Several weeks ago when my Papa was first admitted to the hospital and we were told he wasn’t doing well, that things weren’t looking great, I asked Kinsley if she wanted to make Papa Bill a card. We weren’t allowed to visit due to COVID.
Her immediate response was, “Papa Bill gave me a pumpkin. It has glitter on it.” This past October while visiting my grandparents, there was a small decorative pumpkin at their house on the coffee table that was glittery and Papa told Kinsley she could take it home with her to keep. Ever since then, if we mentioned or talked about Papa Bill, that’s always the first thing she’d say.
“Yes, he gave you the glittery pumpkin,” I replied. Without missing a beat, she then asked me, “Is he sick?”
We make a lot of “get well soon” cards for people when they’re sick so she associates card making with that most times. I told her yes, he was very sick and we wanted to cheer him up. She then asked if he was in the hospital.
I told her yes, he was in the hospital.
And in the most concerned and sad little voice, my two year old said, “I love Papa Bill. I don’t want him sick. I’ll make him a card.”
We had just received a package from IKEA that day and she quickly went straight to her art table and grabbed the instruction sheet that had come in the box with our stuff. I tried offering some construction paper or even just plain white, to which she told me, “NO! I want this one, this ones for Papa Bill!” And away she went coloring that instruction sheet.
When she finished, she proudly brought it to me, “I made Papa Bill a card!” I explained to her that I would take a picture of it and send to him — which is just what we did.
After a few long weeks in the hospital, they sent my Papa home on hospice care yesterday afternoon. Because of COVID and me being a week and a half away from bringing my second baby into the world, I had two options:
I could go to my grandparents house and sit outside the window of their living room or I could try to FaceTime in at some point. After talking to my husband and mom, we decided video would be best. After he arrived home and was made comfortable though, he was drifting in and out of sleep, so Kinsley and I recorded videos that we sent to my Nana for her to play for him.
I wasn’t going to force Kinsley to say anything unless she wanted to. So I asked her if she wanted to make a video with me to send to Papa. Keep in mind, aside from me sharing updates with Wes about how he was doing, I hadn’t said anything to Kinsley in a couple weeks since she’d made the card.
After asking her if she wanted to, my sweet 2.5 year old said, “Papa Bill is sick? He’s in the hospital?” I said, “Yes, honey, he’s really sick. They’re taking him back to his house to rest.”
To which she responded in that same concerned, but heartbreaking voice, “Oh, mama I love Papa Bill. I don’t want him sick.”
You talk about making a pregnant woman who’s about to lose a grandparent an emotional puddle, that will do it.
We curled up on the bed and I told her she could say what she wanted. As soon as I hit the record button, her tiny voice says, “Hi, Papa Bill. I love you.” I had to stop and begin again. The second time she wanted to sing him a song, so she sang part of Twinkle Twinkle before stopping mid song because she wanted to see Papa. I did show her a picture of him that my mom had sent me, once they got him in bed at the house.
Though my Papa has had ongoing health issues the past few years, with several times where we thought we would lose him having happened, it’s only when you finally do say goodbye to them earth-side, that you can fully experience the grief.
And though my heart hurts tremendously, it is also rejoicing, knowing that the man I called Papa, the man I loved so much - the man that knew no stranger, that always had a joke or story to tell, the man who's belly rolling laugh lit up the room, the man that worked harder than anyone I know, the man that took me to the gas station to get slurpees every time I was over, the one who built rabbit hutches for me, taught me how to raise chickens, and has called me “Opossum” from the day I was born - is no longer in pain physically here on earth. He no longer has a body that causes him agony, but instead he’s living the best possible life he could ever have, with a fully restored, pain free body, in the company of Jesus.
Kinsley and I were sitting out in the yard today and as I sat there working, she came up to me and asked if she could see Papa Bill.
I honestly didn't think she would ask about him so soon.
How do you talk to a 2.5 year old about death?
Although, ever since Easter when we talked about Jesus dying, she has been asking more and more about people dying; who's alive, who's died, where people are when they die - these little minds. It truly astonishes me with what goes through them. I know they don't fully grasp these topics, but it doesn't mean they don't understand any of it.
So as gently as I knew how to put it, I simply told her no, we couldn't see Papa Bill, because he died this morning and was no longer here on earth, but instead was living with Jesus in Heaven now. And this is the conversation that followed:
Kinsley: "Papa Bill was sick, mom? He died? I love Papa Bill. He's all better now?"
Me: "Yes, honey, he was sick, but he is all better now. He died and is living in heaven with Jesus."
Kinsley: An excited face lit up, she smiled, "He's all better?! I can kiss him? Can I hug Papa Bill, mom?!"
Me: *Now trying to talk through tears* "Well, no we can't see him today. He's in heaven now and we can't see him for a while, but we will get to see him again one day, just not right now."
Kinsley: "He lives in heaven now... can we go see him in heaven?"
Me: "Some day we will."
Kinsley: "He's all better now. Can we make him a birthday card?"
I'm really thankful for kids. Their innocence, though at times it can you make you bawl like a baby, also gives you relief and comfort. Our conversation ended with me smiling, and redirecting her to going and making a birthday card for her Nonnie, who's birthday is actually this week. I think God knew I needed an easy way out of that conversation, and for that I am thankful.
I feel very grateful to have/had and know/known both sets of my grandparents for almost 26 years of life now, and even more grateful that my oldest daughter not only was able to meet those 4 great grandparents, but for some reason, developed a unique and strong connection to this one. Though he is the first grandparent I've lost, it's a bittersweet kind of grief. The pain is gone, he no longer hurts and I know the hard working, silly, full of life and joy, outdoors loving man that I grew up with, is in his best form possible.
So as we grieve and shed our tears, we also laugh and remember the life he lived here on this earth - a life that was honoring to God and full of love for anyone and everyone he met.
Here's to Papa Bill.