Turns out not every week is a silly blog post kind of week, and it would be fake of me to pretend that every moment of the next year is lighthearted. Besides, who would that serve? We live in a world of comparisonitis where the grass always seems greener on the other person’s Instagram feed, and we need to know that it’s okay to have a rough day or week or even month. Some seasons of life are just harder than others, but our bad days make the good ones even sweeter. So I’ve given myself a permission slip to slip up and not post for a week and to allow myself to fully feel the tough emotions of the past several days… but on one condition – that I use this moment as a learning experience and move forward from it with purpose. Our bad days shouldn’t define us, but they should help shape us for the better.
While Papa was in the hospital over Easter weekend, he was awake and talking when I left to travel home. When I returned less than a week later, he was alive but the life was gone from him. My mind knew he was in his final days, but my heart hurt at the reality of losing him. My other grandfather told me that while it’s hard to see someone we love in that condition, there’s always a reason. I agree with him with my whole broken heart.
When we’re faced with one of life’s tougher moments, we should take stock and determine what we’re supposed to learn from it. Is it a wake up call? A call to action? Perhaps it’s reinforcement of a change you have been pondering or motivation to go for something you’ve been too scared to try. Our lives have a purpose up until the very end, and by taking the time to learn from the legacy of a loved one, we are honoring them more than any pomp and circumstance ever could.
After Papa passed, my mom asked me to proofread the beautiful account of his life she wrote for his obituary. As I read her words highlighting his personal and professional accomplishments, it dawned on me that my recollection of him picks up where most of his print-worthy achievements leave off. Here’s his impact on the world from a loving granddaughter’s point of view.
Willie Howard Johnson was born on October 30, 1926, and passed away peacefully on April 12, 2018, after 91 years of a full, beautiful life.
Over the course of his life, this wonderful man became known for many things in my hometown. He served as superintendent of schools for two decades. He was a leader in our church for as long as I can remember. He volunteered and served our community in countless ways through the years. But to me, he wasn’t the superintendent or the deacon or the civic leader. He was just Papa, and he impacted my life in ways much simpler – and arguably more meaningful – than the accomplishments for which he’ll likely be remembered.
My earliest memory of his professional life was at his retirement party, so needless to say, I can’t give a reliable firsthand account of his career milestones. I can attest that he continued to shape young lives in a different way long after he left public office, however, as Papa to his three grandchildren.
After my dad died unexpectedly when I was 10 years old, Papa tucked me into bed every night and told me “bug stories” about a fantasy-filled kingdom in the forest. Sometimes when I’m tired at the end of the day and cuddling my sweet girl to sleep, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that he set aside his own needs night after night to craft tales of cricket conventions so I could fall asleep more easily. I’ll think of Papa every time I hear a choir of crickets for the rest of my life, and I’ll let their chorus of chirps serve as a gentle reminder to take time that day to love on others selflessly.
Papa loved to tell the story of how, as young children, my sister and I once begged and begged for Skittles when he was driving us somewhere. He ultimately relented and heard one of us tell the other, “I think we’re getting pretty good at this,” as he pulled over and got out of the car to buy them. Silly girls… We weren’t good at anything. He just wanted us to have the world. His childhood home was rich in love, but he grew up without luxuries. The youngest of eight children, he sometimes had to wear his sister’s hand-me-down shoes to school. Skittles on demand would have been a true treat.
He enlisted in the military and served to earn a living, then he worked as a barber to put himself and my grandmother through undergraduate and then graduate school. It sounds cliche, but he taught me the value of hard work and how to appreciate my blessings. Though he didn’t have much to start, he became a community leader, never being wasteful with a single dollar or belonging because he understood their value in a way that someone who has always had never could.
He never misspent a day of his life being unproductive until recently when his age finally started to betray his body. And just like he took care of us when we needed him most, my mom and her brother devoted themselves to caring for him. His hospital room never lacked a visitor, a testament to the fact that he spent his time in this world selflessly giving of himself instead of selfishly taking all he could.
When I told Penelope that Papa was on his way to heaven, she excitedly exclaimed, “Do you know who he’ll get to see again?!” Expecting her to say JJ – my grandmother and his wife – she shouted, “Satine and Lay Low!,” the names of our dogs who passed away a couple of years ago. The idea that JJ has watched over our beloved pups has comforted Nelly since we lost them. The only issue is JJ really didn’t like pets and being left with them in eternity probably felt like the opposite of heaven. It’s given me so much joy to imagine how happy she was to pass their leashes off to Papa and finally get some help with those dogs. It seems even in the afterlife, he’s taking care of others.
Though he is gone, his legacy will live on. He is a reminder to work hard and to value what you’ve worked for. To live life to the fullest and make the most of every day. To be a blessing to others and you will be blessed in return.
Your Challenge: Bring to mind someone who has positively impacted your life. It can be a grandparent, teacher, mentor or friend. How did he or she influence you? Did they give freely of their time to help others? Did they work without ceasing? Perhaps they reminded you to stop and smell the roses, or maybe they went for what they wanted with unabashed gusto. Write down one way you can put what you admire about them into practice, and do it this week.
Want to go the extra mile? Make a plan to tell your loved one thank you or you love them this week if they’re still with you. Don’t overthink it; just do it. Call. Visit. Write a note. Show them what they mean to you while you can.