October 15, 2008
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When I was in 6th grade, this airy March day started out like any other. I went to school and came home, and the rest of the evening went as smoothly as any other. Until the phone rang, breaking the peaceful silence of that night. Not finding anything abnormal, my mother picked up and began to speak to whoever was on the other end. Upon questioning of who was calling at this hour, my mom was simply silent and waved her hand in my general direction to get me to stop talking. A look of great concern dawned on her face, and then quickly broke into sadness. At this point, my father was trying to interrupt her, doing anything to coax her into telling us what was going on. She remained attentively glued to the voice on the other line, her fingers seemingly grasping the phone tighter than before. My brother and I were getting restless, and at long last, my mom looked at all three of us with watery eyes and uttered one single word, “Papa.”

Papa. Amongst the silence it just hung in the air like a spider on a silken thread. The glow of the television in the background reflected off of the glass coffee table, its words just creating static in this silent scene. My mom hung up in a hurry, and scuttled off to the bathroom to grab a tissue. By the time she got back, my family was filled with questions, the most important being “What happened?” Details spared for a while, she managed to croak out “Papa has had a stroke. It took a little longer than expected to get his heart started again…. We don’t know if he’ll be coming back.” Just a small clip of information was all that I needed. I felt my eyes begin to sting and I squeezed them shut. Maybe, just maybe if I clenched them hard enough all of this would stop and all of this sudden, unexpected pain would go away. He was just fine a week ago; he called me on my birthday. This couldn’t be happening; I didn’t want this to be happening. This wasn’t fair. For a man as active as he was at his age, this was unreal and completely unexpected. All of it was just hitting me so hard and I just didn’t know what to do. At a loss for words, I simply leaned over and hugged my mom. I don’t know who needed it more just then.

Thinking back to that previous summer, my Nana and my Papa came up from Florida for their yearly visit. They would stay at our house for about two and a half weeks, and during that time, a lot of my time would be spent with both of them. Papa would go on his early morning walks before I got up, and whenever I would get up, he would always have a fresh loaf of French bread waiting for breakfast. We would sit at the table together and have bread and jam (or sometimes orange marmalade, his favorite). He would have his bread with coffee, and mine with my first sips of tea, in typical Irish fashion. During the later portion of the day, when it was cooler outside, we would go on bike rides together. Active and happy, we rode down the quiet bike trail that wasn’t too far from my house. We watched the miles fly by, and we were soon nearing five miles when we turned around to go home. Papa was impressed with my endurance. Little did he know I was thinking the same thing about him.

When I was smaller, he used to sit with me on our hot, blacktop driveway and draw pictures with me with my sidewalk chalk. We made a zoo of animals, and traced our bodies into the scene. One time we drew a circus and made my whole family into clowns. Doing things like this would go on all day long, the garden hose in the front yard serving as our eraser. The wet driveway dried quickly in the bright summer sun. I miss this…

Three days after the phone call, my grandfather had passed away in the hospital. Being surrounded by beeping machines was not exactly what he had in mind for his final goodbye. We ordered a do not resuscitate order, and later that day we switched off the machines. It’s so hard to watch someone you have always known and loved just slip away right in front of you. The beep on the heart rate monitor just getting slower, slower, slowing down. It was almost cruel to watch the time go by, with the beeps getting farther and farther apart. Time stood still. I held my mother’s hand. I didn’t know what else to do. Everything got easier to deal with as the week went on. I had new things, new cousins I had never met, loads of new people to give hugs to. That all changed the day of the wake. Having to face all of my relatives, all of their friends, but what was worse was the open casket with the body of my grandfather inside. Dressed in a blue polo, he looked the same as the last time I had seen him, barely alive. I felt my throat tighten knowing that there was no longer blood coursing through his veins, but chemicals sitting stagnantly. The man I used to go on bike rides with was no more. That same one word just seemed to cling to me. Papa, Papa, Papa. I felt my eyes burn as hot tears started to flow like rivers down my cheeks. My mom held my hand. Neither of us knew what to do.

Everything has gotten easier since that day. Telling this story always affects me the same way, in that way, nothing has changed. I miss talking to Papa on the phone, and getting calls on my birthday. I miss summer bike rides together and his walks in the early mornings. I miss his smile the most. Although I can never get him back, I can still hold on to the things I hold dear. This time around however, I make sure I hug people when I greet them, or say ‘I love you’ when I hang up the phone. It’s the little things like that that make such a difference in everyday life that you don’t notice that they’re there until they’re gone. Just like the people that we meet, we all come and go. Some leave just a thumb-print; others take your whole heart away. Helping someone realize their full potential, that is something that lasts a lifetime. A person doesn’t have to be around to make a difference in another’s life; all they need is the memory that was left behind. Sometimes it just takes an experience of losing one to make you really appreciate what you still have, and for that I am thankful. So thank you Papa, it really means so much to me. I miss you and wish you were still here with us today. I hope that I’m making you proud.

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