My grandpa posing for a photo on the porch next to an American Flag, which he always displayed proudly in front of their home. R.I.P. Papaw.
Six years ago, almost to the day, my papaw went to a Heavenly home.
After a battle with Parkinson’s Disease, (likely stemming from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam), heart surgery and other health problems, my grandfather was laid to rest in the small town he was born in, having spent months in-and-out of several nursing homes and care facilities. My grandmother had taken care of him to the point where it was affecting her own health, forcing her to make the difficult decision.
Interestingly, his final day came around the same time we honor our Veterans, and my grandfather was a Chaplain in the Army, making the holiday that much more memorable for his family.
When my grandfather, (or papaw as my cousins and I called him), first entered a nursing home for care, I seemed to be at a pivotal point in my own life.
My mother was re-marrying and moving to my new step dad’s home town, leaving me with the dramatic task of switching schools for my senior year of high school.
Instead of making me endure what I thought of as ‘social suicide’ by switching to a rival school district, my mother saw an opportunity for me to stay enrolled in my school, and also be of company to my grandmother who was now having to get used to living on her own.
So, I moved in with her about a year before my grandfather passed away. Over the course of the year, my grandmother drove to visit him every day, sometimes taking me along for support when I wasn’t working or in school.
At the time, I felt saddened visiting my papaw in the nursing home. Parkinson’s Disease seemed to literally be sucking the life out of my once lively and humorous grandpa. He enjoyed being a grandfather so much...my mother told me he even quit smoking the moment he found out his first grandchild was on the way.
I remember sometimes going along with my grandmother a little grudgingly, but still thinking about how one day, such as today, I would look back at the stressful daily trips my grandmother took with fondness.
She did everything she could to make him feel at home. A bird lover, my grandma even bought a bird feeder and stand to place outside his window at the home he was staying in, just to brighten up his surroundings and remind him of home.
I choose to remember my papaw as he was before Parkinson’s Disease took him, perhaps it makes it easier--perhaps I simply didn’t want any good memories of him soured with the reality of war and disease.
A man of God, a servant to his community and country--nearly everyone in my town knew of my grandfather. I remember beaming with pride when my grandmother and I would frequent the local Cracker Barrel on Sundays, and someone would stop at our table just to tell my grandma what a wonderful man her husband was.
I ended up living with my grandmother for nearly three years, leaving only when I went off to college in Bloomington.
The time I spent with her, despite us both going through such traumatic life-changes and growing in very different stages of our lives--is something I will cherish forever.
Even though she may not realize what an impact she had on me, I feel our lives came together at exactly the right time, at a time when we both needed someone to simply be there.
My papaw’s body now lies in a quaint cemetery among rolling country hills, complete with a blank spot waiting for my grandmother to join him one day.
Visiting his grave, I know one day I will be visiting both my grandparents there, and although it is a day I dread--I know the day my grandma meets him in Heaven will be joyous for her.
My grandmother is the strongest, kindest and most independent woman I have had the luck of having in my life. So, here is to another Veteran’s Day, another Thanksgiving, and another day I thank God for my grandparents.
Kelly is a Staff Writer for the Greene County Daily World. She can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487, or she can also be reached via email at kslavenGCDW@outlook.com.