve been pruning these overgrown knockout rose bushes at the entry to our neighborhood. You know the ones. They are popping up in mass plantings because they flower all summer.

The only problem is that they aren’t maintenance-free. Their spent blossoms never drop unless you prune them. Plus they are prone to damage and disease. And the older branches must be pruned away occasionally to make room for the newer growth. They just need some tender loving care to be all they can be — a lot like humans.

knockout roses, carrieThere are eight of these bad boys in the entry flowerbeds. They hadn’t been tended since the flowerbeds were replaced last summer. I tackled it an hour here and there over several days.

Now I can drive into the neighborhood without thinking “someone should really do something about those.” In a couple weeks, they’ll be tricked out with new blooms and leaves for the second half of summer.

Tending a flowerbed is a great time to slip away into my thoughts. This time, I needed to reflect on why I choose to lead.  It isn’t easy but I learn so much from the experience, and it gives me a unique opportunity to mentor others. And together, we accomplish more than I could ever accomplish alone.

I’ve traveled a tough few days as a leader in my current volunteer role. I needed these moments alone to think. I had some hard questions and needed to prepare for some uncomfortable conversations. These eight unkempt thorny wonders gave me the time to sort out the events of the previous few days.

And There I Heard a Still, Quiet Voice

I’d grab my leather work gloves, pruning shears, and bucket each morning and head over to tackle a pair of the sloppy, uneven bushes. Like an old friend, the warm morning air embraced me. And then a still, quiet voice whispered lessons in my ear as I carefully pruned, making decisions about what goes and what stays.

Each day, it would reveal a new lesson or two until I had these eight. Maybe each lesson was a gift for completing a bush. At the end of it all, I had the courage to address what I must and the peace to forgive what I didn’t.

It takes courage to prune a branch when it’s in full bloom, even when you know the branch is negatively affecting the overall health and structure of the bush.

You can’t be afraid of the thorns. To prune correctly, you have to get to the base of the plant. If you prepare with the right gear and evaluate the bush carefully, you can gather most of the information you need to make the cut. The rest is intuition.

Trust your intuition.

The dead and diseased limbs have to go. Don’t wait. They will damage the healthy parts of the bush. Wait and you’ll have to replace the whole thing. Then you’ll have a new undersized bush where an established bush once thrived.

Sometime a scrawny branch needs nurturing for a year, but it’s worth keeping because it will be important to the structure in the future.

A bush with strong, established roots is worth pruning, nurturing, and developing.

You make a few mistakes when pruning. But if you make the kindest cuts, the bush will do its part in the recovery. After all, every novice gardener deserves a few passes on their mistakes.

Prune your own bushes first. Teach others to prune but don’t complain about the way others prune their bushes — unless you want to prune their bushes too.

New Growth for Old Bushes

By the time you read this post, all the uncomfortable leadership tasks I need to handle for today will be behind me.

I’m sure they will go better than I anticipate. That is the way it usually goes, isn’t it? Our organization will be better for it. In fact, we’ll all be better for it. And these eight mature rose bushes will be ready for the next phase of their growth — just like me.

Carrie Perrien Smith-51-Twitter-SquareCarrie Perrien Smith is mama to Darcie and a pack of black dogs (Jazmin, Midgieboy, and Chloe — in pack order), grandma to Robert, wife to world-traveler and Walmart-blue-bleeding Tom, daughter to Wayne and Phyllis, speaker bureau and publishing company owner, Business: Engaged! small business radio show host, community activist, singer in a party band called Paper Jam, and home improvement enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @soarwitheagles or contact her at carrie@soarhigher.com.

Empty Nexter: Why we must take the risk

PJ Kent Rylee Lions Car Show 4-2014 2014-04-12 041 E

By Carrie Perrien Smith

I’m the oldest of Generation X.

We’re the first generation to know what it is like to enter the workforce and not encounter barriers just because we’re female. We didn’t have to claw our way to the top, burn our bras, or march in front of the White House to compete a fair share of opportunity.

Generations of women before me made that possible. I don’t always say thanks or even stop to think what life would be like without the privilege of equality.

Is it their ideas holding us back or ours?

Sure, there are some goofballs out there with old attitudes, some of them younger than me. But there are far too many of us who are willing to listen to them and allow their roadblocks to stop us from doing what we think we’re big enough to do. We set low goals because we are afraid to take risks. It’s really a slap in the face to the woman who paved the path for us. We owe it to them to take the path and forge new paths for the women who follow us.

I sing in a band. You should know that I’m not in a band because I’m a great singer. I’m great at a lot of things but singing is NOT one of them. I’m average — at best.  I wish I was just saying that because I’m humble.

But I own my place on stage and give it everything I’ve got. I schlep the same equipment in and out that my band mates do, practice as much or more, and handle a good portion of the band’s marketing.

