Unfortunately, losing a loved one is something we all experience at some point, and many families do not have the chance to have important conversations with their departed loved one about their final wishes. This experience is all too real for one of our own employees, Al Appenzeller, who recently lost his father to a battle with cancer.
After losing his father, Al offered to share his story in the hopes of educating others about the importance of planning ahead so families can focus on celebrating their loved one and alleviate any additional pain and stress during an already difficult period of time.
Al (standing) and his father (sitting) smile for a photo together.
Q: What was your father like?
My father was hardworking and dedicated to his work and family. I like to say he enjoyed “the 4 B’s” – Biking (as in riding his motorcycle), Boating, Bussing (as in driving the local school bus) and Ballooning (as in hot air ballooning with me).
Q: What are some of your favorite memories with your father?
We had many great memories together boating at Lake Rathbun in Iowa and Table Rock Lake in Missouri. We also took a very memorable motorcycle ride over a Labor Day weekend to visit Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion and his birthplace. We had a lot of wonderful hot air ballooning adventures together too. Dad was my crew chief for the first several years I started piloting hot air balloons, almost all the way up to when he was diagnosed with stage 4 bladder cancer in 2019.
One of my favorite memories of my dad and I hot air ballooning – and one I would tease him about – was a time he was crewing for me and couldn’t figure out how to start my truck. For those unfamiliar with hot air ballooning, we often launch and land the balloon in different locations, so we rely on a crew member to drive a vehicle between the two locations to transport equipment.
For this particular hot air balloon event, my dad was going to drive my truck between the two locations, but he was having trouble starting my truck. After much back and forth, it turned out he was trying to use his own truck keys to start my vehicle! I, and many of our other hot air ballooning peers, would kindly tease him to make sure he had the right keys any time he would drive the truck. He was a fantastic crew chief, and I will always think of him when I’m piloting my hot air balloon.
Al (left) and his father (right) preparing Al's hot air balloon for an event.
Al (middle left) and his father (middle right) checking the hot air balloon's gondola.
Q: Can you describe your family?
I initially grew up as an only child and lost my mother when I was 12 years old. She had also lost her battle with cancer and just barely made it to 40 years old. A little over a year later, my father remarried my stepmother, who has two children from her previous marriage. They, too, had lost their husband/father to cancer.
Q: Did your father ever share his end-of-life wishes with you or anyone in your family?
Not fully. Thankfully, I did ask him about his final disposition preferences, and he surprised me by saying he wanted to be cremated. Aside from this, he only told me which funeral home to use in our community.
Q: Can you describe the process of making arrangements for your father with your family?
Because I come from a blended family, we had quite a few people helping plan my father’s services, including myself; my stepmother; my stepbrother, his wife and his oldest daughter; my stepsister; and my ex-wife, who has remained close with my parents. We also worked with a funeral director at the funeral home my dad selected. With so many people involved in the planning process, we had trouble agreeing on some decisions.
I experienced firsthand how not having a loved one’s wishes prepared, documented, planned and paid for causes more pain and stress during an already difficult time. I also witnessed how, in a blended family, having all affairs planned in advance would have made a world of difference after my father had passed.
Q: What conversations have you had or actions have you taken to plan for your own end-of-life wishes since this experience?
I am now a firm believer in the work we do here at Homesteaders Life Company to help people design a better farewell. My wife and I have started having conversations around this exact topic and plan on preparing and paying for our end-of-life wishes, so all our loved ones will have to do when our time comes is grieve and hopefully reflect on and share wonderful memories.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t know about planning and funding their end-of-life wishes in advance?
I would encourage them to talk to family and friends who have recently lost a loved one, as they can provide a lot of information and advice about their experience. Most importantly, I would also recommend visiting a funeral home to understand all your options and consider preplanning and prefunding your end-of-life events so the task is not left to your surviving family members.
We encourage you to share Al’s story within your own community to help educate people about the importance of having these crucial conversations with family members and the importance of planning ahead.