my papa

today my papa, my maternal grandfather, left his body, transitioned, died. he was surrounded by his family, holding the hand of the love of his life, my grandmother.

I’ve been reading thich naht hanh lately, a book called ‘no death no fear’, and how he explores it all makes sense to me: that life and death are a concept, a way of understanding what we cannot actually know and understand. that what we think of as death is a transition from the concentrated self to the decentralized existence, the end of self, the returning to wholeness, to being everywhere around us, alive within us.

there was a long time where i wrestled with how to relate to this 6 foot 2 white southern Christian evangelical hunting horse riding man. I, his thick interracial queer outspoken radical granddaughter, who grew up traveling the world. but we made our peace with each other a while ago, beyond all of our labels. we found common ground in the fact that we were led by our spiritual experience of the world. he made sure I felt loved and respected the last time I saw him, and I made sure he knew he was one of my very favorite people in all the world.

and he is.

when my mother married (eloped with) my black father, in the 70s in the south where both marrying black and eloping were not done, my papa first said the young man (introduced by photo, mind you) was handsome, then read to my mother about love, from the bible. through the troubled times after that, my mother never had to doubt her father’s love for her.

in his later working years he would bring homeless folks into his office, feeding them lunch for the chance to hear and learn from their life stories and views on the world.

his curiosity, humor and wisdom were non-stop. his love was immense. he could have been a very different person, but love reshaped him again and again.

when I came out to my grandparents, he initially sent me scripture to help me get on ‘the right path’. he had his prayer chain of thousands pray for me. I wept, and I waited, and eventually he invited and I went to see him, and we sat down. he asked some straightforward questions, and once he was satisfied that my love wasn’t high drama, or anything he could change, he said, ‘ok then, let’s talk about your health.’

checking in to the hospital recently, extremely sick, he was still himself…the nurse said, ‘is anything bothering you?’ he replied, ‘my wife.’

he loved a good joke, he lit up and raised his eyebrows when he could see a laugh coming. he lit up often.

I love this man so much, and felt his love for me as a physical presence, barreling over and through all of the barriers society put up between us. ours was not an easy love to carve out, but whenever we sat together i felt at ease in the fact that he never lost his capacity to laugh, or to learn, as the world changed around him.

I have done interviews with him, gathered stories and stories, enough for a book about him, someday. he is that kind of big character.

tonight I think about his big laugh, his inappropriate comments that would make my grandmother blush, him popping his dentures around in his mouth while making eyes at her, him coming in from the woods, surrounded by adoring animals, his love of god and how that was at the root of every action he took…his study of Jesus, and how it made him critique the wealthy, listen to the meek, prioritize family and choose truth over polite small talk, every time.

I held a ceremony of my own with sage and song, in the woods. that feels like the right place to really remember how he loved the world. I feel him massively. I hope you can sense him, just a bit.

I think people get what they believe in, which means he is with his loved ones, having some clarifying conversations with god, and completely at peace, out of the physical misery that plagued his last months.

I miss that physical presence, even as I feel him alive in me. I am so grateful, so fortunate, that he, with all the complications of our long story, is now among my sacred ancestors.

I squeeze him tight. I let him go.