A year ago, I saw my Paw Paw Donald for the last time. Of course, I didn’t know it would be the last time, but even still, I remember everything about that visit. He was sitting in his favorite chair, messily eating a tuna sandwich, and watching football. The sounds of the game on TV reminded me of being a kid again. They reminded me of lazy days spent on his couch being lulled into the soundest of naps by the white noise of the crowd and the announcer’s deep, throaty voice. My Maw Maw was telling me about yet another doctor’s appointment they were going to the next day. Paw Paw had been sick for a while. He had severe diabetes and doctors’ offices had become their homes away from home. It had become the norm, but he was always okay in the end, so I made a mental note to check on him the next day and the conversation veered elsewhere. A few days later, I got word that he had passed away.
My Paw Paw’s death was the first time I had ever experienced losing someone close to me. I’d been around death here and there growing up, as most of us have, but I had never known what it felt like to lose someone who was such a figurehead in my life. He was the best man; always wearing his signature white cowboy hat and police badge, he was kind and warm and engaging to everyone he met. He was always there when I, or anyone else, needed him. I remember him coming to help me in my dramatic teenage state after my tire had basically exploded on the highway in the next town over. “I am the man of this family,” he had re-assured me. “I’ll be here whenever you need me.”
After losing someone so important to me, it was almost as if something inside of me snapped into place. Priorities shifted. Things I had been stressed about now seemed so ridiculous and stupid. The answers to questions that had been causing confusion in my life suddenly seemed so clear. Through his death, my Paw Paw had changed my life by teaching me a few last things:
1. Don’t. Waste. Time.
The month before my Paw Paw passed, I had moved home to Louisiana from Los Angeles after running into a rough patch. My personal, professional, and financial lives had basically all come together in a perfect storm of making me miserable and scared enough to go crawling back home with my tail between my legs. But, as I said earlier, when he passed, something shifted. He was 75 when he died, and I had already lived a third of that. I decided that time and desires were not things to be wasted. I knew that I couldn’t stay in Louisiana searching for new interests, talents, and relationships just because I was scared of failing at the ones in Los Angeles I had run away from. There were dreams and people I still wanted to pursue, and I still had time to do so. I got off my ass and came back to LA two weeks later.
2. Fear is nothing.
This kind of goes hand in hand with number one, since fear is usually the reason we waste time in the first place. Losing someone you love has a way of making every other fear pale in comparison. I realized that there was nothing else worth being afraid of. I realized that regret from not trying would sting worse than trying and failing. I realized that the sadness of I-should-haves and what-could-have-beens would far outlast the sadness of momentary embarrassment and hurt feelings. Failure is nothing. Getting hurt is nothing. Fear is nothing.
3. Love what you love.
I realized that looking and being cool is overrated. There’s no time to pretend you’re something that you’re not. I no longer have “guilty pleasures” because I honestly don’t feel that guilty about them. I will listen to One Direction and will love every word that comes out of Harry Styles’ perfect, tiny, baby angel mouth. I will pay to watch every single movie that Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore make together. I will kiss my girlfriend even if your great-great-great grandma told you I’m not supposed to. I will overload your Instagram with pictures of things that are happening to me that I’m excited about because why wouldn’t I? THAT IS WHAT IT IS THERE FOR. Love what you love. Someone out there will hate it, but who the hell cares?
A year later, and I still haven’t quite grasped that my Paw Paw is gone. I still don’t really get that I will never hear him call me “Booger” or “Kay Kay.” That I will never hear him laugh or hear the funny way he’d say “Heeeelll-o” when he answered the phone. I still don’t get that he won’t, at any minute, walk through the door in his big, white cowboy hat. But I think of him every day. I think of riding with him on his tractor. I think of helping him feed baby chickens in his barn. I think of how comforting his cologne smelled when he hugged me. I imagine him in some type of heaven hanging out with Johnny Cash and George Jones and hopefully sometimes Whitney Houston. I think of him every time I succeed and every time I fail and I am thankful that even though he is gone, the things I learned through him are still with me every single day. I am thankful that in a way, he is still the man of my family, and he is still here for me whenever I need him, just like he promised.