Many tears were shed for this memoir. But, since writing it, I feel I finally have some closure on my grandfather’s passing. I’m not a very spiritual person, but I sense that somehow, somewhere Papa is able to read this. I hope it helps him understand just how important he was and still is to me.
Happy Birthday Papa!
I wanted to be his girl forever. My grandfather, Papa, meant everything to me. In my mind, he was the funniest man alive. When other neighborhood kids laughed at the jokes he made, I felt proud that that he was my grandfather. From stories I heard from my Nana, his nickname was Kid Nee and he sang at talent shows. As a child, I thought if someone had a stage name and could entertain crowds of people with his voice, he must be a superstar.
I spent every weekend at my grandparents’ house. The excitement of spending the entire weekend with my grandparents surged through me every Friday during school. No troubles that I had during the day could wipe the smile off my face, because I knew it was only hours until I got to spend two whole days with Nana and Papa. (Eventually, my visitation hours were reduced by my parents to just one weekend night, but I still soaked up every minute with my grandparents that I was allowed.)
As part of the weekend ritual, I went to church with my grandparents every Sunday. I remember sitting in church next to my grandfather and him complaining about all the singing. When the energetic choir leader stepped up to the podium yet again, after what seemed like dozens of hymns, he would whisper to me that he couldn’t believe we had to sing again. Then, imitating those around us who were genuinely moved by the spiritual hymns, he put his glasses on and sang animatedly, following along in the hymn book with a look of deep understanding, but I knew it was all a show to amuse me; and it worked.
Then something happened; Papa’s brain wasn’t working right. He started having seizures and could not get the right words to come out of his mouth even though he knew what he wanted to say in his mind. As a 10 year old at the time, I did not understand the severity of his illness; I just knew he was extremely frustrated that he couldn’t be himself.
I remember visiting him at the hospital and bringing him a letter I wrote for him asking when he was coming home and that I wanted to spend Thanksgiving with him. All I wanted to know was when things would go back to normal and we would have our special weekend time together again. He read the letter and cried. I was confused; I didn’t think it was possible for someone like him, who always found a way to lift my spirits, to be unhappy, let alone cry. When I look back now, I know he was crying because he realized he would never be coming home and he would never be spending another holiday with his family.
Papa’s passing was revealed to me by my parents. I had heard them whispering the night before. As quietly as I could, I tiptoed near their bedroom door to furtively eavesdrop on their conversation, but they were too good. I couldn’t catch enough words to even grasp the subject they were discussing.
The next day, they broke the news: Papa was no longer with us. I ran to my mother’s arms and hugged her until I could breathe again. I never imagined that Papa would go away. I thought of him as a superhero. He was over 60 years old and every hair on his body was still black as onyx. I thought for sure he must have some special powers to overcome whatever was broken in his brain, he just needed time.
Then came the funeral. I asked my parents if I could sit with my Nana. I knew Nana was in as much pain as I was and probably more and wanted to be by her side. I remember my cousin doing a reading about Papa. I remember she was crying, but nothing more. When the funeral ended and it was time to walk back up the aisle, it hit me that this was the true end. He was really gone and I would never see his mischievous smile again, never hear him say, “pull my finger” again, never snuggle beside him in his infamous blue reclining chair again.
I do not remember my legs moving. It was like a conveyer belt was carrying me along. I clung to my Nana and just stared at all the faces looking at me as I was violently crying in pain. I didn’t want this ceremony to end; I didn’t want to go back to reality. I wanted to stay in this fog forever.
Somehow we arrived at the graveyard. The priest was making a speech and my Nana was standing beside him, crying. She wept to the priest, “He was my husband.” I was not crying anymore, I don’t think I had any more energy for tears, so I saw and heard that moment vividly and will never forget it. This was the first time I had seen my Nana cry. I wanted to console her, but I was still so sad myself, I did not know how.
Every year, my Nana coordinates a mass for my grandfather around the anniversary of his death. I used to dread these masses because many of my memories with Papa revolved around church. During the masses, I forced myself not to cry, causing my throat to feel as though I was swallowing cement. I did not see my Nana crying, and if the person who was in the most pain over Papa’s death was not crying, than I shouldn’t be either.
This past year at the mass was different; somehow I managed to control my emotions. When the choir leader came to the podium to announce yet another song, I laughed to myself and imagined what he would have whispered to me. After seventeen years, I realized that I never stopped being his girl.