Updated: May 19
Remembering my Papa
LeRoy “Papa” Gomes
It will be ten years in October since my grandfather, or “Papa” as we affectionately called him, passed. I still remember the day I found out…
I was at work at a job I hated, and my manager (who I also had an intense disdain for) called me into HR. My heart was pounding as I tried to figure out what I could have done wrong.
Your mother asked us to tell you to meet her at her job.
I stared at them in confusion. My mother called the office to speak to them instead of just calling my line?
Is she okay? Did she say why? We really think you should just go now.
So I went back to my desk, grabbed my things, and started walking the 10 mins it took to get to her job. She wouldn’t answer her phone. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life, and all I could think of after a while was…
He couldn’t be dead, could he?
As soon as I made my way into her small office, I could tell something was wrong.
I looked at her and asked her what was wrong.
Your Papa, he died…
The world stopped, and then came the wailing. The overwhelming pain I felt was undeniable. So much sadness, so much anger, so much guilt.
I never went to see him before he died.
They diagnosed him with prostate cancer, but what killed him was his heart. It just gave out; I remember my mother going to see him, but I wasn’t allowed to. I was 21 and not allowed to see my own grandfather (more on that later), and now he was gone.
I remember the drive up to Connecticut was quiet. My mother was somber; my dad was himself. He was attempting to make it about him, hating that my mothers’ tears were given to someone else — her attention for one moment off him, his pet peeve. When we arrived, the feeling of shock waved over as the family came together. Cousins who were once like sisters now stood before me as strangers. I remember my nerves. I remember wishing my dad would just leave and go to the hotel. When he did, my cousins and I snuck off for a cigarette. I was fiending the entire time, so I was more than happy to getaway. It helped me relax.
The next day we made our way to the funeral home to see his body. I remember how white he looked. It shocked me.
THAT’S NOT MY PAPA!
I was wailing once again. Uncontrollable wailing coming from all sides of the church, and I couldn’t breathe. He glowed. His hair was so white. Like light from above was shining on him. Spiritual light. My Papa, a was dark man from the Carolinas wasn’t nothing white about him but his suits, sometimes. This time he had a glow. Eerie and odd. I remember my Uncle Jimmy coming to hold us. The cousins, though in our twenties, were now looking more and more like we were little girls again. I could hear papa telling us to stop fighting or him calling me “DeDe” and slipping me some extra money for candy. But now all I heard was a deafening silence.
What kept us apart?
More like who? When I was 15 or 16, that’s when the visits to Connecticut stopped. My dad had gotten in an argument with my mom’s family (again), and from that moment on, we didn’t go back much at all. If we did go, my mother was the only one allowed to visit. I had no right to feel angry or hurt behind his decision; I just had to take it on the chin or risk, literally taking it on the chin. So many years wasted over pettiness. So many Christmas’s missed. Fun fact, my dad would promise that we’d get to go to Connecticut for the holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fourth of July. Then the night before the trip, he’d get angry for no reason and decide we weren’t going. After we’d packed our bags and told everyone we were coming. I think it was a sick game; he’d get mad at us if we showed any anger at his decision. Sometimes I wished we went anyway. Sometimes I wished we’d just sneak out and never come back. Sometimes I wish I could get the years back. The years that were stolen from me — but now that didn’t matter because he was gone.
I never got to see him before he died.
At the funeral, my dad held me; I placed a hand on my mother’s back the entire time as she sat one row in front with her brothers and sisters. In my mind, I told my papa that I was sorry he never got to see me graduate (It happened the year after his passing). I promised him I would keep making him proud. I remember how he always told me that he was proud of me for making something of myself. I remember when I needed to buy my first computer, and without hesitation, he gave me half the money (I already had the other half). I remember how much he would smile when I came into his room as he watched the Red Sox’s play whenever we surprised them for a visit. But…
I also remember the wailing.
I remember the hatred I felt for my father that day as he held me. I remembered hating that I had to ride with him to the gravesite. I remember making the promise that regardless of my anger, I would never do what he did to me to my children. They would know their grandfather the good and hopefully never the bad. What he took from me was a man that was always kind, quiet, loving, sarcastic, and peaceful (unless you pushed him).
While I remember my papa for his good, I, unfortunately, will never forget the bad surrounding it, and my heart won’t forgive either. When I look back over the time that was missed, I will always remember what kept us apart…was him and not you.