There is a hollowness inside my chest that aches. I know heartache isn't actually in the heart, but it sure feels that way. A few days ago, I read an article that said "Grief isn't linear." And that's true. Sometimes I can muster a smile, but other times, I can't hold back my tears. Grief is like this terrible up and down rollercoaster that you can't get off of.
People keep asking me if I need anything. Yeah, I do. I need to have my PaPa back.
I've always felt lucky to be part of my family, but I don't think I realized *just* how lucky I was (and how unique my family is) until I grew up. Not everyone gets together with their entire family--and by that, I mean well over a hundred people--several times a year. Not everyone knows the name and life story of their fifth cousin twice removed. Not everyone has a big group of people who cheer you on in the good times and cry with you in the bad times. Not everyone was taught the value of family and shown unconditional love.
But I was, and I'm forever grateful. And the reason I know all these things and was taught these wonderful values is because of this group right here: PaPa and his siblings.
Top, right to left: Stacy, Ed, Harold
Bottom, right to left: PaPa, Wendell, Bunkie, Eldred.
At first glance, to people who don't know them, they may just look like a bunch of old folks. But they're the liveliest bunch you'll ever meet. They had such depth of personality that it's impossible to catalog, but I'll try in as few words as possible.
Stacy--The oldest, the leader, always ready with a hug.
Ed--The storyteller who could leave you with a stomachache from laughing so hard.
Harold--The jokester, who was always ready with a goofy grin and a riddle.
Wendell--A hard worker with an infectious laugh.
Bunkie--The quiet observer with an artistic soul.
Eldred--Poised and regal despite growing up with six brothers.
And PaPa--the baby--was a mix of them all.
Though they're gone now, I can still hear the sound of their voices and the symphony of their combined laughter.
These people, along with Mema and her outstanding "kinfolk," created my family. And they didn't just limit our gathering to their family, they opened it up to our extended-extended family, to friends, and to the community. With their warm, generous spirits, they never wanted anyone to feel alone, especially during the holidays.
This is my heritage. This is my legacy. I am luckier than I have any right to be to have had these wonderful, amazing people in my life. And I'm forever changed by it.
Even as my heart breaks, I can hear PaPa saying, "Don't cry, BabyDoll. I'm juuust right, and I'll see you again directly." Until then, I'll endeavor to carry the torch and to model the behavior PaPa and his siblings displayed for me. I'll do my very best to apply their lessons to my own life--love deeply and passionately, give wholeheartedly, cherish your family, welcome everyone, be present in everything you do, laugh hard and often, tell jokes, be silly, explore your artistic side, honor your family name, set an example, and live your life to the fullest each and every moment.
This one image keeps coming into my mind, and it brings me a little comfort as I move through this non-linear grief. Backstory: PaPa and his brothers created a card game when they were little, and they played it all their lives. I can still see them sitting around a table playing it. They all had asthma. And they would laugh so hard during their card game that they'd all need their inhalers. Like synchronized swimmers, they'd whip out their inhalers, take a puff, and continue laughing and playing.
So, in my mind, I see his brothers and sister sitting around a table playing that card game, and they've had an empty seat waiting for years. This Friday, PaPa took that empty seat, and they dealt him a hand of cards. I can almost hear Stacy saying, "Lawd, Darwin, we've been waiting for you for a while now." And when I imagine this scene, my heart hurts a little less, just for a minute.
Goodbye, PaPa. I'll always love you and cherish the time I got to spend with you. I loved every minute of being your BabyDoll, and I'll do my best to make you proud.