I started with no experience as a singer and worked hard for two-and-a-half years learning the craft. I can’t wait to see how much better I’ll be in another year or two or even five.

Our band is a 60s and 70s rock band. The list of female rock singers from that era is short. Women didn’t start changing the rules until nearly the 1980s. I’m in a band with some pretty talented musicians who aren’t afraid to remind me that they dwarf me in experience. Sometimes the guys in the band remind me that I am female and pitifully average and suggest that I shouldn’t attempt some of the songs I am working to master.

It isn’t really about us

After some tough feedback and some failure, yes, I lick my wounds and think about quitting. That would be safe. But then I remember something important — women need to see me take a risk like this. There are tons of women way more talented than I am who don’t believe they could ever sing in a band. I am living proof that they can.

But wait, singing isn’t my only average performance. I lost my first race for city council too. Dead last of four. Believe me, no one was more shocked than me. I licked my wounds and thought about giving up my hope to make a difference in our city as an alderwoman. It took about forty-eight hours to rationalize that I learned far too much (mostly about what I should have done with my campaign strategy) to waste it. And I am a much-needed voice for small businesses on the city council. I realized that if I shy away from the risk of losing another election that I couldn’t set an example for other women. So here I go again this summer.

Our band plays in bars a couple times a month. Most nights when we play out, I make an effort to mingle with bar patrons on break, particularly the women. The feedback I get from them confirms that it is important for them to see other women taking a risk and stepping out in front, shoulder to shoulder with men.

Despite what other people tell them about the way the world works, I prove it is possible — even if I am average. I’m living proof that you don’t have to be extraordinary to spread love, encouragement, and hope.

And you don’t have to be very far along to reach back and bring someone along the path with you.

Cheer them on

Probably the most important lesson is how much the smallest encouragement helps keep me going on those days when I am frustrated with my averageness or licking my wounds.

After the last gig, a sweet girl I didn’t know named Samantha posted on our band’s Facebook post “Carrie is so cool!!!” I commented back that she made my week. It had been a tough, humbling week for me, and it really was the highlight. It reminded me how important it was to tell others how cool they are too. I vowed to do that more often. People just don’t hear that often enough.

We owe it to the women before us and the women after us

My example matters. Your example matters. What is your rock band or campaign? Let’s get out there and be fearless together. Surely we won’t be inexperienced or average forever. If our girls see us attack life fearlessly, they may attempt something and discover they are extraordinary. And that will definitely be worth the risk.

Photo above: Performing with Paper Jam at the Rogers Lions Club car show at Kent Rylee Automotive Solutions in April 2014.

Carrie Perrien Smith-51-Twitter-SquareCarrie Perrien Smith is mama to Darcie and a pack of black dogs (Jazmin, Midgieboy, and Chloe — in pack order), grandma to Robert, wife to world-traveler and Walmart-blue-bleeding Tom, daughter to Wayne and Phyllis, speaker bureau and publishing company owner, Business: Engaged! small business radio show host, community activist, singer in a party band called Paper Jam, and home improvement junkie. Follow her on Twitter @soarwitheagles or contact her at carrie@soarhigher.com.

Empty Nexter: How to be remembered fondly — and often

By Carrie Perrien Smith

Sometimes someone enters your life and weaves himself into it. That’s the way Jim was. He married my long-time friend, Kelly, eight years ago. He was a kind, cheerful, easy-going, helpful guy. That’s what she needed to help raise her three young men.

We attended their parties, and they attended ours.

And they weren’t those socialite kind of parties. They were the kind where we laughed long and loud, where there was always room for one more. Jim put tons of thought into the party menus. Not even my mom can remember my long list of food allergies, but Jim did.

He always proudly announced what they were serving that I wasn’t allergic to. I reminded him it wasn’t necessary, but it always made me feel special.

carrie and friends

Our band Paper Jam before we played at the 2012 Walmart Shareholders meeting. Jim is shown third from the left.

When we went out for an evening of live music, Jim couldn’t wait to dance. When he wore out his wife, he’d dance with me or the bar owner’s wife or any other female he could coax onto the dance floor.

He was my copier tech too. I work from home so a service call to my office included greeting my dogs, Midgieboy and Jazmin. Midgieboy loves almost everyone. Jazmin loves almost no one — except Jim. She loved him, and he loved her because she loved him. He always stopped what he was doing to vigorously rub Jazmin’s ears and neck like she was the only dog in the world.

My husband, Tom, deejays and supplies audio/visual services for business meetings. Jim was a technical wizard so Tom hired Jim when he needed assistance. Even when Tom volunteered his time and services for a charity event, Jim offered to help too. He gave generously of his time to help others.

Jim considered himself a handy type of guy. He assembled my wood filing cabinet in my office. I remember how hard he tried to fix our oddball-brand toilet in our fixer-upper. It still had problems, and I eventually called a plumber. I didn’t tell him though. And I’m sure his wife Kelly will never forget the time he was decided to fix the heater core in his truck himself because it would just take him a few hours. It took a few days instead. He would try to fix anything whether or not he had any related experience. It sometimes made sense not to mention something was broken.

