One month later, after feeling what I could only say was a wave of emotions as we celebrate the life of my father and say goodbye, I can finally write this. A testimony to who he was and what he left behind.
I had a day to set up the program, slide show, write his eulogy, practice a song with my sisters, and get ready. As I worked through each detail (as many others were rushing around preparing the location, flowers, food, etc.) I planned and prepared everything as if he was sitting next to me telling me how he would like it. See, my dad loved a good show and doing things with excellence. So to say goodbye to him could be no less than that.
Getting ready at my sister’s home, each restroom was occupied with 2 to 3 ladies squeezing around the mirror, fixing our hair, makeup, picking something adorable to wear. We had just done our nails the day before. You would have thought that we were going out for a girls’ night. As we prepared ourselves our thoughts went straight to him. This is how he would want it. I held back tears as I put mascara on thinking what he would have thought if he were watching us, “My girls are so beautiful. I love when they get all fixed up. They’re doing this for me.” Trust me, I was in no place wanting to get pampered the day before with manicure and pedicure. I wanted to sit and cry. But all I thought of was the attitude he would have given me saying not to be ridiculous, go get ready and cute. So there we were. His 4 daughters dressed up looking great for dad and ready to celebrate the man he was.
I thought through every detail he’d appreciate. The program was printed in black and white and designed with a modern and stylish look. He loved modern styles so I gave that to him. He would have been so grateful it wasn’t a sad funeral program.
The same details went into the slide show and the music. When we were out with him at events he would brag about our singing and us. He loved when we performed and so we made sure we started his celebration with his favorite hymn and gave him a performance he would of watched with pride. The second song we sang for him is where I lost it. His coffin was closed in front of the stage we sang on but it wasn’t the coffin that broke me down. It was the moment I imagined him sitting in the crowd of over 350 guests watching us with a smile and so much pride and joy. “Those are my girls.” I lost my harmony and pushed the mic back. Took a moment and jumped back in.
Beautiful words were spoken about him from 2 pastors (friends who have been in his life for years), my 2 cousins (who now lead as the heads of the family taking his place), and my older sister who was brought to tears thinking of how he brought her under his wings and taught her so much of what she excels in now.
This man not only impacted his girls, wife, family and small community, but the world. The three hundred and fifty guests who were present that night were the ones who could come on short notice. Calls, emails, love, and prayers were coming from all over the world (Paris, Dubai, New York, Penn., California, Tennessee, Europe, China, etc.) He was loved. Still is.
I followed my sister with his eulogy. I read:
Born in Manzanillo, Cuba on July 14th, 1955. Oldest and beloved brother to Benigno Fransisco Aguirre & Silvia Rita Arrastia. Proud son to Camilo Benigno & Silvia Christina Aguirre. He grew up in Clewiston, Florida. Graduated from University of Florida.
Amongst many of his accomplishments, he was a successful restaurant owner, commercial broker, and later became a developer. All of his achievements brought him to having a successful condo-hotel development, The Blue Rose. It shattered all records in sales the opening weekend and won the Visionary Project of the year with recognition from the governor, Jeb Bush and mayors of Central Florida. With the collapse of the market, the project closed, yet until the day he passed away, he was continuing the vision that was so passionate in his heart. This is one of the legacies he has left that will continue to live on.
His childhood dream was to become an actor. Of course, that was not the popular choice as a profession in his time. But he never lost that love for acting and creating. As a result, he became the one who encouraged my move to Los Angeles to pursue it myself.
He was a brilliant business man. You can ask his little one and she would always say “Papi is a business genius.”
He loved his sports and all our neighbors could testify. A big Gator fan, a Gator through and through. The Heat became our home’s mascot, with his love for the game and influence on all of his girls learning and loving the game just as much. He was passionate about his team. And, not to forget the Dolphins, he was frustrated with them, but always remained a loyal fan.
