Goodbye, Papa

At 4AM the morning of Saturday, May 7th, my beloved grandpa passed away. As luck would have it, I woke up at 5:30 that morning thinking I had to go to work and the resulting confusion woke me up enough that I decided to go to the bathroom before trying to go back to sleep. It was no surprise to find my dad awake in the living room as I passed through. It was on my way back that he told me the news and I realized that my roommate Carrie was in the living room, too.

The first word out of my mouth was “Really?”

It wasn’t that this was completely unexpected. Papa had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure years before and had a pacemaker/defibrillator. He had a slow progressing form of leukemia that he chose not to treat. He was on oxygen. He needed a scooter/wheelchair to get around. His health had been slowly declining since my grandmother died, partly because he wasn’t taking as good of care of himself as he used to.

He’d also been in the hospital for the past few weeks. Once the current trouble with his heart was straightened out, they realized his kidneys were shutting down. There was nothing they could really do for him. The goal was to get him strong enough to go home with my great-aunt so she could take care of him the rest of the way.

Papa never made it out of the hospital.

Part of that was because Papa didn’t want to do the therapies they were asking him to do. And he was being downright hateful about it. He was being nasty to everyone and wasn’t cooperating and they finally decided to move him off of the therapy floor and onto the fourth floor before moving him to hospice care. Without doing the therapy, there was no way my aunt could take him home to take care of him.

They moved him to the fourth floor on Friday night. He was dead Saturday morning.

I didn’t go see him in the hospital. I don’t regret that. The last visit I had with Papa was a pleasant one. He was in a good mood, feeling pretty good that day. We enjoyed a nice day of family and laughter and conversation and food. The last time I saw my papa was definitely a high note.

I never wanted to see him in the hospital. It had been hard enough watching the active, jovial, fun person I’d grown up with fade into the unkempt shadow of his former self. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true. A lot of the life went out of him when Grandma passed away.

And judging by the stories Dad brought home about Papa’s behavior, I definitely didn’t want that to be my last memory of him. He was acting like an ass and my papa was never an ogre in my life. He read me and my sister stories, played with us, took us to the fair. He wasn’t this hateful, nasty person he’d become in the hospital, barking orders at people, bitching and complaining about everything, ignoring family because he was mad. I’m glad I never saw that. That tyrant wasn’t my papa.

Papa was a sweet, kind man who would go out of his way to help a person. If he liked you, you were family. It was just like that. Even though he was the youngest of ten kids, he was head of our large clan. Everyone looked to Uncle Jimmie for guidance. He kept the family in touch with each other, first with a family newsletter and then with a website.

Papa was a smart man. He never graduated high school and got his GED later in life, but he loved to learn. He loved to read. He loved technology. While most grandpas shunned the idea of computers, my grandpa dove right in. He was president of the Decatur Computer Club and is responsible for teaching me and my sister how to use them. I was one of the first kids in my school on the Internet, thanks to him.

Papa was a great cook. He used to have a New Year’s Day celebration at his house. He’d cram a hundred people in that tiny place to serve biscuits and gravy, ham and beans, and all kinds of pie. He’d spend days cooking to get ready for it and then spend all day in the kitchen while other family members took turns doing the dishes. He liked doing it and he just had a knack for it. He had scores of recipe books and there wasn’t a meal he wouldn’t try if it appealed to him.

Papa was my biggest fan. He was my sister’s biggest fan, too. You couldn’t ask for a more supportive, involved grandpa. I think that’s what I’m going to miss most of all. He never seemed to have trouble saying that he was proud of us.

It’s a comfort to know that Papa is back where he wanted to be: with Grandma.

Well, it’s a comfort to me. It’s probably not a comfort to him right now. There’s no way she’s going to let that last bout of hatefulness slide. I’m sure she was waiting for him with flyswat in hand to give him what for.

But once she’s done scolding him, I know it’ll be happily ever after.

Rest in peace, Papa (as soon as Grandma let’s you).

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