to my papaw on the day of his burial
posted on Monday, Apr. 09, 2012 @ 04:57

My beloved Papaw,

When I was young, my biological father didn't have time for me. I remember distinctly one day waiting for him to pick me up at your house, staring out your front window waiting to see his car pull into the driveway. Six hours later, he called to cancel, and you held me in your arms rocking me as I cried. As you know, my step-father Doug has since become the father I never dreamed I would be lucky enough to have, just as you were the father Doug never had. My future husband Tomás has told me repeatedly what a great deal you and Nana mean to him. You are the grandparents he never had. From day one, you accepted him and told him you loved him.

You assumed so many wonderful roles but never once asked for recognition. When you asked me to write you a letter telling you how much I loved you, do you remember I initially laughed? It seemed like such an odd request coming from someone I knew to be so modest, but in the end we all need to hear those reassuring words. To be honest, I would have done anything in the world to make you happy. That day, your 79th birthday, we talked on the phone for over half an hour. They were the last healthy moments we had together.

A month passed after your request, and I hadn't written the letter. Then you were admitted to the hospital, and not having my letter I did the best that I could: I drove over 300 miles to be with you for two weeks. Though you often couldn't recall my name, or even sometimes thought I was Nana, I hope now you can remember the time I spent caring for you. It was the ultimate admission of love on my part, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. After days of enduring ignorant doctors and heartless nurses, when I finally broke into tears and cussed at a nurse, for just a moment you were back, with a gentle touch and supportive tone. You wanted me to know everything would be all right. With so little energy you were unable to walk, you still put me first.

Over the course of those two weeks you worsened but recovered minimally. You eventually knew who I was. Even if you couldn't always produce my name, I felt your love in every touch, every pet name, every smile and funny face you made at me. Every time you called me a knothead for insisting you eat when you had no appetite. You weren't quite the Papaw I knew, but a piece of you was still there, deep inside. The last night we spoke, you were in such a happy mood. You were making us laugh, giving out hugs. It was truly a blessing our last few moments can be cherished.


When Tomás came to my office to give me the news of your death, I remember looking away at one of my friends and coworkers as if I didn't believe him. I met a heartbroken, knowing look on her face. She'd already been told, only seconds earlier, by someone on the phone.

So unfortunately now's my only chance to tell you how much I love you, and even though this was a private request, I want this entire chapel to know what you mean to me. The quality of my life would have absolutely suffered without you. At a tender age, I had the pleasure of learning how to use massive, deadly shop equipment, and even learned firsthand the dangers when you showed me your nearly amputated thumb. I really thought I could handle it, but if I recall correctly I instead went screaming down the hall. You gave me a small, red, ancient shop mathematics book, and at the age of 10 I began teaching myself trigonometry. I admired you so much. In my impressionable young eyes, you were a god, a breathtaking craftsman with unbelievably huge, strong hands (remember when I'd try to arm wrestle you?). I wanted to be strong, too. You would take me to the monkey bars at my elementary school on the weekends so I could practice. In between attempts we made trips to the edge of the property where large honeysuckle bushes bloomed, and you revealed to me their delicious nectar. Then back to the monkey bars. You only made me quit when I tried so relentlessly I developed blisters on my palms.

Remember stopping at the Circle K to get a Whatchamacallit and an Icee, then parking outside the airport to watch planes take off? You insisted we throw out the candy bar wrappers to "hide the evidence" from Nana. Your old two-tone Ford didn't have A/C, only a puny fan clipped to the dash. You always let me point the fan straight at me. You didn't mind a lick how hot you got.

Remember after my baths how funny I thought it was to come running into the living room to moon you? Or how confidently I modeled my new clothes on the hearth? I will always remember hearing you play hymnals on that old green piano, and knocking on our shared bedroom wall to the tune of "Shave and a Haircut" to tell me goodnight. Once when Nana and I brought you lunch at Allen Millwork, you were working on a spiral staircase. It left me speechless, in complete awe. But then I so often would get on your last nerve, and you'd tell me to go play in the street. Boy, I know I was a handful.


What's surprising to me is how few distinct memories I have of you, but I think the reason why is that all the good times have simply blurred together. I thought long and hard before writing this, and I can't unearth a single negative thought about you. I have always described you and Nana as the stereotypically perfect grandparents, and the more I reminisce the more I believe it.

Now that you're gone, I can't fathom it. I try to imagine what it will be like to never see you again, and I simply can't. Honestly I've been dreading this day for years. I won't ask why you left me because I know it wasn’t your decision. If it had been up to you, I know you would have stayed. You would have gone to Sarah's graduation next month, visited the home Tomás and I buy this fall, attended our wedding, and held your great-grandchildren in your arms. In a brief window of lucidity at the hospital, you talked at length about what a good man Tomás is and how you can't wait to go fishing with him. You were such a simple man who only lived for his family; I know you hate that you'll miss it. But I can guarantee that your old rods and reels will get good use, and Tomás will teach your great-grandchildren how to fish with them. Not one of them, Sarah's or mine, will grow up without seeing your handsome face in your smart Navy suits. Not one of them will grow up unaware of the most amazing man I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I can only hope I serve your memory justice, and that we can find a house with a good hallway so our own children can run for the money at bedtime.

I love you, Papaw, and though your body may not be with us any longer, you know you will always be in my heart. I will always love you. When Tomás and I exchange yours and Nana’s wedding rings, I hope it sparks another loving marriage of over 50 years. I hope I continue to make you proud.

Chelsea

prev - next