One of the memories he shared often on his childhood was going to the fair with his cousins and siblings. His grandma would give them all money to spend at the fair. Camilo would save his and wait for everyone to spend all their money on tickets. Then, he would sell his for double. Needless to say the entrepreneur started young.
He loved his family. He was a loyal friend. He was father to 4 little women and left us with his legacy, his little princess and best bud. As a husband, there is no one who could compare. He filled his wife with love, laughter, encouragement and faith in her, a partner in life we all hope to walk this earth with.
He was a bear. He looked tough and protective, but once you got closer to his heart and hugs you’d see the teddy bear in him. The most giving and loving man you could meet. It broke his heart that he couldn’t give more when he would already give the world. He was kind and caring, with open arms and doors for those in need. He treated everyone as equals.
I think we all have a saying we recall him saying often enough that would drive us crazy. But it wouldn’t be a memory with him if we didn’t. He was not perfect. I think we all knew that as well. But most of our memories with him bring us a smile and laughter.
As I look around, I see so many people whose lives he’s touched and impacted. I see he was Tito to his nephews and nieces. The son and support he was to a mother who loved him dearly. The big brother and example he was to his brother and sister. The friend to so many all around the world. The husband and confidant to a wife who loves him unconditionally. And a father who God allowed to enjoy 31 years of being a dad. From his eldest daughter that he became a father to when she was 12 years old, to leaving behind a 12 year old daughter. He had the combined full experience of enjoying fatherhood from birth to graduations, marriages, and even his first grandbaby on the way.
His legacy will continue through his testimony, his life, and his family.
After the slide show that highlighted beautiful memories with him, my mother went up and opened her heart. She directed her speech to my 12-year-old sister. She shared how her daddy completed everything she ever needed in a husband and that there would be no one else. God gave her that through him and now, just as an eagle goes through excruciating pain to survive another 30 years,
they too will bear the heavy pain only to make them stronger. She committed to her that her life would be focused on serving God on earth and raising her. There was so much else said but this was the heart of it. I held my little sister in my arms as she cried out, listening to mom, and saying goodbye to her daddy.
We finished the night closing with a song he enjoyed “Oh When The Saints”. He was so old school with his hymns. To my surprise, family and friends approached us telling us they had never experienced such a joyful funeral. That they truly felt they were celebrating his life as they said goodbye. I can only say that was possible because we focused on what he liked rather than what was traditional for a funeral.
I mentioned he left a testimony to who he was and left behind. To who he was: you got a glimpse of that through the words spoken about him, the people who filled the room, and all the love that came from all over the world. To what he left: he left a legacy with my 12-year-old sister. And after a month of riding the waves of emotions I see so much more that he left. Putting the pieces together, I have never seen someone leave this earth and prepare so many to continue his legacy. His projects he invested his heart into will continue with his amazing team, my mother and my older sister and brother in law who he trained in every detail of the company. His youngest daughter who enjoyed every moment she had with him, hearing stories and talking like friends will have his story to tell. She remembered everything he had ever told her. My dad was the oldest son and uncle in his family and after watching my cousin speak about him that night I saw his leadership fall to him. They were alike in many ways but the biggest thing they shared was their hearts, love for family, and desire to do what’s right. He now leads with authority and love, which I immediately saw in the past month.
What he left with me? He was the one to encourage me to come out to LA and pursue my career in entertainment. He loved theatre and acting but never had a chance to pursue it himself. I could perform in many shows but no one would see him. But where I could keep him alive is by writing his story. He became my inspiration to write. Now I only hope that his legacy through me can be seen one day on TV as the story of his life with us. He was anything but boring.
I will miss him. I miss him now as I write this. I will continue to laugh on the high waves and cry through the low waves. I assume for years. He wasn’t just any man. He was my dad. Many knew him as my step-dad but with the impact he had on my life and my sister’s “Dad” was the title he rightfully earned. A loss like this stings for a while but I’m hopeful to see his legacy continue through the ones who loved him so.