Christmas Without Papa

This was our second Christmas without Papa.  He died on December 22, 2010.

Papa and Christopher at Fenway Park 2004. One of his favorite photos.

He was a Santa Claus-like grandpa with a  jolly laugh, rotund belly, twinkle in his eye and great appreciation for his “perfect” grandchildren.  Our four kids adored him and he adored them back.  They could feel it the instant he carefully held them as newborns, caressing their perfect fingers and toes and from every moment thereafter.  Through the years he gave them big embracing hugs and his undivided time, encouragement and attention.  He shared his passions with them – for America, his beloved Red Sox and Texas A&M (his alma mater) and he cared about everything they were passionate about.

He was a “get on the ground and play” type of grandpa – one of the best that’s ever lived.

Papa took great care of and paid great attention to his grandchildren, but unfortunately not great care of himself.  I’ve seen plenty of old photos.  He was oh-so handsome and slim in his military uniform back in his 20s and 30s, but he let himself go – eating, smoking, drinking too much, and exercising not a bit.

Sound familiar?

Wait, let me put down these Christmas cookies, so I can type with both hands.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t another “let’s start a new diet and lose those pesky pounds” New Year’s Resolution article.  It’s more of a lament.

I wish Papa had taken care of himself.  I wish when we arrived in Connecticut for Christmas dinner, he were there to greet us as usual alongside Mimi.  I wish my younger sons could have gotten to know him as well as my older daughters and we all had more time.  I wish he had seen Caitlin, his first grandchild, graduate from high school last June.  I’m sure he would have been the proudest Papa on campus.

Had he taken care of himself, would he have been there with us Christmas Day, enjoying a delicious meal of perfectly prepared beef tenderloin, a good laugh about old family memories, new stories about recent travel escapades and our enthusiastic present-opening time?

Death is often so unexpected, it’s hard to tell.  However, we know people generally live longer when they don’t smoke, drink, or eat too much.

Often we talk about being good stewards of God’s gifts.  Most of the time this translates into what we do with our money.  However, important gifts we’re asked to steward are our bodies (they might be pear-shaped, near-sighted or less (or more) endowed in some areas than you wish – but whatever shape, they are God’s gift).

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies.  –1 Corinthians 6:19-20

We’re not “our own” and our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit”.  That turn of phrase might make us all think twice about super-sizing our fries and the hours we plant ourselves in front of the TV.

Forgive me if I sound preachy.  But, you probably aren’t listening to me anyway.  I most likely lost you somewhere around the word “steward.”  Multiple times we talked to Papa about his health, but he didn’t listen.  When Caitlin was two, she asked him to please stop smoking.  She told him earnestly he mattered to her.  But, she couldn’t get through to him either.  And if she couldn’t….

I’m not mad at him, just sad.  His absence loomed large all year. And on Christmas Day 2011, as we celebrated life and hope in Jesus, our family felt a Papa-sized empty space.

As much as we dislike change, hard work and discipline – these things can reap important long-term rewards.  And knowing God and our loved ones think we matter should make a difference in how we care for ourselves.

I’m not just talking to the grandparent generation.  Parents need to set a good healthy example for their kids.  Let’s not squander our health.  Let’s not take love for granted.

  • Roy

    Dear Jean, Well said; we missed him very much. Love, Roy

    • Jean Yih Kingston

      Thanks Dad!

  • Charles Laningham


    Your comments are so very much on target.

    I am one of Jack’s classmates that came and had a grand visit with Jack and Jayne the October before his passing. We each look back with fond memories on the visit.

    Turning to your health focus, I had double bypass heart surgery in Finland in ’05. When we got back I started slowly and built a steady exercise program consisting of daily walks and visiting the gym several times a week. You don’t start at 69 and build a beautiful body, but you can definitely feel better, look better and enjoy life and grandkids more by cutting back on food and drinks, plus keeping those old bones active.

    “Scared straight” worked in my case, but as happened with your Father-in-law, everyone isn’t so lucky.

    How does the saying go? The longest journey starts with a single step.

    Each of his classmates miss Jack vey much.


    • Jean Yih Kingston

      Dear Charles – Thanks for your friendship with Jack, for your visit just before he passed away and for your comments here. I am impressed with your exercise program and hope you keep up the great work – the benefits will be priceless to you, your family and your friends! Happy New Year and Best Wishes for a wonderful 2012.

  • ECBV

    I’m truly sorry for the loss your dad and the grief that such loss brings, especially at times when you all would have been together, like Christmas. My own dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness this year, and while I do not yet know your grief personally, I know that one day, I will know more of what you are talking about than I do now. Here is a difficult thing: my Dad DOES take care of himself. His clothes hide a muscular build that any 28-year-old would be proud of. He’s fed his body the healthiest foods, with emphasis on the fruits and vegetables and enjoyed sweets only rarely. He’s fed his mind similarly. He looks about 2/3 his age. Never in a million years would I have predicted that my Dad would probably be outlived by our smoking/drinking/red-meat-devouring/barely exercising relatives. It just doesn’t seem possible. Then again, who would have believed that my mother-in-law would still be living. She is the soul survivor of 2 experimental cancer treatment programs, the only person I know of to have survived terminal bone cancer twice and breast cancer once. Twice the doctors told her that it was not if she would die of those cancers but when. They were not imagining her surviving to see her youngest off to first grade, let alone chase her grandson around the play room floor (which she did just yesterday). I don’t know if your beloved Dad would have been here this Christmas if he had taken care of himself in the ways you point out. I’d like to think he would have. Your point about stewardship is very very well made. But I can’t read this and know, at the same time, that my own dad is dying without asking questions about how much control we really have over the number of our days. We SHOULD eat right and exercise, but we hold those should-do’s in one hand while, in the other hand, we know (but seldom speak the reality) that fine stewards die every day, and not just of old age. It is a reality that poses questions about our responsibilities and God’s sovereignty and how those to affect each other.

    • Jean Yih Kingston

      Dear ECBV – I’m so very sorry to hear about your dad and his illness. My prayers are with you all. And as for your mother-in-law – what a miracle it must be to see her running around! Your point is well taken about how some of these things are not in our control…I’ve actually thought on many occasions we were blessed to have had Jack for as _long_ as we did considering what he did to his body. Anyway – thanks for reading and for your comments. They are appreciated.

  • Kris Carter

    Very fitting Jean. I warm and instructive tribute to such a wonderful man. I loved Jack a ton, but you never quite felt like you could love him more than he loved you back. He had one of the largest and kindest hearts of anyone I’ve known.

    • Jean Yih Kingston

      Thanks Kris – Hope you guys had a wonderful Christmas and Have a Happy New Year (…and don’t go injuring anybody in the family if you get back on the slopes)! Appreciate your comments…Jack was really dearly missed this year. As you can probably imagine, he loved Christmas with the grandkids and always made every here feel like they were the most special person that’s ever lived!