“To all those who have lost someone close to them, I see you, I hear you, and I know what you feel inside. I know it all too well. You see, I lost my dad 2 years ago. This man was the light of my life, the rock of our family, and the protector of all his grandkids. He was Papa. My dad was the grandpa all kids wish for. My daughter Joelie, now 17, was the luckiest girl in the world to have had him. He’s the one who takes you on motorcycle rides, dresses up as a person being eaten by a shark for Halloween, takes you to McDonald’s, and sits for hours while you play on the indoor playground when your mom would have left after 15 minutes.
He’s the one to go on walks in the desert to help you find hidden treasures (aka junk), he’ll attend every sports game, every awards ceremony, step in for the father-daughter dance in elementary school (complete with matching shoes), attend every bad dance recital, every equally bad choir concert, every single belt color change in Karate (going all the way to 2nd-degree black belt), every theater production you are in, and he can listen to you sing the same song over and over and over again. This was my dad. This was Joelie’s Papa.
I remember the day my daughter was born, the first girl grandchild. I remember watching my dad, Paul, hold her. I knew one day they would be best friends. I was not wrong. When Joelie turned 2, my husband and I decided to buy a home with my parents so we could live together. We are an awfully close family and we wanted to make more memories together. During the 8 years we lived together, Joelie and Papa were inseparable. They went on many adventures together. They shared so many special moments. My mom and dad were Joelie’s number 1 fans in everything she did. Soccer, softball, dance, singing, theater, anything she did you would find him in the crowd whistling and cheering. He was always there.
My daughter has been a performer her whole life, she loves to sing Broadway. I remember one day my dad told her he would love to hear her sing ‘I dreamed a dream’ from Les Misérables. At the time she was a bit young for the song, but she was always secretly practicing it. Eventually, she was older and ready to sing it. She was scheduled to perform at the House of Blues one night, and as the day approached, everyone was so excited to see my dad’s face. But that day didn’t turn out at all what we expected. My dad wasn’t feeling very good, so he chose to stay home. My dad never missed anything, so this came as a shock to everyone.
This is when it all began. The cancer started its devastation.
A few years ago, Joelie, dad, and I went to go see a minor league baseball game. My dad loved sports. He was extremely athletic, as were my siblings and I growing up. He was our coach for most of the sports we played. Well, before the game started, dad told Joelie she’d be the one singing the National Anthem here one day. A while later, Joelie was asked to sing the Anthem for the UNLV soccer team. Papa was so proud and made sure he was front row! Fast forward a bit and Joelie was asked to sing the Anthem for our very own Las Vegas team! She was beyond excited; the whole family was.
The night came and I got a phone call from my mom. My dad was too sick to go. I think this was the third or fourth time (I began to lose count) he had to go to the hospital. I didn’t want to upset Joelie right before, so I told her everyone would be there. She got out on the field and sang her heart out. When she came off the field, we started to walk out and before she could ask, I told her Papa was in the hospital. She cried so hard. She knew this was so important to him and how much he wanted to be there. How much she wanted him to be there. It broke her heart.
Unfortunately, it was one of many to come. He missed all the other UNLV games, he missed other performances, and he missed a Christmas special Joelie was honored to be part of. He was missing life. I would record her singing and when we saw him later that night, he would sit and watch and wish he could have been there.
During this time, every day, I would go see my dad during my lunch. I would massage his aching body. I kept him and my mom company. Every day after work, I would go home and pick up Joelie, and every day we would go spend the evening with my dad. We would watch hockey on TV, play cards, and Joelie would talk about her day with him. Just being there and loving on him was all that mattered. Joelie gave her Papa her special teddy bear she’s had since birth. She told him to take Teddy with him to his Chemo appointments because Teddy would protect him and make him feel better. He brought Teddy with him each time.
Each day, we saw my dad, her Papa, withering away into nothing. She saw me have to help him to the bathroom, rub his back while he sat on the toilet because he wasn’t able to go. How humiliated and frustrated he must have felt. Strong Papa, the one who saved the day, carried her on his shoulders, wiped away any tears. Her Papa, her best friend. The Cancer inside of him, eating away at his body. We spent many nights crying in the car on the way home. Many nights hugging tight in bed, talking about what was going on, what to expect, and lots and lots of praying.
