Adventure Time: Florida Edition (Round 3 – Richard Madan’s Celebration of Life & Family Trip)

Image may contain: 3 people, including Laura Beth Vardaro, people smiling, people standing and wedding

Mom, me, and Uncle Richard, on my wedding day, November 2015. Image Credit: Stellar Exposures

It’s a funny thing sometimes, your conscience.

Saturday, April 7th, was my Uncle Richard’s 68th birthday. It was a busy Saturday, but this little voice in my head kept reminding me to call him for his birthday. Between a successful blood drive and going out to dinner with our friends Casey and Beth, that voice kept at it. I had a wonderful 20-minute conversation with my uncle that night. I could almost hear his smile in his voice.

Little did I know, that would be the last time I would hear him speak.

The following Tuesday, April 10th, my parents called after Al and I finished dinner. I could tell my dad was hesitating about something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Finally, the words that always signal bad news to me came out of his mouth: “Are you sitting down?”

My uncle had been in a car accident, near his house in Miami, Florida. Immediately after the accident, he was found unconscious in his SUV. Thankfully, medical personnel got him to the nearest hospital in time to save his life.

It was a flurry of activity that week. Mom flew down on Sunday, April 15th. My dad drove 17 hours straight from Monday night into Tuesday morning. They started organizing his house while visiting the hospital daily. Originally, there was hope of rehabilitation, and eventual discharge to some sort of assisted living facility.

But, the stroke was worse than everyone had thought. More moderate to severe. He wasn’t speaking, or eating. My mom made some of the most gut-wrenching decisions in terms of aggressive treatment and resuscitation. Thankfully, my dad was there by her side.

We knew things were near the end when he was transferred to an excellent hospice unit of another medical center. At five minutes to midnight, on Wednesday, April 25th, he passed away peacefully.

I had the opportunity to attend his Celebration of Life, and help spread his ashes. I took a full week off of work, and I’m so glad that I did.


Thursday, May 17th

I was very fortunate to find a seat on the same American Airlines flight as a friend from church. Her wonderful husband drove both of us to the airport. Aside from some unruly thunderstorms, it was an uneventful flight, direct from Norfolk to Miami. This was my first time on a plane in nearly three years!

After an adventure getting the rental car, my parents met us at Kathy’s hotel in Coconut Grove. My parents took me back to Richard’s house in Miami, where I saw first-hand the fruits of their labor. In the four weeks they had been living there, they cleaned everything out, painted everything, and deep cleaned the carpet. They hand-scrubbed half of the back deck, and were preparing to cut a big branch of the beautiful mango tree that was hanging over the deck. We picked at least 100 mangoes! I was very impressed with their work.

For dinner, we went out to Il Bambino, a wonderful Italian restaurant nearby. They spent several hours with Shirley and Bill, dear friends of my grandparents. They’ve been married for 65 years!


Friday, May 18th

The Celebration of Life was scheduled for Friday evening at Plymouth Congregational Church, and there was a lot to do before then. This is the church where my mom and uncle grew up. I have many memories of this amazing church since I was a kid.

Our friends Debbie and Lucy flew down from Virginia on Friday morning, and they stayed at one of the church guest houses. Plymouth is a sprawling church campus – 17 buildings on more than 11 acres of beautiful, lush, tropical land!

Kathy was wonderful – Between Mom, Dad, her, and me, we loaded multiple food trays from Publix into the rented Kia van and my uncle’s Durango SUV in the afternoon. We had plenty of time to get everything set up at the church before the celebration was scheduled to begin.

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The entrance table.

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I helped buy the guest book. I thought it was fitting that we had several Pan Am pens for people to use.

These photos are just some of the memorabilia from National Airlines and Pan Am. Richard was hired as a flight attendant by National Airlines in 1973. National merged with Pan Am in 1980. Richard flew with Pan Am until the company’s demise in 1991. He also worked as an instructor and trainer.

There were amazing letters from passengers, too, complimenting Richard on his professionalism, service, and more!

