Goodbye Papaw

I’ve been writing this entry in my head since shortly after my grandfather passed away on January 7th. I just can’t seem to give him the justice he deserves in my mind, but I will try none the less.

As a child I was lucky to have not only all four grandparents still alive, but my mom’s grandmother as well. “Nana” as we called her, passed away first. I remember her as a small, lovely woman who we visited in her home and then in the nursing home where she ended up passing away. This was my first real brush with death and given I was a child it scared and intrigued me both, though I didn’t really understand the whole situation at that age. To this day I slightly panic in nursing homes because of this experience.

My next brush with death came when my grandfather, who we called “Dad”, passed away in 1987. He was my father’s father and I was in the 8th grade when he passed. This time I understood the implications of what had happened. Dad was one of my favorite people of all time. He was such a kindred spirit and this death hit me really hard. Now, even 24 years later, I still miss him in ways that are hard to describe.

My other three grandparents held on for 20 more years or so. Not many people in their mid thirties can say that they had three surviving grandparents. My Mamaw went 1st. I always liked her. She was eccentric and a little weird at times, but she definitely was her own person. She was funny and warm and I really enjoyed knowing her. Her death was sad, but a blessing in a way. She was in pain and she was ravaged by Alzheimer’s Disease. While Dad’s death in 1987 was a big surprise at least he never suffered. He didn’t get to the stage where he couldn’t fend for himself. He never had to be put into a nursing home or an assisted living facility. My other three grandparents were not that lucky.

The next to pass away was my father’s mother. She had to go into an assisted living facility when she started having problems with falling. Her mind also went and she traveled the path of dementia. In all honesty I had many problems with “Mother” as we called her. She was very harsh and very critical of me, and not in any means in a way that could be considered even slightly helpful. In short looking back she was verbally abusive and most of this abuse she saved to dole out to me and my Mom, who she never wanted to marry my father and she never let her forget that fact. I forgave her before she passed away, and while I was sad about her death in some ways, for the most part it was a relief as harsh as that may sound. No one deserves to suffer though and she most definitely suffered as well.

Papaw held on until just a few weeks ago. He would have been 94 on June the 7th of this year. I always seemed to be closer to my grandfathers than my grandmothers. Papaw to me was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. He always had a smile on his face and he would tell you how pretty you were and tease you about taking you home with him. Every time I saw him, save at Mamaw’s funeral where he was utterly devastated, I came away with a smile. He was the kind of person who just made you not only feel good, but to feel better about yourself too. He was very special.

Papaw worked for the Forest Service when I was a child and he would bring us things with Smokey the Bear and Woodsy Owl on them, like notebooks and pencils. He often wore his Forest Service uniform even after he retired and when we arrived at the funeral home seeing him in a Forest Service uniform to be buried was a blast from the past! It was such an appropriate tribute to who he was. He was an outdoor type of person through and through and loved nature in a way that many do not.

Alexis met Papaw twice. Alexis was not a traveling sort of kid as a young child. She never slept in the car. In fact she’s fallen asleep in a car exactly 6 times in her entire life and 3 of those times she was very ill at the time. When she was a baby we’d sometimes drive over to eat lunch with Jamison in the town where he worked. It was a 20-30 minute drive depending on traffic and she literally would scream the whole way. It was not fun. So needless to say traveling with her was out of the question until she got a little older and could be distracted with a portable DVD player.

The first time Alexis met Papaw was at Mamaw’s funeral. I call Alexis “My Little Empath” because she is one of the most empathetic people I have ever been around. If you’re sad, she’s going to be sad for/with you. If you’re crying she’s going to cry as long as you do. As I mentioned above Papaw was devastated when his wife of a little over 60 years passed away. Alexis sensed this sadness and was wary of getting too close to him because she thought he was in physical pain and she didn’t want to make it worse. So the first time she met him she didn’t have much interaction with him.

The second time Alexis met Papaw was this past spring and he was so sweet with her. He started having problems with memory and things by this point as well, but he was in awe of her, even though he didn’t know who she was the entire time. He floated between knowing who we were and not. He told her, and me, many times how sweet and pretty she was and he gave us both big hugs. It was heartwarming to see them together and for me to get to spend time with him. It was also a bit heartbreaking too when he would fade in and out, but I’m so glad that Alexis got to spend that time with him and now has a fond memory of him, along with pictures of the two of them together.

I have so many happy memories of Papaw. One that always sticks out in my mind is his spring water. He would go up to the mountains where my mom grew up, near the old “homestead” and fill a container with spring water. He carried this container of spring water around with him in a cooler and it was always ice cold. We thought it was such a treat to get to drink his water. Funnily enough the source of his water is now bottled and sold after the bottled water trend took off. Papaw was before his time, and environmentally conscious by using his own container to boot!

Papaw was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in the past few years and it slowly took its toll on him. He had many bouts of pneumonia as fluid settled in his lungs and as I mentioned his memory faded in and out as dementia began to wreak havoc on his mind. At the end he was miserable, and he told my mom as much several times. He was ready to go. That doesn’t make it any less sad that he’s gone, but I can appreciate that he is no longer in pain and that puts my mind more at ease.

I’ll miss Papaw. I missed not seeing him as much after we moved to Maryland. I hope now he’s at peace and he’s back with Mamaw who he missed so much. I will always remember him and his fabulous smile!

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