“So, when we say that the soul leaves a person’s body at the moment of death, it would be more correct to say that the body leaves the soul”Deepak Chopra
May 11th, 1996 was the day my maternal grandfather, my Papa died. I’ll never forget that day. It was a Saturday and I was 11 years old. I was at my aunt’s house with my brother and cousin. We were outside playing and she told us to come inside. She had this sad look on her face and I intuitively knew what she was going to say. She closed the door and said, “Papa’s gone…”
My younger cousin started sobbing and screaming, “Papa, Papa”. My brother started crying. I just stood there. I was in complete disbelief that the man who was my entire world was no more. I refused to accept that he was gone and therefore there was no need for tears. I knew he was sick. I knew he had been in the hospital. I knew he had lost all his hair and he wasn’t the same physically strong man I’d known for the past 10 years. But no, my Papa wasn’t gone. I refused to accept it and I refused to cry about something that wasn’t true.
Seven days later at his Homegoing celebration, my mother, grandmother, and aunt sang a medley of gospel songs they sang with my grandfather in the hospital. One of those songs was his favorite, “I am Redeemed” by Jesse Dixon. My mother rejoiced at how happy they were that my grandfather had accepted Christ on his deathbed. And she felt a sense of closure that they had a chance to say goodbye.
The resentment in me grew. This resentment was toward my grandfather more than anyone. Why didn’t he give me the chance to say goodbye? Why wasn’t I invited to come and sing? As his oldest and only female grandchild, and his Queen Bee, why did he leave me out? Why didn’t he demand to have me at his bedside to say my goodbye.
I felt a deep sense of rejection and abandonment from my grandfather. He was the only person in the world who I never had to question regarding their love for me. Now, the question about his true feelings for me loomed over my head and burdened my heart. My grandfather and I were estranged for many, many years after his death. He didn’t visit me, even when I set up my ancestor altar. He stayed away. And I didn’t ask him to come. He knew he had disappointed me and let me down. His manly pride was bruised. My heart was pierced. We both were hurting.
One day at a work event, I heard his favorite song, “I am Redeemed” by Jesse Dixon and I fought hard to hold back my tears. I knew that was his way of making contact with me. One the ride home from work I told Papa how much I missed and how much I loved him. Since that time we have worked to rebuild our relationship. As a grown woman, I began to understand that Papa couldn’t bare the thought of me seeing him so weak and frail in the hospital. He wanted me to remember him as the Papa who rode bikes with me, fed me butterfish after making sure there were no bones, and the physically strong masculine man that built the back deck with his bare hands by himself on his days off work. I could see that Papa needed to protect his ego and masculine essence to me. He couldn’t have his Queen Bee see him as anything less than the King. Not an emaciated shell of a man whose body had been decimated by lung cancer.
I told him that there was nothing that could ever change how I felt about him or saw him. When I looked at him, I didn’t see cancer, I saw the LOVE OF MY LIFE. I just wanted to tell him how much I loved him and how much he meant to me. I didn’t care that he was in a hospital bed or was dying, I just wanted to be near him. I told him how I regret that he never heard from me that he was my Everything, that because of him, I can love a man as deeply and intensely as I do. I just needed my chance to say goodbye.
We both understood how the other felt. Since that time, our relationship has been restored. He visits me in my dreams. He told me that my grandmother was going to die a few weeks before she did. He also conveyed to me that he approved of the man I was with by allowing him to sit in his chair in my dream. Part of me still selfishly wishes I had the chance to say goodbye. A part of him still feels that he failed me in more ways than one. I try to tell Papa that I’m ok now. I tell him to look at my life, that he should make peace with himself because I am healthy, healing and becoming more whole as each year passes. He will always be a very proud, sometimes stubborn man.
Love is a splendid thing. How can something upend you and build you up simultaneously. People who say love is easy has never truly loved a Black man. I’ve always had very complex relationships with the the men I’ve loved; my grandfather, my father, my brother, my man. But that is another post for another day…
I never had the chance to say goodbye to my Papa, but I give continuous thanks that I can now greet him in the ancestral realm with a redemptive “Hello”.