Pops

When I look at this family picture, there’s a HUGE hole.

Our beloved patriarch, Pops, ran ahead of us to heaven back in October 2019 after a brave fight with terminal cancer. This past summer was the first time we’d all been together since his funeral. The first time in two years (thanks to COVID and baby James) I’ve gotten to be with the larger group.

My decades long role in the family has been photographer and photo book creator.

I’ve always pushed past rolled eyes and the “ughhhs”, knowing pictures together are invaluable. There are moments when all the exhaustive amounts of “say cheese” are worth it. Like the day we got the call Pops took his last breath. The cousins were all texting each other, and realized all of us were sitting at our respective homes, across multiple states, looking through old photo books, cherishing moments spent with our beloved grandfather.

At our third annual family get together without him on this side of heaven, while hanging out by the pool, I turned to the ladies and said “I think it’s time I made another photo book”. Between crazy family schedules with moves and weddings and babies and a funeral, it had been quite some time since I’d gathered pictures together and created a book.

Meme (Pops’ bride of so many years it’s hard to count), pulled me aside later and I asked her if she was okay I made a photo book again, knowing it would be the first one without him gracing the pages. She said yes, it was fine with her, especially since he loved those photo books so much. She said we honor him and are grateful he’s here with us. It’s time to continue on as a family without him on this side of heaven.

Not having him on this side of heaven leaves a hole in our family that exposed us to suffering in its black hole style pull. For my grandmother, more than any of us. They were childhood sweethearts, meeting each other for the first time in FIRST GRADE!!!

He, a retired Navy Commander, she, a rock solid matriarch, the pair built a life full of family and love. A foundation that helped me weather tumultuous seas as a young adult, before starting my own family. A family I never thought he’d ever get to meet.

In the summer of 2014, I was living with my grandparents in Atlanta while I transitioned to my new big girl job as a corporate employee. Typically St. Simons bound for the 4t of July, I came down with some kind of nasty sickness and stayed in bed, instead, for a few days. Meme got sick after me, then Pops. The ladies were able to shake the cold quickly but Pops’ symptoms lingered. Concerned, the doctor was visited and tests were run. When I heard the words “terminal cancer”, I headed immediately to his closet.

A walk-in version with a door accessed from his bathroom, I sat down on the off-white carpet and stared at brown wooden polls holding all of his clothes. The tears started falling and didn’t stop. A single woman at the time, I wept for all the life he would inevitably miss. He wouldn’t meet my husband. He wouldn’t see me walk down the aisle. He wouldn’t hold my kids.

A fighter on the battle field as young man, a fighter for love as a grandfather, he became a fighter of cancer, determined to live as long as he could to experience as much life as he could, with those of us he loved the most. He fought valiantly, giving us FIVE more years of pictures and hugs and kisses and gas money.

There was never a time I left his house he didn’t slip some kind of bill in my hand. The last time I saw him, a few days before his hard fought body breathed his last, he lovingly called my grandmother back into the room “Emily, come here” (a phrase I’d heard a million times before) and then soon after a “Virginia Lee come here” followed. He raised his tired hand and slipped me a hundred dollar bill. I kissed him on the cheek, told him I loved him and I’d see him soon.

I wasn’t by myself when I said those last words to him. In my arms was my daughter, a child, five years earlier, I never dreamed he’d meet.

And my husband? Pops didn’t just get to meet him, he got to know him really well and both men respected each other tremendously. Pops attended not only my wedding but was able to see all three of his eldest grandchildren wed their soul mates.

Commander Johnny Childs got to meet James Paul before we did. “James”, a family name gifted to our little boy in honor of his great grandfather. A man who deserves every ounce of honor given to him, by his family, by his country. A man we miss tremendously and who’s legacy of love we carry to anyone we ever impact. We love you Pops!!

xoxo, va

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