For the last several years, between my husband and myself, we’ve lost many family members. First, his beloved Papaw, then his uncle, my sweet, precious cousin, then my Pawpaw, Shey’s last living grandparent – his Mamaw Doris. Then my mom’s only brother. And now, my other grandfather – “BigDaddy” as he was affectionately known.
These last 4 deaths have come over a period of 17 months and it seems we barely have time to wipe our last tear before we’re shedding them again, for someone else who’s made their final journey home.
Some of these deaths have shaken us – for different reasons. For some, the loss was so unexpected and sudden, it seemed as though we were in a bad dream. Others – well, it was losing a pillar of sorts for our families. Grief comes in many different forms, depending on the person who has died and our relationship to them.
But they are all the same in this respect: our world is different without them in it.
I will be honest, because I don’t believe in living behind a mask, BigDaddy and I had not been close in many, many years. For one thing, I spent much of my early formative years 800+ miles away from all of my extended family. There were visits and vacations together, there were holidays, and I remember when Dad told me we were moving back to Mississippi – man, I was excited! Mississippi was home in a lot of ways to me because it meant family, cousins – I would be able to walk the 10th of a mile up to BigMama’s and BigDaddy’s whenever I wanted! And I did. And there were good times. And I’m more thankful for those good times than I can even express right now because…..well….because they didn’t last.
It would take a novella to explain the circumstances and people that caused so many relationships to change, or even discontinue, but some things happened. Things beyond my control as a child and beyond most people’s control as adults. And the effects were long-lasting. To the point that many relationships never healed.
From where I sit this morning, reflecting on my relationship with BigDaddy, I couldn’t tell you exactly where we stood when he had his last coherent thought about me. He had been sick for so long and his mind had been so damaged by mini-strokes, I honestly can’t remember the last “normal” conversation we had. There are a lot of things I can’t tell you about the man, because I wasn’t given the opportunity to know him like I really wanted to know him.
But I can tell you many, many things for certain about this man that we call BigDaddy.
I can tell you that he raised a son in my dad that most men can only hope for. The legacy of love he left me through my own father is one that I’ll forever be grateful for.
I can tell you he was one of the first men besides my Daddy that told me I was pretty. And he told me every. time. I saw him when I was growing up. When you’re a lanky, uncertain, always-comparing-yourself-to-your-beautiful-sister little girl, having a man affirm your beauty is important to a female. The last time I took Reagan to see him, his speech was getting harder and harder to understand, but he said “purty girls”. Made me smile like a geeky 7 year old all over again.
I can tell you that the man loved his garden and because of that and the way he taught my Daddy, I love to have one myself. And I rarely cut into an ice cold watermelon that I don’t think of sitting in the back of a red pickup truck, watching him carve one up for his sweaty, ravenous grandkids.
I remember very clearly sitting on his lap as a little girl as he told me the story of the 3 Little Pigs. He would intentionally tell it wrong, just so I would interrupt and say, “NO BigDaddy! That’s not what happened.” and proceed to correct his version.
Many years later, I remember a time, the one time, I had to stand up to him over something that I knew he was just flat out wrong about. I won’t get into specifics, but I walked out of that house unsure of what would happen. But I’ll forever believe that, though we still may not have been in agreement on this particular issue, he didn’t let it stop him from showing up where he was needed. And I think, in that moment, I earned his respect: something that I know wasn’t freely given.
But mostly, I can tell you that BigDaddy loved me. And I loved him. The dynamics of some relationships are complicated. He had 20 grandchildren altogether. Some were closer to him than others. But we all loved him. All of us. Because all of us can tell you some kind of memory like the ones I’ve shared here.
BigDaddy gave me a lot. He gave me a Daddy that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. He gave me love and affirmation. He passed down a strong work ethic, a love of the land, and an affinity for watermelon. And I know that today, today he’s in the arms of Jesus, knowing as he is fully known, healed of all his hurts, and at peace.
I am at peace, too.