Remembering Papaw

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

May is a bittersweet month for me.

It's the month when the all things green come back in full force and everything seems to flower right before your eyes. It's so easy to think the world is beautiful and full of possibilities when nature literally opens herself up in every way possible.

May in Carroll County is especially beautiful. I wish I could fully enjoy it, but I've found it difficult to get through this month since I was 12. That was when Papaw killed himself. He did it on May 24. I still remember how my heart dropped when Mom pulled me onto the porch to tell me what had happened. They say time heals all, but I don't think I'll ever get over hearing the news that my papaw -- my father figure -- took himself away from everyone who loved him.

Every year, I feel a sense of impending doom as May 24 comes closer. It starts slowly. I'll come across an old photo of him or remember something about him and feel sad. A few days later, I'll still be thinking about it. Maybe a week after that, I'll completely fall apart the same way I do every year.

I wish it weren't this way. Because of the way he died, I tend to avoid thinking about him. While that means I can usually block out all the pain, it also prevents me from remembering all the good things about him. Sometimes, Nana will say something about him in passing and I'll remember what a good person he was.

Papaw was the type of person who cared about everybody close to him. He cared deeply, even if he didn't always know how to show it. One way he did show it was by treating all of us throughout the year. It didn't have to be a holiday for him to do something special for me or Mom or Nana.

Before his cancer got really bad, we had our own little Saturday morning ritual. We'd get up early and go to Old Tyme Burger Shoppe for breakfast. I'd get biscuits and gravy, and he'd get eggs and bacon. Then, he'd take me to yard sales throughout the city. We'd peruse for hours and sometimes wouldn't buy anything. When I'd find something I wanted, Papaw would buy it for me without saying a word.

We did that regularly until he got so sick he couldn't work anymore. I was 12 years old when he was his sickest, and it was hard to see. He lost so much weight and could barely walk. The cancer ate away part of his jaw; even though doctors built a new jaw for him, it was never the same after that. I'd never really seen someone get that sick over such a long period of time, which made it difficult for me to understand what was happening.

I knew Papaw was dying. Because I was young, he tried hard to make it easier for me. Even near the end, he tried to joke around with me. I didn't realize then how difficult it must have been for him to do that. He had already fought cancer for two years, undergone numerous surgeries and even lost his own jaw. Yet he tried to hide it the best he could so that his young granddaughter could come to terms with everything a little better.

Maybe that's why I don't like to remember him. When I do, I'm reminded of how much he cared about me and his family. To lose someone who loves you that much is heartbreaking. To lose that person to suicide is debilitating.

But it's important that I remember him. The pain of losing him comes with the joy of remembering all the things he did for everyone he loved. I'll have children someday, and I want them to know about how kind and strong their great-grandfather was. At the end of the day, how he died isn't that important.

What matters is how he lived.

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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com.