Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pappy Down

There are times when stories write themselves. You sit down and the words just flow onto the page. There are other stories that simmer, take time to be written, that struggle with you as you want to write, no matter how much you wish to put the story into words, you just can't get them out.

This is one of the latter. I have thought about it for days, wanting to talk about this, wanting to think about it, but even after 11 years the grief is still there.

This photo was taken the last year my Pappy was alive. All Kelly's life she and I called him Pappy. He called his Dad "Pap", so I thought it was neat she had determined as a baby to call him Pappy. Eleven years seem so recent and also so long ago. (These days I refer to him as Daddy as I write, but for the last 14 years he was alive, thanks to Kelly he was Pappy)

April 4th always causes me to stop and reflect. That is the day we learned Pappy had cancer. I won't go into all the details of that day here. Needless to say, it was a horrible day, but was just the beginning of the horror that is called cancer. Though the doctor thought he might have six months or so, he actually only had 41 days. 41 days from the day of discovery till he lost his battle with cancer. I can write it out, but seeing the number shows how stark that number is... 41 days. I was shocked how quickly things happened during that time.

When I was a little boy I thought Pappy was the strongest, tallest, most amazing person alive. He would hold out his arm and brother Mike and I would grab his bicep and he would lift us up like Popeye! He was quiet, not much of a talker. He worked a lot to make sure we had the things we needed and wanted.

Pappy and I were baptized together in a baptistry full of cold water in 1963 after he and I became Christians. (The water heater did not work and no one knew that it had failed) He didn't gossip or talk about folks, He always said he hated thieves and liars but liars were worse because thieves only took things, liars took the truth.

He declined so quickly. I still remember getting that call early in the morning hours, just a few weeks after his diagnosis. He no longer had the strength to walk and used a wheelchair to get around their condo. Mama called me about five o'clock that morning. Pappy wanted to get up, had sat up in bed and tried to transfer from their bed to the wheelchair. He was so weak that he was unable to scoot himself from bed to wheelchair and he slid to the floor.

Mama woke up as he tried to get back onto the bed. He couldn't even get back onto the bed which was maybe two feet off the floor. She tried and could not lift him. You can't imagine the hurt and grief in her voice as she called me and told me, "Your Daddy is on the floor and we can't get him up. Please come and help me get him off the floor."

Think about that with me. In just maybe two weeks he had gone from taking care of himself, walking, bathing, moving freely in their condo to sliding to the floor, sliding off his bed and was unable to even pull himself back onto the bed. That was my Pappy, my hero, the strongest man in the world, the man who could lift me off the floor as I held tight to his arm.

I told Linda what happened and told her I was going to go help. I asked her to not go. I needed the time alone as I drove the 20 minutes to gather myself, to cry, to pray and holler at God a little. I did holler, I was so mad at everybody and everything. If you know me you know that I am a Type A personality, a fixer, called to be a Pastor years ago. I don't much like situations that I can't do something, fix something, say the right thing.

This was one of those helpless times. This was Pappy on the floor and neither Pappy nor Mama had the strength to get him up.

When I arrived Mama had the door open and waiting. I went immediately back to their bedroom. There was Mama in her robe sitting on the bed with her legs behind Pappy, holding him up and trying to keep him from sliding over sideways. He wasn't even able to keep himself sitting up straight. She had one arm around him to hold him up and with the other hand she was stroking his hair.

As I walked in and looked I was shocked to realize that he had been losing hair and now had a bald spot right in the crown of his head that hadn't been there just a year before. His hair was thinner than it had ever been. He never had thinning hair, had a pretty full head of hair before. I didn't see his illness then, looking back I realize he had been sick and never complained about anything. Even as he lay dying he never complained, never asked "Why me?".

I went over and sat down on the bed and talked to him for a minute. "You OK, Pappy?"

"I'm fine, just can't get up." he said. We always kidded with him that no matter how sick he was, no matter the circumstances he was always fine. We threatened for years to have a sign on his casket saying "I'm fine." He was fine in that regard. He was a Christian, had been a Deacon and he knew his Lord, knew where he was going.

I struggled to keep the tears back. Mama moved and I got behind him, put my hands under his arms and lifted. He was unable to help lift his weight. I lifted him first to the bed then to his wheelchair. Oh my Pappy, my poor little Pappy. How I ached for this quiet man, this mountain man that never asked anyone for anything, who was proud, quiet and independent. How I hurt for my Daddy.

I helped Mama get him to the living room and settled. We all knew that things had suddenly changed overnight. Hospice had been coming, but now would come daily. A hospital bed was delivered that day and he spent more time in bed after this terrible morning. My Pappy was no longer able to stand, walk or get into a wheelchair by himself.

I drove home slowly, thinking, talking to God, asking God to be merciful to Pappy, knowing he was going to die but not wanting him to suffer. I still needed him, still wanted to call and hear his voice on the phone as he would answer, "Hollen residence". I always chuckled when he answered. He hated answering the phone and only did so when Mama was gone. Most times he didn't answer and let the answering machine take messages. I don't know if he ever listened to the messages. I'm not sure he even knew how to review the messages.

That morning changed me. I can't explain how, but it changed me. It created that pocket of grief that would grow when Pappy went on Home on May 15th.

Even today, eleven years later I can close my eyes and see that intimate expression of love as Mama sat with her legs behind Pappy, holding his shoulder with one arm and slowly stroking his head with the other. Oh, she would go on to aggravate the fire out of me time and again over the next years. She was hot tempered and yes, she hung up on me more than I want to remember. She was opinionated, fussy at times and like all of us, far from perfect. But she loved her husband, she loved my Daddy, she loved Kelly's Pappy.

I can still hear his voice, still hear him say, "Hollen residence" and then "Hi Steve! How's it goin'?"

He told Mama he would "wait for her on the other side of the Jordan". I don't know what Heaven will really be like, but in my mind's eye I see Pappy sittin' on the bank, fishin', patient as he always was. Ol' Saint Peter comes up and says, "Jimmie, you sure you don't want to go up and see your mansion? It has been ready and waitin' for the past eleven years."

Pappy smiles, checks his bait and looks at that other fisherman, "Nah, I think I'll just wait here for the old woman. (that's what he always called Mama) She'll be along any time now and I promised I'd be waiting right here."

For me, I'd rather see him waiting there, in a new body, healthy, free from pain and cancer than remember lifting his frail earthly body from the floor that day in April eleven years ago.

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