You wouldn’t believe how much time I’ve spent in the last four years lamenting my Papaw’s death. I was so covered up by the hurt, by trying to deal with such loss, when my biggest problem was the fact that I was looking at it as a loss.
Instead of being sad, I have decided to celebrate my Papaw and our relationship (really, it was just me, googly-eyed, following him everywhere I could for 25-ish years). He is worth celebrating, to me, because of the kindness and love he showed through his actions. He was the epitome of easygoing, and had mastered the art of hanging out before hanging out was even a thing.
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change…
At Papaw’s funeral, I delivered a small speech. I’m athletic, but never knew I had that much strength! Boom. Right there, I should have known there was something good hidden in the situation.
In the speech, I told a few stories about Papaw’s kindness and patience and fun-loving side, and ended with the point: “He was just a good friend.” And no other sentence could be more true. I remember dancing around the front seat of his blue Chevy in the days before seat belt laws and asking him, even though we’re family, if we could still be friends. To this day, I still feel the delight of when he replied in the affirmative.
Papaw was a friend, and a darn good one. He actively called me to pursue the bigger ideals, like truth and integrity, and had candid talks with me about those things. That may have been Papaw’s greatest gift: He could speak truth in a kind way (no easy task). And, because he was just being himself, Papaw was really nice to be around.
Throwing the ball around, riding in the truck, hanging out in the living room – the most simple times are still some of my favorites. Holiday weekends during law school, the first thing I’d want to do after getting home was decide what time we’d go to the driving range or, when he couldn’t do that any longer, what time I’d be coming over. Even when he was in the hospital, we got a good laugh out of my completely unsmooth [non-alcoholic] egg nog smuggling skills. It didn’t matter what we did, it would be good because we were doing it together.
We could just… be. The Beatles might smirk, but that’s the truth of the matter – being around Papaw was like shaking off all the expectations and nonsense that the world heaps on & just existing. I could be curious or mad or funny or… whatever I was. And he was there with an ear, an opinion, or… whatever he could be.
One evening before my select softball team’s practice, I mentioned to Papaw that he didn’t have to stay at the fields after dropping me off. It was May. It was hot. It was only practice. He said not to worry; Mimi had put a thermos in the freezer earlier that day, he liked being at the ball fields, and he wanted to watch my swing because I had asked what he thought I could do to make more contact. Those little things made an impact on me, mainly because they showed he cared.
A week before he died, Papaw gave me a unique gift: one final talk. He gave me tidbits of advice, professed his beliefs, and even expressed his disappointment at knowing he wouldn’t be alive for much longer. This realization struck us both silent, and I’ve only recently thought of those few seconds in great detail – what a profound moment, to fully realize that life is finite. We had no words for awhile after that; none seemed good enough. I finally said, “I’m gonna miss hanging out with you,” to which he replied, “I’m gonna miss hanging out with you, too.”