I remember the first time we went to Lewiston, Idaho to have Thanksgiving with Papa and Grandma K.. It was a long drive, it was cold when we got there, and we had to rake leaves. Yes, rake leaves… in the cold. My brother and I would have froze to death, but we had just gotten hand knitted gloves and hats from them. How convenient. What I wasn’t expecting was getting paid to do it. It was the first time I had gotten money for doing chores and the first time I realized that hard work pays off… literally. I used that money for Christmas presents, or candy, I’m not really sure.
What I remember most is thinking it was absolutely awesome knowing somebody in the entertainment industry. Okay, so Papa worked for a local radio station, but we got to tour the station before he took my brother and I to the toy store to pick out stuff for us and our sisters and had goulash for dinner. And he knew Santa. Mall Santa. A mall Santa who arrived at the mall in a helicopter. It was amazing to my nine year old self. Papa also loved to tell war stories from when he was in Korea. Lots and lots of stories. And he could watch television in his sleep as was apparent when I changed the channel while he was obviously sleeping and he said, “I was watching that.” I still have no idea how he’d know I even changed the channel, but he did. He always did.
So a few years ago when we were told that Papa’s mind wasn’t as sharp as it once was and he had to constantly be reminded of who people were, I was saddened. I wondered if he would still be the same person I knew. And for the most part, he was. But over time it was quite apparent that he was remembering less and less and becoming more paranoid that something was going to happen to his dog who practically never left his side. On one hand this slow degradation somewhat prepares you for the inevitable, but on the other it just seems cruel.
When I got the call that he had passed away, or more accurately text message (don’t mock, between texting and Facebook is how my family communicates) I wasn’t surprised by anything except actually breaking down and crying over the loss. Even though I knew it was coming and have been preparing for it over the last couple days, I still couldn’t stop falling to the ground as the tears began flowing. And then I started laughing as a story he told me about my stepdad popped into my head. Losing someone is difficult and painful, but as long as we remember them, their spirit will live on.