Crying for Real

November 10, 2010
My parents always complained that I didn’t show any emotions. They said I didn’t care about anything but myself, and I didn’t care about the family and what was going on in our lives. But I did and they just didn’t know it, because I am a sensitive girl. I just don’t show my emotions as much as they would like, I usually keep to myself.
It was late June of 2010, and my mother, father, and I were relaxing and enjoying the summer at our beach house before I went away to camp. My parents thought I didn’t have a care in the world, other than my cell phone bill and how I was missing summer at home with friends, but many other things were on my mind at the time. We were hoping to spend the 4th of July there. Unfortunately, it all went wrong.
Mom got the usual call from her parents- my Granny and Papa- to update her on how my Papa was doing, but today it wasn’t good at all. My grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer many years ago, but we didn’t know until these last few years that it had gotten worse and spread to his bones. At that time, he was home with Hospice, but I didn’t really know what that meant. I certainly didn’t know that when Hospice was involved, death was creeping closer and closer.
I still remember the day, several years ago, when my mom told me in the kitchen. “Papa has severe cancer. It’s gotten really bad, and we don’t know how much time is left.” She said. I didn’t know he had cancer! I didn’t know he was sick!
I don’t usually cry much in front of people, or pretty much in general. Every now and then I will shed a few tears at the end of a sad book or movie, but I would always be alone locked in my room, because I don’t like people seeing my weaknesses. But here, I couldn’t help it. My tears came, slowly at first, but as my mom broke down, so did I. I cried for everything: fear, anger, sadness, and tradition. I sobbed, hugging my mother tightly and gasping for air. “I just can’t imagine Christmas… without him!” If only I had known what was ahead.
Papa loved Christmas, family, and tradition, just like me. He loved the Yankees, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, collecting baseball cards and coins, watching NASCAR races on TV, and he had a big black Chevy truck that always smelled of “cherries and cigars” as my mother said. He had also been going to the same Baptist church his whole life, and had read the whole Bible over multiple times. Papa was smart and musical (also like me), and I honestly do not know of anyone on this earth or in heaven, who did not like my grandfather.

So we came home from the beach early to be there with him, stopping at my grandparents’ small house in rural North Carolina. I walked in, hearing the squeak of the storm door that had been there for as long as I can remember, and the quiet slam as it closed. I stopped and chatted with Granny for a few minutes, and went to go see my Papa in the back bedroom where he lay in the bed, occasionally coughing.
“Hey Doodlebug!” he struggled with the words but he tried to sound as cheerful as possible, greeting me with the nickname I’d been given as a baby.
“Hey Papa!” I replied, holding his hand for a few minutes before sitting down on the recliner next to his bed. It was one of those hospital beds with the remote to adjust the position, and he had a loud oxygen machine and a tray table along with the recliner crammed into the tiny room. Although it was part of the small comforting house I always loved visiting, it still reminded me of a cramped hospital room that smelled of slightly of different body odors, sanitizer, and the other just clean-hospital-smell. I couldn’t help associating this room, along with the many different hospital rooms in the Intensive Care Unit or the rooms of the nursing home he had also stayed in, with death and disease.
I watched as my parents, Granny, and Hospice nurses came in and adjusted equipment, made quick conversation, and awkwardly argued in small whispers so my grandfather wouldn’t hear. The only thing I got out of observing everything going on, was that my Papa wasn’t doing well. I paced from the kitchen and back to his bedroom to listen to more conversations about Papa’s complicated and busy medicine schedule. Finally, my dad’s stepmother arrived to take me to her house for the rest of the weekend so my parents could spend late nights with Papa. My dad told me to say goodbye.
“Is this it? Like, for real?” I asked, secret tears forming. I wondered if this was the last time I would see my Papa alive.
“We don’t know,” my dad replied, shaking his head, “it could be, but only God knows.”
I slowly walked into my grandfather’s bedroom and went to his side. That entire day he hadn’t been talking and interacting much, and Papa was mostly sleeping as he would be pretty much the entire following weekend. I was barely expecting him to look at me and even grunt a goodbye. I held his hand again, and said in a shaky voice, trying to talk past the lump in my throat and loud enough so he could hear, “Goodbye, Papa, I’m going to leave now.” I stepped away so he wouldn’t see the tears collecting.
“Wait, Doodlebug,” he said, reaching out for my hand again, “I love you. Be smart now.” I stood there for a second, still stunned by the thought this could be the last time I’d ever see him, but I was trying to push away the thought and hold back my tears.
“I love you too, Papa,” my voice sounded even more croaky than before. I squeezed his large, scarred hand. I could feel my mom standing behind me, wiping away her tears. I hugged her and said goodbye to my grandmother, and left to go get in the car. I was still moved by the experience I had just had with my Papa, because my mom said he got a burst of energy just enough to say goodbye to me. I couldn’t help but wonder, while watching the people passing and moving on around me without any knowledge of my world falling apart, if he knew it might be the last time he saw me, too.

