I was in Tokyo for ten hours before I got the text from my sister in Virginia telling me that Papa had died. In an instant, the hole in my side ceased to exist, as the marathon I was in Tokyo to break the doc's rules and race. Ten hours later I was on a plane to LA and on to New York. Back to back red-eyes. Papa was the patriarch of the family and I wanted to be with family.
This was the first time in my life that someone with whom I was close to had died and I didn't quite know how to act, or what to feel. It feels weird saying that. You feel what you feel, right? It's out of your control. But my feelings were scattershot across a wide range of emotions. Papa was 90 years old when he died. He had an amazing life and an amazing family. By all accounts he was a happy and fortunate man who enjoyed being alive and approached life with that funny, snarky, straight out of Brooklyn, Bugs Bunny nonchalance. I never really thought about the fact that he would be gone one day.
His death was not a surprise, however. He was diagnosed with cancer some months before and we all knew it was coming soon. Yet when the news came, the finality hit me hard.
My papa was hilarious and he always had me in stitches, which in turn always kept him smiling. I have the type of laugh that people can pick out of a room of laughing people, and his eyes would always twinkle when he heard me crack up at one of his jokes or stories. The man used to sneak into movie theaters when he was a kid by waiting until an earlier showing was letting out and then walking in backwards so that it looked like he was leaving the theater, not entering. Excuse me for cracking up.
When I arrived in New York, and comfortably surrounded myself with family, my emotions settled. Death isn't final. Not for those who are left living. To those who knew him, the image of papa will forever be razor sharp. We spent the weekend sharing stories and perusing through old photos. There were plenty of tears, but I don't think there was a single outburst of crying that wasn't followed by a fit of laughter.
Papa will live on in my family and myself. We will remember his smile, his laugh, and his command of the room. Hopefully, I will be able to harness some of his approach to life.
And should we all be so lucky to have such a full and satisfying life.