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.

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