The week before God took my dad away, family came and went. Friends came and went. This feeling made me extremely sad, it felt like we were all saying goodbye which meant in a way we were giving up. I struggled with this. Hard. My daughter tried to lift me up, she was my dad, and she kept me together. She held me and let me cry until I couldn’t cry anymore, all while hurting herself. So young, so fragile.
The night before, we all were gathered in his room, talking about life, our family, and our memories. We filled the room with so much love. Joelie sat next to her Papa. She took her phone out and started some music. She put it down and began to sing ‘I dreamed a dream.’ As I watched her sing, I looked at my dad. His eyes staring off, his hands folded on his chest, his breathing labored, but his heart was being filled. I know this. I just do. Tears came down my face. My mom sat in silence listening to the song my dad always wanted his little princess to sing to him one day. The one he missed. Well, today he didn’t miss it.
As some of the family left for the night, my mom, sister, brother, older nephew, sister in law and I all found a spot on the floor, to stay with my dad. My mom laid next to him all night stroking his face and staring off in the distance, losing her one true love, her life. I think in our hearts we knew it was getting close. The sun had come up and we all heard the sound of a dying man. The sound I would never ever in a million years wish anyone to hear. It will haunt me in my thoughts, in my sleep, and when I close my eyes, forever. It was God taking my dad, taking away all his pain, his suffering. Bringing him at peace. ‘Come to me. All of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, I will give you rest.’
I called my husband and screamed into the phone to get here as quickly as he could with my daughter. Time stood still. The world froze. My heart pounded out of my chest. The very minute Joelie rushed through the door with her dad, my dad took his last breath. He was gone. She missed seeing him go, and for that, I am thankful. I am thankful they left the night before to sleep in our home. I am thankful for every red light and speed limit on the way there that morning.
I am thankful for when she dreams, thinks, or closes her eyes, she will not remember her Papa that way. She will remember the flag draped over him as they took a brave veteran, world’s greatest Papa, husband, father, brother, son, best friend, treasure hunter, adventure seeker, make-me-laugh-until-I-pee-my-pants-human away. Just his body, because his soul was now watching over us from Heaven. He was our Angel.
My dad passed on June 14th, the day before Father’s Day. We ate at his favorite hot dog place. We shared stories, memories, and cried tears that never seemed to end. When we went back to the house, it seemed so empty. As we pulled out boxes of pictures and the love letters he wrote to my mom while in the army, we came across a wallet. In this wallet, we found a few hundred dollars. We laughed because he always was squirreling money away for something. His own little secret stash. So, we decided to do something my dad would do.
You see, my dad was a tattooed, motorcycle riding teddy bear. He had the 82nd airborne tattooed on his arm, a wizard, an eagle, a skull, but most special of them all, all of the families’ names. All of us tattooed on his arms. We were etched on him forever. So naturally, we wanted to do the same. My daughter who was 15 at the time, asked if she could too. She wanted to have Papa with her always. So, I chose to let my daughter, along with 7 of her family members, honor my dad by putting something so meaningful and so permanent that will never fade, and never go away.
Joelie got dainty little flowers with ‘Papa.’ Others got Gnomes because my dad had a huge Garden Gnome collection (my brother took it over and keeps it growing). My husband got a paratrooper with ‘Papa,’ and my nephew a skull with an army helmet. I had inscribed on my side, nearest to my heart, my dad’s favorite saying. ‘The trouble of it is.’ To this day I can still hear him say it.
Papa was not and will not physically be there for Joelie turning 16 and driving, getting a lead role in her high school play, her first job, her first tattoo, going to college, getting married and having a family of her own. She knows he is close. He is watching over her, keeping her safe, and helping her make the right choices in life. He is there.
Just the other day, she told me how sad she was that she hasn’t ‘felt’ her Papa around. I told her he is there in her heart and in her thoughts. He is everywhere. Last night, she woke me up with tears streaming down her face. ‘Papa came to me mom, he really did!’ She told me she was sitting on the edge of her bed talking to him like she always does. She asked him to please let her know he was there. Just as she finished her conversation with him, over on her TV stand, her favorite picture of the two of them fell off onto the floor. She was in utter disbelief. This was the shoulder tap she had been waiting for. He IS here.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rebecca Mountain of Henderson, Nevada. You can follow her journey on Facebook and on Instagram here and here. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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