29 April 2012

The Circle of Life

The Circle of Life
Music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

As I noticed the date today, I realized that it's April 29. April 29 was my Pawpaw's birthday. I pretty much always think of the Lion King song "The Circle of Life" when I think of Pawpaw because it's entirely fitting.

In 2008, my parents and I flew back to Atlanta for Pawpaw's 80th birthday party. It was a big deal because, well, he was turning 80, and because he was in hospice home care for cancer and we didn't think that he'd see any more birthdays. It was a great party. Family and friends came from all over, people I hadn't seen in literally decades and people I had heard about from when my mom was growing up but couldn't remember ever meeting. It was a wonderful day, it was the Saturday before his birthday. He looked pretty worn down and it was obvious that the cancer had taken a toll on him but he was SO happy to be at this party and to be surrounded by his loved ones.

Tuesday was his birthday. I was staying with one of my aunts and her husband since space was limited at Pawpaw's house. My mom and her twin sister took Pawpaw from his house to The Varsity and Dad came to get me and we drove to meet them there, it was where Pawpaw wanted to eat for his birthday lunch. Dad and I were almost there when Mom called to say that Pawpaw had had a sudden downturn and collapsed and they were taking him home. Dad and I went on to eat lunch and then went back to Pawpaw's house.

Pawpaw was pretty much out of it from then on out and once he was gotten into his bed, he stayed there, hooked up to his medication to try to keep him comfortable. The family gathered that night to see him and say our goodbyes. The next day, he passed away quietly, at home, with my mom and Auntie in attendance.

I know he was so proud that he made it to his 80th birthday. I like to think that it was God's Birthday gift to him, to allow him to see that milestone he had so deeply hoped for. He didn't lead a perfect life but he led a full one. He was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was proud of his service to his country and was proud to have grandchildren serve in the U.S. Army. U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Marines, as well as one of his great-nephews doing well in the Naval JROTC with plans to join the ROTC in college. He got along very well with my other grandfather, a U.S. Air Force veteran and POW from the Korean War, and had great respect for what Grandpa went through. One of my favorite pictures with him is from when he drove from Atlanta up to Ft. Jackson, SC to see me graduate from Basic Training. I was glad that he, and family members from my dad's side, were able to be there for that proud occasion.

Lest one get the wrong impression though, Pawpaw was equally proud of all his children and grandchildren who did not join the military. He absolutely doted on all of us. Eventually, he ended up working at J.C. Penney and he loved to buy us Easter dresses, candy, toys, and Barbies (for the girls). I have a whole collection of limited edition holiday Barbies, thanks to Pawpaw.

I've thought about Pawpaw and Memmaw so many times over the last 4 years. Pawpaw died at the end of April. In August I found out I was pregnant and in October I got married. I've thought so many times that it's so ironic that he came so close to getting to meet my husband and daughter. I wished that both of them could be there for my wedding and the feeling was intensified by how recent his passing was. We honored them, and the rest of our family members who are no longer with us, by a memory candle: a pale blue pillar candle on a round glass mirror surrounded by small votive candles, one for each loved one. One of my aunts and one of Eric's sisters went up at the beginning of the service and lit the candles together and that was the candle that our mothers lit the tapers that we used to light our unity candle. It was our way of having them there with us, and showing that we carry their love and memory with us in our lives. I still wished that they could have been there, I wished that they could have met my children, I've wished so many times that they were here. I"m glad, though, that I had them in my life for so long, it was a true blessing.

And that, my friends, is the circle of life. No matter what your religion or spirituality, no matter who or what you do or don't believe in, one fact remains: life begins and life ends, and life goes on in a never-ending circle. Through this cycle we take these cherished memories with us and honor our loved ones who have gone before us. I find it no coincidence that my oldest daughter was born almost exactly one year after Pawpaw's birth and passing. I find it to be a wonderful reminder of the fragility of life, and that even though life is fleeting it still endures.

Happy Birthday, Pawpaw. I'm glad that you came into this world 84 years ago.


  1. Beautifully said. I'm so glad you got a chance to get to know all your grandfolk. I knew my grandmothers well, but only met Mom's Dad briefly once that I can recall, and of course never knew either of Dad's Dads.
    Doted. Yeah he did. Can't blame him, either.

  2. Thank you for this sweet memorial. "Doted" is absolutely the right word, and it's a tradition I proudly carry on in honor of your doting grandparents! I love you, sweet Esther!