We had 50 people come to the celebration, which exceeded our expectations. We laughed more than we cried. Mom spoke. I spoke, telling the story of my conscience telling me to make that phone call. A dear friend from Plymouth, Dickie, echoed my words and implored everyone to “make that call.”

Richard’s best friend, Michael, an Episcopal priest, shared stories of their 45-year friendship. We could tell that Richard’s death has affected Michael greatly, since Michael called my uncle every night and they talked for an hour. Every night. For years. Now, he can’t make those calls any more.

A few flight attendant friends also spoke, but most of the evening was very much a beautiful, non-alcoholic wake. I was so happy to see so many friends, and to catch up with them and learn more about their lives. We sent everyone home with food, and by 11:00 p.m., we were beyond ready for bed!


Saturday, May 19th

Saturday started early. In preparation to sell Richard’s house, the wonderful real estate agent (who happens to be married to Plymouth’s amazing associate pastor) asked that one of the big branches of the backyard mango tree be cut down.

No problem!

I got to use power tools, and work with my dad and our good friend, Tim. Tim was a business associate of my grandfather’s and Richard for years. Tim’s kids, Timmy and Megan, grew up with me. Tim’s wife, Nancy, told me that whenever they told Timmy and Megan that we were coming to visit, they would get so excited. One of the best area restaurants is The Big Cheese Miami, and Timmy and Megan knew that when the Strickers were coming to visit, that meant a trip to The Big Cheese for everyone!

This was part of the branch that hung right over the deck. Not great appeal to potential homebuyers. It had to go!

That’s Tim, using the special mango picker. We also picked a bunch with pruners, and by hand!

We filled this crate, and two other big boxes, full of mangoes. My dad printed signs for the boxes, imploring people in the neighborhood to come and take mangoes!

The branch is gone! We set up the patio furniture, too, which I hosed down.

You can see where we cut several huge branches, in the left of the picture.

All clean!

After working in the backyard, Mom and I showered. We met Kathy, Debbie, and Lucy at Plymouth. We drove over to Terri’s gorgeous condo in Coral Gables, where she was hosting us for lunch.

The beautiful tropical plants surrounding the entrance.

Terri and Walter’s condo is on the 15th floor, and the elevator stops at their place. Such opulence! A few steps in, there are gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows that give a panoramic view of Miami, Key Biscayne, and more.

The most beautiful orchids – They were everywhere!

Lunch was delicious, and it was so nice for my mom to have some “girl time.” I think Terri was pleased to host, and we learned more about her, too. She and my mom have been friends since third grade. Terri’s mom was Richard’s 5th and 6th grade teacher, and my grandmother was the “room mom,” so naturally, their families became friends. Terri was also a flight attendant with Richard for several years.

After lunch, we went back to Plymouth to spread Richard’s ashes. Plymouth has a beautiful memorial garden, with nameplates of those who have passed on. My grandfather, Norman Madan, and grandmother, Grace Madan, have nameplates already. Richard’s will be added soon. It was overcast, but wonderful words were spoken by Michael, and Moira McGuinn, one of the church’s amazing associate pastors. Mom, Dad, Michael, Moira, and I all took turns spreading his ashes in the garden.

As we were concluding the ceremony, I heard an airplane flying overhead. Perfect symbolism, in my opinion.

After we finished, we showed Kathy, Debbie, and Lucy the church and the grounds. It’s such an impressive place. Here’s some photos.

We went back to the house, where Mom and Dad met with the real estate agent. While that was happening, the rest of us packed our rented Chevy Tahoe full of the remaining items that needed to come home to Virginia. Kathy is an expert packer, so we had the job done in just a few hours.

By then, we were famished. I called The Big Cheese for takeout, and Dad drove me to pick it up. We did family style. All I cared about were their amazing garlic knots, but the rest of the food was divine.


Sunday, May 20th

Mom, Dad, and I left Miami around 10:00 a.m. We headed toward Seminole, on the west coast of Florida, to see my Grandpa Stricker. He’s 92 and doing great! I was so happy to get to see him, since I was woefully overdue for a visit.