I spent Independence Day weekend at my dad’s parents’ house. I had a fun time, my Granny Sue helped me with sewing, my Poppy cooked big and fancy dinners, and the night of the 4th we ran out barefoot to the church yard across the street to watch the fireworks over downtown Charlotte. Things are great right now, I thought to myself while lying back in the grass listening to the slightly delayed BOOM! BOOM! as the fireworks exploded in the distance. But I didn’t know that the big event that would change my life forever had happened earlier that afternoon.
My dad came to get me early the next morning of July 5th to take me home. When I asked why he came so early, he replied, “We just missed you so much and wanted to see you again!” But I knew that was only partially true. Something else was up.
As I returned home and I unpacked my overnight bag, my mom called me downstairs. “Kate, we need to talk.” After the good weekend I had had and the cheerful mood I was in, I didn’t expect what was coming. She gently took my arm and sat me down on the family room couch, a place where we rarely sit together. “Papa died yesterday.” She always had a way of being very direct and to-the-point.
My heart skipped a beat and so many thoughts raced through my mind. Mom wrapped her arms around me and held me close, and we burst into tears. My dad sat to the side, quietly patting our backs. I felt so overwhelmed, why didn’t they tell me sooner? I felt so empty thinking about how he wouldn’t be there when we visit my Granny’s house, and how he would never call me his Doodlebug again. If only I could rub his swollen feet again and hear him say, “Kate, you just don’t know how good that feels,” like he used to.
“The visitation is Tuesday and the funeral is Wednesday,” my mom added, but I was so confused and even more hurt at the thought of this. I just lost my grandfather, my mom lost her dad, and we’re already thinking about a funeral and moving on? How could we just go on with arrangements, when the wind was just knocked out of me, and I couldn’t even fully digest what had happened yet? This was my first experience with death with someone close to me, I was lost and I didn’t understand. This all reminded me of the day I was also sitting on the couch, and my mom informed me of the death of my piano teacher, and how we had already missed the funeral. How does life move on? Isn’t time supposed to stop and let us catch our breath?
But later that day, as time did continue, I began to fully accept what had happened, and I started to move on. I also realized that over the past few months especially, I had shown strong emotion in front of people and cried for real. I had proved to my parents that I cared for the family, and that I had cared about what was going on. I felt like I had also proved this to myself. Maybe life was just passing so quickly I felt that I didn’t have time to slow down and not only feel and experience the emotions that come with life, but show them, share them, and take comfort in other people. That could be what my parents meant by saying I didn’t show my inner feelings.
I am thankful to know my Papa was freed of cancer, on his own Independence Day. Knowing he is in a better place and knowing I will see him again gives me comfort when I need it the most. He has taught me a life lesson you can’t learn in school, and I am grateful for every minute I shared with him. Although we will miss him, I feel that he will always be with us.

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