Jim had been in a living-room/family-party band for years. Most of the band members had been copier technicians. One day, he asked my husband to come jam with them. Tom had begun to play guitar again after decades away from it. It was a better than practicing on the couch with his unplugged electric guitar. When the occasional family gathering called for a band, I can’t remember my husband smiling more heartily than when he was playing with them.

The guys wanted to play beyond the living room so they started practicing more often. And when we bought our fixer-upper, it offered enough space for the band to practice. Jim was always the first to arrive to help Tom set up the garage for practice and didn’t leave until everything was stowed again.

And that’s how I ended up in a band called Paper Jam.

When they lost their backup singer, I offered to help out. I didn’t have any experience, but I was willing to learn. I wasn’t all that good back then, but he taught me what he knew. He was the first to encourage me. The band evolved, and we launched our “playing outside the garage” tour of local smoky night spots. We had a few personnel changes, but Jim was a constant influence as a founding member.

Things changed for Jim in 2012. He got downsized at work, and it opened the door for him to launch his own technical service business. Being a longtime business consultant/coach myself, I cheered him on. I also played devil’s advocate just to make sure he had the “running the business” part down right. He did really well.

While he was pouring his heart and soul into his growing business, some long-time health issues were starting to slow him down. He juggled the demands of his business, family, and the band before that. But now, he commented frequently that he didn’t have the time to commit to the band. There were a lot of times where it was obvious he didn’t feel well enough for two-hour practices, let alone the physically demanding four-hour shows we played. Those included three extra hours of schlepping heavy audio equipment.

It was difficult when we suggested he take some time off from the band to focus on more pressing priorities. He agreed, and we left his place open if things settled down enough for him to come back. That was late 2012. By then, I was singing lead more so we split up Jim’s songs between our bass player and me.

We invited Jim and Kelly to our shows after that. They came a few times and stayed for an hour or less. We were always glad to see them. Jim looked much weaker and thinner each time. There were even a couple of narrow brushes with death.

Just two years younger than me, it reminded me that our days on earth are sometimes fewer than we expect.

Carrie, Jim and Winston 8 72dpi

An old family photo from Jim and his beloved, long-gone Cocker Spaniel, Winston. My husband suggested that Winston ran back over the rainbow bridge to greet Jim and they walked back over it together.

The week before Christmas, Kelly called us. Jim had just learned he was in full liver failure. They arranged hospice care. Kelly was busy tackling those end-of-life details — signatures, final wishes, etc. She needed to handle a few more details but would call when we could see him.

By that Monday evening, he was well-medicated to ensure his comfort. He snored through most of the visit. We chatted with Kelly as we sat on the edge of Jim’s bed in their dimly lit bedroom. We listened as she updated us on all that must be handled when someone chooses to die at home. It was a nice visit. I kept thinking how much I wished we’d been able to visit two or three days earlier.

When it was time to leave, we got up off the bed. Jim snapped awake. Still groggy, he reached out his hands and said, “Let me shake your hand.” Tom and I each grabbed one. His jaundiced skin felt cool and taut. We held on and uttered things that wouldn’t sound like a final goodbye although we knew it was. And as quickly as he sat up, he resumed his rhythmic snoring.

Remember that scene in the 1997-version of Titanic where Kate Winslet is floating in the ocean on a piece of wood from the sunken vessel? When she awoke to realize that Leonardo DiCaprio had died, she releases his grip on her arm and she watches him sink into the dark ocean. That is what it felt like when I turned loose of Jim’s hand that evening.

So many times when I stood next to Jim on stage and looked out at the crowd, I thought, “I want to remember this moment forever.” I felt the same way about those fleeting moments when I held Jim’s hand that night.

Jim died thirty hours later in the early hours of Christmas. Over the coming days, Tom and I sifted through video, audio recordings, and photos for his memorial service. As I wandered through my daily routine, I realized I had a million memories of Jim.

Some will be silly, like when my copier is hopelessly jammed due to stupid human error or I’m referring to my dogs as the corporate security like he did. Others will hit me when I’m singing one of his favorite songs with our band.

He is missed, but he will always be with me. I hope people will remember me so often and fondly when I am gone.

Carrie Perrien Smith-51-Twitter-SquareCarrie Perrien Smith is mama to Darcie and a pack of black dogs (Jazmin, Midgieboy, and Chloe — in pack order), grandma to Robert, wife to world-traveler and Walmart-blue-bleeding Tom, daughter to Wayne and Phyllis, speaker bureau and publishing company owner, Business: Engaged! small business radio show host, community activist, singer in a party band called Paper Jam, and home improvement junkie. Follow her on Twitter @soarwitheagles or contact her at carrie@soarhigher.com.