"Pappy" and Chocolates - January 2020
by Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW
We called him “Pappy.” He was grey-haired, tan-skinned, and wrinkled from long hours of working in the fields. He had a large tummy, just right for grandchildren to pounce on. He wore old, faded, well-worn overalls that were sometimes “hitched up” with baling wire after a suspender broke. He is remembered for “fixing” grandchildren’s bee and wasp stings with tobacco juice. It was not unusual on a hot day for Pappy to come in from the hot fields in Tennessee and lay on the floor in the kitchen, using the back of a chair that he had turned up-side-down as a diagonal rest for his back.
Pappy seldom dressed up, and he would not win any prizes for how he looked when he worked around the farm. But to a child, looks meant nothing. What mattered to us was who Pappy was—he took time to play with his grandkids, and we knew he loved us. The grandchildren liked being around him and found sheer delight in jumping on his soft round tummy. We have photos of Pappy sitting in the yard in a big pile of leaves, holding a grandbaby with other grandchildren around him. What a picture of love! I still remember the day that our grade school principal came to my classroom and motioned for me to come. My daddy was waiting to take me home. I sensed something was really wrong—my daddy had never picked us up from school before. When he told me that my granddaddy had died, I thought my heart would break.
That day Pappy had a heart attack while fixing fences, and someone had found him. The family gathered at my grandparents’ old two-story house, and my cousins and I cried together until our eyes were red, leaning on each other for support. Pappy’s death was my first up-close experience with death as a child. The funeral home brought the casket with Pappy in it back to the “home place” for the equivalent of today’s respect calls, and people “sat up” with him until he was taken to the church for the funeral and burial. Looking back, I was blessed to have Pappy as my granddaddy. It was shock for the entire family when he left us at the age of seventy-four, and his leaving left an enormous hole in our family. When he died, I was old enough to realize that death was permanent—that I would never see him again on this earth—a terrible thought!
A few years later, Pappy’s wife, my Grandmother Humphrey, also died at the age of seventy-four, and the old, rambling house we called the “home place” was sold and remodeled. Things were forever changed for our family. You may remember the famous lines from the “Forrest Gump” movie that says, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know just what you are going to get.” The quote is very true. From one day to the next, we never know for sure just what life will bring, maybe joy, maybe sadness.
If you look on the chart of a box of Russell Stover chocolates, you will find a choice of almond clusters, orange butter crunch, coconut cream, caramel, molasses chews, maple nut cream, or raspberry cream. But without a chart, you might never guess what is inside a chocolate, even though a “bump” in a chocolate may be a hint there is a nut inside. Life is similar to unlabeled chocolates, and we don’t get to choose when it is time for someone we love to “go Home.” Many years after my pappy died, I was again caught off guard when my husband was diagnosed with kidney cancer at the age of 58. When he later died, my world was turned upside down, but with time, healing has come.
With 2020 ahead, if you have experienced the death of someone you love, you may feel a bit insecure as you face the coming year, fearing there may be some “yucky,” not-so-pleasant surprises inside. Your sadness from your loss may make it difficult to anticipate joy in your future. As when Pappy died, “There are things that we don’t want to happen, but have to accept, things we don’t want to know, but have to learn, people we can’t live without, but have to let go” (Nancy Stephan). But in spite of our grief, we must remember there are still good things, some very “sweet” things out there for us—our children, grandchildren, friends, for instance. And we can make choices about many aspects of our lives.
So don’t give up! After all, most of the chocolates in a box are delicious! Search for and expect good things, the joyful things in life, and be grateful. Hang on to hope that your heart will heal. Expectantly look for good things, and don’t hesitate to sample a chocolate treat! After all, “you never know just what you are going to get!” Happy Birthday, 2020!
Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
709 Liberty, Clay Center, Kansas
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator