On Friday, November 13, 2020, my father, Wayman Allen Mays, passed away after a hard fought 12 year battle with colon cancer. Over the past 12 years, I was with him through several surgeries, radiation treatments, and countless amounts of chemotherapy. He never really talked about his cancer or complained about what he was going through. He just continued to live his best life. Throughout this battle he never let the cancer get the best of him. If the cancer knocked him down, he fought hard to get back up. But even the best fighters eventually get tired and are in need of rest. And now he gets to rest peacefully for eternity.
When I first decided I wanted to start researching my family history, I called my dad back in 2011 and told him I needed to go to the cemetery. He immediately knew something was up because I have always avoided going to cemeteries. Even when I go to funerals, I rarely go to the cemetery after. So I explained that I wanted to research my family history, and I thought the cemetery would be a good place to start since my four grandparents are all buried in the same cemetery. So we picked a weekend when I could come home, and he drove me out to the cemetery and walked me around to make sure I took pictures of all the family head stones. Once we got home he asked me, now what are you trying to do exactly. I told I wasn’t really sure, but I wanted to trace my family tree as far back as I could like Alex Haley did in Roots. He simply said well once you get something in your head there’s no stopping you.
In 2012 when I decided I wanted to make a family history scrapbook, I called my Dad and asked him for some family pictures. He gave me pictures of his parents, all of his grandparents, and his aunts and uncles. Sometimes when I went with him to his chemotherapy treatments, I would show him my family history scrapbook, tell him about some of my research finds, and show him documents and stories I had discovered. Sometimes at his chemo treatments his brother and sister would be there with him. It was during those time that they would sit back and reminisce about their youth and tell me stories about their parents. It was that kind of unintentional research that always makes me smile. Even when my research caused much family contention, my Dad never told me to stop researching.
Dealing with a death of a loved one is always hard, but dealing with a death of a parent is like nothing I have ever experienced. It seems like I am replaying these last 43 years in slow motion trying to remember every moment with my Dad. The records I love most and use the most in my genealogy research have been the hardest to deal with during this time. I still haven’t completely read my Dad’s funeral program, newspaper obituary, or his death certificate. I don’t know when I will be ready to update my family tree with his death information. In some ways my research has a whole new meaning. I’m sure it will be hard in the beginning once I get back to researching. But I find comfort in knowing that not only does my Dad’s legacy live on in his children and grandchildren, but also in my genealogy journey. I will continue telling his story and sharing my memories of him as only a genealogist can. My Dad will always hold a special place in my heart, in my mind, and in my journey.