I admit, I was in a bad mood over turning 35. For some reason, the idea of being able to round up to 40 caused me some anxiety. I'm not a huge fan of the aging process, and while I feel like I was in high school just yesterday, I now have a high school kid of my own.
So yeah, I took some time on my 35th birthday to wallow in self-pity. Silly? Maybe...No, probably...But it is what it is.
Then I got a phone call, and it all just seemed so silly...So stupid. I got a call that really put life in general in perspective while simultaneously breaking my heart in two.
You see, yesterday, my Papa died. (Or it may have been the day before, we don't really know what happened yet.) My dad called with the news, and I couldn't even process it until this morning. I still can't wrap my head around it, to be honest. I've been blessed and haven't had to suffer too many losses yet in life, so this hit me hard.
Papa was 93, soon to be 94. He was a father to 7, and a grandfather and great grandfather to many, myself included. He was still living independently in the same home where family gatherings happened for decades. The same house I remember going to so often as a kid. It's a small blue house on a quiet, dead-end street, but when I was a kid, it seemed enormous. Maybe it was the love in that home that made it feel like a castle to me.
My Papa was a hero.
He was there for D-Day in WW2. He was a paratrooper, and put his life on the line to protect and fight for freedom. In fact, he almost sacrificed his life during the war. He and a couple others were in a Jeep, and accidentally ran over a landmine. While the other soldiers in the vehicle were killed, Papa's life was spared. He did break his back, so he was sent home to recover, and later received a Purple Heart for his service.
His military service isn't the only thing that made him a Hero, though. Not by a long-shot. He was a hero every day to those who knew and loved him.
When I was a kid, Papa taught me a lot. He showed me how to become a Yahtzee Master, and he even showed me how to bowl and NOT wind up in the gutter. Some of my best childhood memories were at the bowling alley with Granny and Papa, watching in amazement as Papa got yet another strike. It sounds like something so trivial, but to a young child, it just seemed so magical.
The real thing that makes Papa a hero in my mind has nothing to do with bowling a perfect 300....It has nothing to do with his military service....It has to do with his character.
Papa was a kind, decent, and very compassionate man. His heart was as big as the ocean, and he always had a smile and hug ready for anyone who needed one. It never mattered how broken a person was, Papa gave nothing but love and acceptance to everyone he met.
Papa raised 7 children to be successful not only in their professions, but also in their humanity. My Dad, aunts, and uncles are all exceptionally kind and compassionate people with families and even grandkids of their own.
Papa's kind spirit lives on in all of us. The members of my family have chosen many different paths in life....We have lawyers, medical professionals, people into the arts and show-business...We have parents, those who chose not to have children of their own, experts in religious studies, and even a rock star.
We're a varied bunch, and while we may seen pretty different at times, we all have a common thread: Love.
This love was largely taught by Granny and Papa. They showed us what love and family are supposed to look like. They were a shining example of everything we all hoped to one day aspire to.
There are a lot of things that make a Hero. Some heroes are made through brave, heroic actions on a battlefield. Some heroes are made in less obvious ways, like being a faithful, loving partner, parent, or grandparent, and being a light for future generations to follow.
My Papa was a Hero for both reasons.
And now, this Hero is in Heaven. I believe my Granny was there waiting his arrival, and there are joyous celebrations up above, celebrating a life well lived.
Rest in peace, Papa. You are so loved, and you will be so incredibly missed. Thank you for teaching all of us so much, especially about the things that really matter most in life. Your wisdom, kindness, and compassion will not be forgotten.
We love you.