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Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years

by dave ammenheuser

How do you honor the death of a loved one in the midst of a pandemic?

It’s not easy.

When my parents, John and Elizabeth Ammenheuser, died in the last few months of 2020, our family faced many difficult decisions. Among the toughest: How do you inform family and friends of their deaths?  

 Neither parent died from COVID-19. Dad’s heart gave out on September 1; Mom lost her battle with cancer on December 19. Both left behind clear legal instructions on what they wanted done with their bodies. Per their wishes, they were cremated and their ashes were placed in separate urns.

More than eight months after Dad’s death and more than five months after mom’s, we are finally gathering on June 13 to honor them.

The coronavirus impacted our decisions. Finding a location to hold a service was difficult. Our first choice (and second and third and fourth) were not possible, as policies prohibited indoor gatherings of any notable size. While we don’t expect hundreds of folks to attend the event, even an expected crowd of several dozen is not currently permitted indoors due to safety concerns.

So, we waited until the spring, warmer weather, and the anticipation of vaccinations before deciding on the details of a Celebration of Life (or in this case, Lives) event. 

 Thurmont Mayor John Kinnaird offered the perfect solution: A pavilion at the Thurmont Community Park. During a recent visit to my parents’ house (where he bought a paint sprayer from the estate), he told me that the town recently built a new pavilion near the basketball courts. Knowing that the park pavilions are booked far in advance for family reunions, I was astonished to find out the new pavilion was available. But, as we’ve all learned, this hasn’t been a normal year or two.

Thus, we booked the pavilion for June 13 (As a side note, the $50 fee the town charges for the full-day rental is quite the bargain).

Now that the location was chosen, informing folks of the event was the next arduous task. My mother’s address book was terribly out-of-date (her address for me was one in Southern California; my family moved to Nashville in 2012).  

After thumbing through the dilapidated book, I started addressing and stamping the postcards that I had ordered.

Certainly, there are some of my parents’ friends and former co-workers whom I missed. Apologies to them. There hasn’t been a week that’s gone by when I haven’t talked to one of their friends who were surprised to learn that my parents had died. If you’d like me to mail you a postcard to remind you of the event, please email me at [email protected].

After Joe Wolf, deacon of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, offers an opening prayer, we’ll share stories and celebrate John and Liz’s lives.

It’s been a difficult time for all of us. Not just my family. But I’m sure for yours, too.

We all have friends and neighbors who have been impacted by COVID-19. Some have lost jobs; some have been out of work for months; some have lost loved ones. Thankfully, the country appears to be turning the corner. 

However, life will never be the same. At least not in our household. And likely, not in yours either.

Photo by Dave Ammenheuser

New pavilion at Thurmont Community Park.