I think it was 2007 when I first met Papa John, right before I started college. There he stood, all 6 feet something of him; towering in stature and strong in personality. Though his eyesight was steadily fading, he’d always rise to greet me, grab hold to my hands or pat me on my back. He knew who I was and that’s all that mattered.
Papa John told me stories about how he used to work with my mother. He called her his “girlfriend.” 🙂 Putting a roof on every building in Hickory was his claim to fame. If anyone could do that, I know John Henry King could. Much like my father, I never knew much about my grandfather, and didn’t have the opportunity to grow up with him and my paternal family over the years. I have a handful of captured memories and exchanged conversations that I cling to.
As I slept in his old bedroom the past few days, I wondered if there were any keepsakes in there to remember him by. I somewhat longed to feel his presence in the room.
When it came time for the homegoing service, I wanted sunglasses to hide the tears. I don’t think anyone likes feeling/being vulnerable, especially during the sickness/loss of a loved one. There is an inevitable feeling of sympathy from others. Everyone wants to know how you feel, how you’re doing and how you’re holding up. “I’m good.” “I’m doing okay.” “As well as can be expected.” At some point, the very mention or thought of that loved one’s name chokes you up. On the brink of tears I still mutter, “I’m fine.”
Texting my mother before the funeral, she told me I “didn’t have to hide.” Having to sit right next to the casket with the flower girls, I was forced to feel. In that tiny church, I had a front row seat to sadness. As sister, daughter, son, grandchild, niece, nephew and friend filed in the sanctuary and laid eyes, hands and lips on Papa John for the last time, the grief overcame me. Ugly faced, whimpering and all, couldn’t be contained as the funeral director closed the casket. I cried. In a church full of people, mourners all around…I cried. I felt.
I thought of how my mother must have felt in that very church back in 1990, staring at my father’s closed casket; burned body inside.
I know Papa John is resting with Daddy, Grandma Marie and countless others who had gone on before him. He’s at peace. Body healed. Eyesight restored.
I may not know as much about him as everyone else, but I know that he loved. In few words, but in many actions…he loved. And he will always be loved. Forever and always.