Thursday, November 14, 2013

My Papa's Legacy

Everyone has a hero. In my young life, my Papa held that honor. Today is his birthday. I would love to say I am celebrating it with him, but sadly, he died in 2005 after losing a battle to cancer. It just ate him up. The anguish of watching my hero succumb to such a terrible disease still lives with me to this day. But I'm not writing this post to be sad. I am writing it to remember the best things about my Papa.

During elementary school, my family and I lived in Borger, Texas, a small town north of Lubbock. My Mimi and Papa lived in Borger too, which was wonderful because I saw them almost every day. My Papa worked for years and years as the manager for the United Supermarkets in Borger. I remember visiting him and getting a cookie out of the bakery. When my elementary class toured the grocery store, all the employees knew me because I was "Dru's granddaughter". I felt like a celebrity because of my Papa. He had the gift of making people feel special.

The best part about my Papa was how he quietly loved everyone around him. After his death, so many of his former employees sent us notes telling stories about how Papa inspired greatness in them, extended them grace and taught them to be better people. After he retired, my Papa worked at a homeless ministry in Borger called Living Water. I remember sorting donations with him in the back room of Living Water. He told me I was a hard worker, and I still remember those words to this day. They still push me to do better.

My Papa and I also shared an absurd love for apple pie. Nothing on it, just pure and simple apple pie. My mom would make it for him whenever he came to visit.. Now that he is gone, my Mimi and Mom always make it when they want to honor or remember him.

Some of the most bittersweet memories I have of my Papa are when he was near death. For some reason in 2005, my family decided to hold an early Thanksgiving celebration. I almost didn't get to go because I was fighting a cold and Papa couldn't be around illness in his condition, but I thankfully got well enough to go. I am so glad I did. The last words my Papa ever spoke to me were at that celebration. He said, "feel better, Megan Gayle". I hugged him so tight, because somehow I knew it would be the last time. He was so frail.

Sure enough, not long after, my senior theatre group and I went on a trip to New York City. After seeing Wicked on Broadway, my theatre teacher pulled me aside with urgency in her eyes. I knew immediately what happened, and I burst into tears. My teacher put me on the phone with my mom, who said Papa was in the hospital. He had fallen and hit his head, which provoked a stroke. In his weakened state, his body just couldn't cope. He was quickly shutting down, and I needed to go home. My teacher got me on a flight to Houston, where my dad picked me up and drove me and my siblings to Amarillo, where my Papa was in the hospital.

We met the rest of my family there. The doctors assessed Papa and determined he would not get better. He needed to be sent to hospice so he could be comfortable in his last moments. I got the immense blessing of riding with my Papa in the ambulance to the hospice. He was incoherent, but I like to think he listened as I told him about my trip. It was special time we got to spend together.

Later that night, I begged my mom and Mimi to let me stay in the hospice with them. I am so grateful they did. When everyone was asleep, Papa passed away. It was just like him, to make sure we were all safe and then quietly walk to Jesus.

In a way, I am celebrating my Papa's birthday today. I am celebrating his legacy in my life. I have worked hard to make him proud, and I hope he is looking down, eating his piece of birthday apple pie and smiling at his family.