I didn't expect to have to talk to my daughter about death again so soon. We just had a conversation about it when Nana passed away six months ago. My wife's father, David (or "Campa" as my daughter calls him), had been in declining health for a little over a year now. He went into the hospital last Sunday, and never turned the corner to get better. Time in the hospital took its toll on his weakened body, and on Friday, he was moved to hospice and passed away a little over eight hours later.
I choked up as I told my daughter, while we were on our way to visit him in hospice, that this would be the last time she ever sees her "Campa". He was going away to heaven to be with Jesus, just like Nana did. Being only two and a half, her response to me was, "We need to hurry up if he's going away! I need to say goodbye." And say goodbye she did. She sang him the "ABC's," "Jesus Loves Me," and "I Love You A Bushel And A Peck." She gave him hugs and kisses, and she wasn't even scared. I was so proud of my little girl.
The service for him last night was great. So many people came out to support the family, and we heard lots of great stories about David's fifty-five years on this earth. I also shared a story about David, and I wanted you to be able to read it as well. David loved reading about his granddaughter on this blog, and I thought it would be a great tribute to him to share this story.
My Tribute To David
My relationship with David didn't get off to a great start. The first time I met him, he was driving his unmarked State Police cruiser into the parking lot of my high school. His daughter was late coming home from drama practice, and she was sitting in my car. We were talking about things that were important to high schoolers; things that, at the time, seemed important enough to make her late. Truthfully, I was working up the nerve to tell his daughter how I felt about her.
I eventually got the courage to ask David and his wife if I could date their daughter. As I sat at their kitchen table, I told them how I felt about her. I'm not sure you'd call what I received from David a "blessing," but after thoroughly questioning me about my intentions, he seemed willing to allow us to begin dating.
Let's fast forward through a few years of college, and I found myself at that same kitchen table with David and his wife. This time, I was asking permission to marry their daughter. I can't remember if he actually used the word "no," but it was clear that he didn't think it was a good idea to get married right out of college. We clearly didn't agree, and although we delayed our wedding a year to save money, we did eventually get married.
For a long time, I thought he was just being hard on me, and I couldn't understand what I had done to deserve it. I also couldn't figure out what I would have to do in order to earn his respect. It wasn't until I had a daughter of my own that I finally realized that the hard time he gave me had nothing to do with me and everything to do with protecting his only daughter. When I thought he was being tough on me, he was really showing his love for her.
The arrival of my daughter changed a lot of things about our relationship. His eyes would light up when she entered the room. He would beam with pride at her accomplishments. Our conversations became easier as we could always talk about her latest milestones. We shared a lot of smiles and laughs because of her, and David was often the first one to comment on this website when I wrote about her. I could tell that he respected me as a father, and that meant a lot to me.
A few months ago, I sat at that same kitchen table with David for one of the last times. I had grown to appreciate his zany sense of humor, but there was no humor in his voice when he asked me, "Matt, did I really say "no" when you asked if you two could get married?"
Not wanting to be rude, I began to say, "Well, I don't think you actually used the word 'no'..."
He cut me off, "I can't believe I did that!" Then he added with a laugh, "I'm really glad you didn't listen to me." He let me know that he was happy to have me in the family, and that he was proud to be the grandpa of such a wonderful, little girl.
I know, someday, I will be sitting at a kitchen table with a young man who is interested in dating my daughter. Now that David is gone, I will need to be twice as protective of my little girl's heart. Because I know, first hand, that David wouldn't have let him off easy. Thank you, David, for teaching me the importance of protecting those who are most important to you. And I promise, I won't let you down.