WEddings to Funerals
Life is a party with rest and obligation!
We are born and every completed rotation around the sun we celebrate an anniversary of our birth. Then we find the loves of our lives, marry, and celebrate yet another trip around the star that gives life on this planet. It’s interesting how we give so much and so little meaning to these anniversaries. These moments in our lives that mark our passage of time on this planet we call earth. I recently planned one of the most important life events many of us have to deal with, the memorial of a parent, an individual whom has always been a huge part of my life. The death of a loved one, in my opinion, is more important than a birthday, anniversary, or even wedding. It is every single important day wrapped into one final moment. A coming together of all the people that have passed through and all the people still standing. A collection of who you are, who you wanted to be, and how you got there along the way.
How does one deal with such an enormous task of simplifying life into one final moment? It is very personal, that question, and probably has as many answers as there are lives. I can only tell you of my journey and the peace I have found by honoring one of the loves of my life. When people talk about the loves of their lives, most are talking about spouses, lovers, and the such. For me… my loves are brothers, sisters, friends, children, and parents. The people whom you connect with on a level that never leaves you. My father was one of those people and honoring his life and the people who traveled through it meant so much to me. Where to begin is and will always be the hardest part of such a great task. Now…. I specialize in event management (weddings, anniversaries, birthday, and corporate events.) Parties are first nature to me. I couldn’t stand the thought of celebrating life like every other funeral I had been to. All the funerals I had attended were enormously solemn events, and it seemed lately the only time I ever see extended family and friends. I wanted to leave behind in this one final moment a feeling of closure, acceptance, peace, and reconnection. So how do you that? I decided to plan it like a wedding, birthday, or anniversary.
The right venue is so important to any event. It is the stage that your important moment in time plays out. I began with taking a trip to my father’s home town of Marshall, Missouri. I was assisted by a lifelong friend of my parents who showed several possible options in town. We ended up booking a beautiful shelter in the Indian Foothills Park that had two amazing fireplaces. We also decided to book The Knights of Columbus as a plan B. The park was only going to work if the weather held out. I wasn’t too thrilled with the Knights of Columbus, but with the right lighting and décor you can make anything work. The only thing that you need to really remember when choosing a venue is the size. If you book a space that is too big and not a lot of people show up, it will feel sad and lonely, no matter how beautifully decorated. If you pick something too small, well…. I like a crowded party and as long as you have the ability to move around you will be fine. They have fire codes for a reason, and I would take that to heart when it comes to capacity. In the end, the weather did not end up working out for us. No need to freak out! That is why you have a plan B, C, and sometimes D. Plan B was going to be the Knights of Columbus, but then something amazing happened. A childhood friend from Marshall, Leslie Taylor, had friended me on Facebook after she had heard about my father’s death, and as I was looking through her page I realized she owned an event space. Not only did she own an event space, but they play live music there every Friday night, and many of the musicians happen be friends of my fathers. I inquired about the space and not only was it available, but she allowed us to use the apartment above to crash and even setup a space for our children. The 4 Points Civic Center is a gem. With old plank wood floors and exposed bricks, it was just the spot I was looking for. It was the perfect stage. Leslie even went out of her way and printed up posters, which we hung on the walls and doors. Talk about going above and beyond!
I have been working in the restaurant industry for around 25 years and the three most important things when providing food for a party is quality, quantity, and presentation. Oh… and a really good chef: Mr. Ryan Hopkins donated his services to help make the food for this event shine and it also just happened to be his birthday on top of it all. Mr. Hopkins is a true friend, and I am proud to say that I get to work with such a talented, creative, and reliable partner.
Quality: You need to know your limitations when it comes to cost, staff, and kitchen accessibility. If your budget is light and you want to stretch a buck, go with pork instead of beef. If you don’t have a lot of staff, go with items that can be prepared ahead of time. Always make sure you know what your kitchen has available for use. In our case we had a grill and we brought our own burners. Making a few items of high quality is better than over extending yourself and sacrificing the quality of the food.
Quantity: One of the worst things that can happen at a party is to run out of food before everyone has had their fill, especially when alcohol is involved. I had no Idea how many people would show up to this event, I figured around 100 people give or take. So, I doubled it and planned on food for two hundred. I would rather go home with leftovers than have to order pizza, or worse have people leave to go get food.
