Sunday, May 15, 2011

Papa's Hug

Whenever we saw one another his first impulse was to tease. But barely a minute would pass before he'd say something complimentary. And then he'd ask me about my "folks". I remember a few people telling me he wasn't "a hugger", but following my husband's lead, I never failed to give him one. And I suspect he enjoyed them very much.

When we were expecting our third child, my husband and I discussed baby names. I thought for sure that we'd settle in on "Seth" if it was boy, as that would have been Sydney or Emma's name had they not been born girls. But we began exploring other names and the one name we both had an attachment to was "Paul". I'd had a few special "Paul's" in my life--a best friend and a childhood parish priest who had taken time out of his very busy schedule later on to meet and talk with Eric and I when we became engaged. But it was obvious that Eric's "Papa" was the Paul our son would be named after. Papa Paul and his wife, Eric's "Mana" were incredibly proud when our son Paul was born and named.

What I most loved about Papa was the twinkling in his eye when we'd gang up together and tease his son, my father-in-law. It was fun to have a partner-in-crime like him, someone who was quick to dig out past memories to use against the one who was often, albeit teasingly, giving me and my husband a hard time. But I also adored his devotion to his wife and to his family and I also greatly respected the hard working individual he'd always been. It reminded me of my own Dad, whose name joined Paul's when my son was born. I cannot think of a stronger legacy to have given my son than to be named for his great-grandfather and his grandfather. Many a holiday we would entertain my parents and Eric's, and invite Eric's grandparents over too. Paul and my Dad would sit and reminisce about the past for hours. I loved listening to them talking.

It was a little less than one year ago when we were told Papa's life was nearing its end. My husband and I struggled, wondering what was best to do. Should we remember him the way he'd always been--strong and full of life--or should we go to him to say our goodbyes? Should we take our three children with us? I agonized over the decision. But in the end, I decided we would go. It was the right decision.

Saying goodbye to Papa that day was very moving. My time with Papa allowed me a chance to tell him I loved him very much and I thanked him for being a wonderful great-grandfather to my three children. I also thanked him for being the grandfather that I myself had never had in my own family as my parents' fathers had both passed away before I'd grown out of infancy. When Papa died a few days later I was in the middle of final presentations with my teenage students. My family went to the funeral without me and I felt great sadness that I could not be there. But I knew he'd have understood. He would have been proud of me working hard to finish finals with my students.

In the year since his death we've gone by his home a few times on our way through the area. Each time we do we say hi to him. I pass by the cemetery where he was laid to rest too and I blow him a kiss.

But then last night I had a dream. In my dream I walked into a building and spotted a line of people. As I went to stand in line, I spotted a tall elderly man that I knew. It was Papa. He turned and smiled at me, with that same twinkle in his eye, and he opened up his arms to me and enveloped me in a big warm hug. It lasted long enough for me to take in the strength of his arms and the happiness of the moment. I began to laugh and heard him chuckling too. It was beautiful, truly beautiful. What a gift.

I miss you Papa. Thanks for all the hugs, especially the one last night. I needed that.

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