Do not try to change anyone, you will fail. Instead, try to help everyone– A hand-written letter my Papa wrote to me before passing away from Covid-19
Filled with personal memories and goldmines of knowledge, it is one of the greatest gifts I have been ever given. My Papa was 81 years-old when he passed away. Words cannot describe the void I immediately felt upon hearing the news of his death, and I immediately retreated to my bedside table to read his words over again with tears spilling down my cheeks onto his beautiful cursive text. Emotions flooded over me: sadness, anger, disbelief to name a few. Happy memories began to dance with the negative emotions, and the roller coaster of joyous memories and bitter loss has not stopped.
As I cried over the loss of my grandfather, I was jolted back several months to the inexplicable and unexpected loss of my nephew, Titus Daniel. My eldest sister, Danielle or “Nel” as we call her, almost passed away from the complications during childbirth. She consoled my grieving grandmother that our Papa will be the first family member to hold baby Titus in heaven. The loss of an infant child and a wise, loving grandfather is… trauma. Trauma my family feels, my friends and enemies feel, the whole world feels. To add to this trauma, we are forced to grieve apart as the world continues to battle Covid-19. In a small way, writing this reflection is my way of memorializing and celebrating my loved ones until I may pay my respects in person.
Death is never fair, or easy to understand. A stark reminder we are mortals and our time, too, will come. The gravity of how one will be remembered when it is our time to go is humbling and heavy. Will we be cherished, wept over, celebrated…forgotten? Will our relatives drop to their knees and weep, frame our (tear-stained) letters, and find comfort in the wisdoms we’ve instilled in them? There are no answers, nor is there a timeline to feeling “normal” after a death. Quite simply, its ok to not be ok. Its ok to feel angry, confused, sad, and blessed all at once.
The playbook for grieving death is to be written by the individual experiencing it. The raw emotions we endure are unique to humans; emotions that separate us from other species of animals. Our intelligence and awareness of our own inescapable and certain demise, is a heavy burden to bear. It’s a shock to the system to realize that any life, be it 9 months old in the womb or 81 years old, can be taken from us. Loss may serve as a reminder to quit wasting time comparing on futile things, such as comparing yourself to others or holding a grudge, to name a few.
My most recent tattoo reads “Beauty for Ashes” and reflects the concept that great things can rise up from the ashes of destruction and death. My hope is the loss we experience may bring out the best in us while encouraging us to capture each moment in memories, to cherish your time on Earth, and to impact others as significantly as those we grieve impacted us. My Papa was so proud of his grandchildren, and his words are becoming my new mission statement.
In his final words to me, my Papa encouraged me to do a few simple things. I’d like to share those things with you as a way to honor him and bless you, the way he blessed me. I offer them as encouragement and light if you are experiencing a loss or heavy emotions. He was a man of few words, and he always thought long and hard before speaking. Papa made sure I knew he wasn’t trying to tell me how to live, rather that he “fully understood” how I feel, given some of our shared childhood experiences. These are excerpts from his letter to me, written one month ago:
“If you try to change someone, you are going to lose… Don’t try to change anybody but try to help everybody.”
“Do not live in the past, focus on the future…None of us can change the past, but live for the future.”
“Forgive. (don’t forget completely…Forgive, it’s good for your soul. Don’t completely forget or you will get hurt again.”
“Obey all 10 Commandments. one being Honor your Father and Mother“
These are just a few of his “Papa-ism” he blessed us with. There are thousands more encouraging words and phrases he spoke quietly to each of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren over the years. My most fond memory must be the day he took me, a small child at the time, to the horse barn and allowed me to break in a young horse bareback. He made me feel special that day, and in many other ways in years to come. I know he had experiences like this with all my extended family members.
He taught me how to ride a horse, show a pony, and how to care for the great animals. He taught me how to treat animals with love, respect, and authority – and that every man ought to have himself a dog. He taught me how to dedicate time and effort into hobbies (his was woodworking). He taught me how to be myself by encouraging me to pursue my talents and passions. (“Make me a pie, dear Becca!” he would say to me in a sing-song voice, knowing I make the best pies…ever!) He taught me to wear Sunday boots to church, not dirty riding boots, because the Lord deserves your best. Yet the most important lesson he taught me, perhaps without ever knowing it, was when I was a child after I’d been bucked off a skittish horse. Within seconds I was placed right back upon its back. He literally taught me to get back on the horse, no matter how scared, worried, or afraid you are.
What a man: The last of a dying breed, a true gentleman, and a real cowboy.
What an angel he will make.
May you grieve in your own space, at your own pace. I hope my Papa’s words bring you comfort if not inspiration. I struggle with emotions and loss, and I welcome this time of toiling with my emotions. I know I will grow during this time, rise from the ashes of the past years hardships, and (like Papa taught me) try and help everybody.
Thank you for reading this.