Food Presentation: How you present the food is my favorite part. I love design and I it is one of the attributes I’m really good at. There are several concepts I always do with my buffet tables. One, I always add height: This can be done with boxes, bowls, cake stands, you name it I have done it. Two, I like to add color in the way of foliage and at times flowers. The season and style of the event determines what I use. The third concept that you need to consider is the table size you plan on using for the buffet. You want it to be full, a sparse table does not impress. I will always pre-set the buffet table before the event starts to insure everything fits and has its place. Then I go back to the kitchen and fill each platter to be put back into place.
I didn’t even contemplate getting up and giving a speech. I knew that I was not going to be able to stand in front of people and talk about his life and what he meant to my family, and not because I have a fear of public speaking. It was simply because I couldn’t even talk about it to close friends, or strangers for that matter without tearing up and almost losing it. A room full of people who were also tearing up wasn’t going to be any better. That Is why I made the decision to make a video with a collection of his moments, his arts, and his music. I had over 2,000 photos, a variety of live performance videos, and loads of original music to work with. I decided the best way to go about writing the tribute was to start with the obituary that my mother and I worked on together, taking it, and expanding it. From there I filled in the storyboard. It is mind blowing how far technology has come and how easy it is to create a video with depth. Amazingly enough many of the applications I used to create the images for this video were done on my phone.
To start the process of collecting pictures I could use for the video I downloaded this app on my phone called “Photomyne.” It allows you to take pictures of pictures, crop them, edit their color, and categorize them into specific albums for easy organization. Staring at all the moments captured from recording light passing through time is mesmerizing and therapeutic. At first you ache, then you start to remember things you haven’t thought of in years. It allowed me to gather my thoughts about who a person is in every stage of life and not just the end. No one likes to talk about the end. For many people it becomes a stripping away of your dignity. You are no longer strong, or quick, or beautiful. For many people sicknesses ravage their bodies and minds. These memories unfortunately can be the last you leave behind. Looking at the moments of my father’s life, organizing them, and memorializing them helped me to return the dignity that cancer stole. Giving life dignity is what every funeral should be about. It should be a time when your story is told, and every single person born has a story to tell.
Trey Clemons Connection!
I was thinking about hiring a videographer to capture drone footage of my father’s home town of Marshall, Missouri. The videographer that I know and use, Karl Bussen of Bussen productions, was booked solid and unable to help out with the project. He pointed me in the direction of Trey Clemons, an amazing videographer who worked on a project for the 2017 solar eclipse and did a great job with his drone footage. I contacted him through Instagram and requested to use his footage. Unknown to me, he not only knew who my father was, but my Dad sang “Dreamers Dream” at his parents wedding. He gifted me the incredible footage, which only lasts a matter of seconds in the video, but adds so much.
The remaining video footage for this project was downloaded from YouTube and incorporated into the final product.
Allie Owens: Allie Hope Photography
My father taught teach music lessons at the Vox Box in Marshall, and when my he passed away they went above and beyond. They donated and set up all the audio and visual equipment needed for the night. Like I mentioned before, this is not my area of expertise and without their help I could not have done it. Having the right AV system is essential, if your audience cannot hear the music, video, or speaker it will ruin your event. I recently did a fundraising event and the AV was so bad that it caused the live auction to be a quarter of what it could have been. Always test and retest these systems and if you’re like me and have no idea what your doing, hire someone that does.
Bringing it all Together
It wasn’t the venue, it wasn’t the food, it wasn’t the decorations, it wasn’t the video, it wasn’t the music, it was everything together, and that is what the celebration of life should be about… TOGETHERNESS. With every event that I orchestrate I bring all of the elements together to create a beautiful moment in time.
Jessica Lim is the founder of Hound 47 LLC, an event management company specializing in culinary education and unique private catering. She has been part of the restaurant industry since 1992, working her way through a variety of culinary venues. She found her passion for education while teaching her own four children to cook. Always looking for a way to spend more time with her little ones inspired her to start her own business. In 2016 she began teaching kids to cook professionally and doing what she does best, “Throwing Parties.” She considers herself a dreamer with a bottomless well to pull from, and feels most comfortable in life when her plate is overflowing. Her lifetime goal is to open a unique country event space incorporating all of her passions: food, theatre, education, and wide open views.