Saturday night was the Feet for Fener fundraiser at Skydive Perris. Wow. What a whirlwind, overwhelming experience of love, support, kindness, happiness and celebration. A few hundred people were there to celebrate Nick’s life. And the best part was that Nick was able to be there and be a part of it. What an impressive event, in every respect. I still can’t believe that just happened. Neither can Nick. Wow. THANK YOU! Everyone! It really took a small army of volunteers to pull that off. The event was so well organized and rolled on smoothely through the evening. The skydiving community really banded together for Nick last night in a brilliant display of palpable love and excitement. We were touched deeply.
I arrived late, as usual, at about 4:30pm. Video camera in hand, I was only able to move at a snails pace through the crowds of people, taking video of each person I greeted. I can only guess that this is what a celebrity must feel like. I can’t call it “being bombarded” because I really enjoyed all the hugs and loving conversations. After only talking to a few dozen people, my mind started to become mushy and scattered. It was truly overwhelming, but in a good way!
The first band was already playing when I got there. Loads of jumpers were in the air. The swimming pool was full of people cooling off from the heat. Over a hundred items were already being bid on in the silent auction that lined the perimeter of the pool area. People were getting massaged, having their hair cut and getting their toe nails done. Kids were playing in the bounce house and getting their faces painted. The barbecue was lit, cranking out yummy food and the taco bar was in full swing. The photo booth was snapping lots of pictures and so were the photographers wandering through the crowds. People were lighting up cigars at the mobile cigar stand, and enjoying gelato and snow cones in the shade. There were heaps of delicious home baked goods at the bake sale table, including little foot shaped cookies, and gourmet cookies with a picture of Nick and his therapist on them. Duffy was on the mic keeping the crowd entertained, raffling off a few of the smaller items, talking about the skydiving demonstrations going on, and welcoming the newcomers to the event. Everyone had little feet stickers on their shirts, and half the crowd was wearing the specially designed “Fener” T-shirts being sold. The skydiving school was cranking out tandem skydives, with 111 people showing up to make their first jump! Over 70 of them being fans of the show “Sons of Anarchy”, who came out to meet the cast and make a jump on their annual SOA skydiving day. They had a table set up next to the skydiving school to meet the cast. Fans could get autographs and pictures taken for a donation to Nick Fener.
Nick showed up at 5:30pm and had a huge crowd around him, non-stop, until he left at 10:30pm. There were cameras on him immediately. He must have posed for hundreds of pictures with his friends, old and new. It was challenging for him to give adequate time and attention to every single person who came to say hello. He wants me to say that he did his best to talk to and spend time with everyone. And that he wanted to acknowledge and thank every single person for how they have helped him since his accident. It was really difficult for him though. He hopes that nobody feels he ignored them, or didn’t spend enough time with them. Not only was he in pain all evening, he was on a lot of pain medication in order to stay upright in his wheelchair. While discussing how AMAZING the night was, he has described it as being an event being held within a ten foot perimeter around his wheelchair. He didn’t get to cruise around and enjoy the different vendors at all. Nick’s particular experience of the party was personal and “in your face”. And he loved it. He loved the attention. He loved the warm wishes.
At any given moment, we could scan the crowd and see the vast cross-section of people from across Nick’s lifetime. High school friends, desert friends, plumbing clients, old neighbors, old roommates, skydiving pals, co-workers, my family, his family, gym friends, skydiving students, his dog trainer, people we have never met but who read the blog, our friends’ parents, our friends’ kids, and so many more. Nick has touched a lot of people in his 33 years. This fundraiser was proof of that. People from every slice of his life were present and showing their love and support. How awesome!
These are my words, not his, but the party felt like a combination of two very common events: a funeral and a wedding reception. It had the loving, party feel of a wedding reception. And it had the “all eyes on Nick”, the “let’s tell him everything we’ve always wanted to tell him” vibe of a funeral. For Nick, it was the closest he will ever come to being a guest at his own funeral. As weird, and morbid as that sounds, it’s one of the true blessings of this entire situation. He came close enough to death that the rest of us are still praising God that he made it out alive. And last night was his party to celebrate that.
Just before the live auction began, Nick got up in front of the stage and talked to the crowd. He had a list of people he individually thanked. It was painful to make that list. How could he single out just a few people, when the entire army of his family and friends have come rushing to his aid? Well, the people he individually thanked fell into two distinct categories. First, he thanked the few people who planned and organized the entire event, who spent 2&1/2 months working toward this one huge evening. Second, he thanked the few people who have constantly been by my, or his, physical side from the very beginning, or who have consistently knocked down our door to take the burdens of daily life off my shoulders. If he had added any more “categories” of people to thank, well, we would have been standing there listening to him until 3am.
I am so relieved that I am not the one who made him cry. Thanks Dan Fener, for making your brother cry in front of a few hundred people! Yes, just thinking about how much Dan has stepped up to the plate to help us out makes both of us emotional. He moved into our home while we were away to care for our house and our doggies. He is still living with us and bends over backwards daily to make our lives easier. He is such a neat person, and an easy roommate. If it weren’t for him, we would be so lost. So, anyway, Nick thanked him, got extremely emotional, and it got the entire audience choked up. Then Nick began to thank me publicly, which really brought the water works flowing, and I practically got pushed out there with him into the spot light. I was completely unprepared to speak, so I will make up for what I didn’t say by writing it now. It’s simple, really. I wanted to thank one person, and one person only: Nick’s Mom, Sandee Fener. Mama, I really wish I had thanked you in front of everybody. If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know how I would have made it past that ICU room. You helped me care for your son and make hefty decisions about his well being. You treated me like a daughter even though I’m only your sons girlfriend. You respected my position in his life and his wishes that I make his health and financial decisions. You never over stepped a boundary, yet never left me alone. Your support was perfect in every way. I am so glad to have you as my Mom. I love you. —Now, dang it, too bad I didn’t have that prepared to say last night. Oh well.
The rest of Nick’s “speech” centered around the fact that life can be taken from you in an instant. You can’t stop living your life for fear of losing it. He said that people who are in jobs they hate, relationships that aren’t working, friendships that aren’t healthy, are just wasting their precious time here. Find your passion, follow it, and live it daily. This accident almost took his life. Since it didn’t, his desire to follow his passions is greater than ever. “Get Busy Livin”. I can’t think of a better way to sum it all up. Get busy living, or get busy dying. That is his message.