I was happy to help Mom and Dad with the driving. Along the way, we stopped for lunch in Port Charlotte, Florida, to visit with our dear friends Rick and Kyle Watts. Rick and Kyle were Mom and Dad’s neighbors in Virginia Beach before I came along, and we’ve kept in touch all these years. They are currently taking care of Kyle’s mom, and Kyle herself has been keeping a close eye on Rick. He got a new heart via transplant in February, and overall, he’s doing great! It was so nice to see them – It had been too long.

We got to Grandpa’s in the early evening. We had leftovers from previous meals. Mom and I both showered, and turned in early. I got almost 12 hours of sleep!

Before Mom and I went to bed, she noticed this amazing male angina bird outside the window. Unlike other birds, they don’t produce oil to help dry their wings. So, when they get wet, they perch in a tree and spread their wings to help them dry out. We stood at the windows and watched this guy for nearly 30 minutes!


Monday, May 21st

We had coffee early, but knew Grandpa wanted to take us to breakfast. There’s an awesome hole-in-the-wall place near his house called Suzie Q’s Diner. Amazing food!!

This was my delicious breakfast – Their special spinach, mushroom, and Swiss omelet. Complete with hash browns and sourdough toast. Mmmmm!

After breakfast, Dad and I cruised around, seeing how much Seminole has changed in the last few years. The old Seminole Mall that we shopped at and the Cinemas 8 we went to in the summers is long gone – Now replaced by the hip and trendy Seminole City Center. There’s everything anybody could want there – Shops, restaurants, a LA Fitness gym, an upscale movie theater, and more. Very impressive.

We had lunch at home, but went out to dinner at the local Applebee’s. After dinner, we came home and vegged. We watched Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and an episode of Antiques Roadshow before I turned in for the night.


Tuesday, May 22nd

We got up at 4:15 a.m. – My usual!

We were on the road about an hour later, preparing for the long haul drive home. I’m glad I decided to drive back with Mom and Dad. I was able to help out with driving both vehicles. Plus, I spent some quality time with both of them.

We stopped once in every state – Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. It all worked out. It was just a long marathon, 14 hours of driving.

Mom and Dad dropped me off at home around 7:00 p.m. – It was a nice end to a great trip.


I’m sad that my uncle passed away, but I’m grateful for my parents. I’m grateful that they’re both retired and were able to travel when they did. They spent 38 days together in a 940-square foot house – A true test to their 36-year marriage! They were a great team. There’s still more work to be done, but they accomplished quite a long list in the five weeks that they spent together in Miami. A true roller coaster of emotions.

I’m grateful that my work provides such generous PTO. I’m grateful that my colleagues were so understanding, and they appreciate the importance of family. I’m glad that I was able to spend the time off with my family, and seeing many wonderful friends.

Hold your family and friends close. Time is precious. Time is valuable.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

7 thoughts on “Adventure Time: Florida Edition (Round 3 – Richard Madan’s Celebration of Life & Family Trip)

  1. My condolences to you and your family. It is great that you had such a wonderful relationship with your uncle.

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss. It warms my heart that you were able to spend time with family, old friends, visiting places you made memories, & share your experience with us. ❤

    Plymouth church is beautiful. I think it has a real "monastery" vibe to it. Like, I imagine a bunch of fellows in big brown robes are about to walk around the corner into every shot. 🙂

    Terri's condo, though! Oh my gosh, how posh!

    • Thank you so much. It felt good to write this post – Very cathartic.

      I agree! I can’t remember how long it’s been in existence, but I love your monastery reference.

      Oh, yes. Terri’s condo was quite the experience. Super fancy!

  3. Your uncle seemed like an amazing man! I am deeply sorry for your loss, but I’m glad you got to spend time with your family celebrating his life! That church is absolutely gorgeous, and I’m jealous that you got to pick fresh mangoes! I LOVE mangoes! I also really like, orchids!! So beautiful! Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Pingback: Getting Personal #124: May Goals Recap – Hot Shot Headlines

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