I have never been one to be a Scrooge for Christmas, or have an attitude that was against the true meaning of the season. It was always a time of year for me of excitement and spending time with family. After Christmas was over, I would look forward to my Birthday and the opportunity to get a 2nd batch of presents from my loved ones. All within 2 weeks! What kid wouldn’t be happy? And I always was.
But for the past two years, things have not been the same. In March of 2010 my grandfather John Carl Hendrix, known to me as Papa, passed away from kidney failure in his home in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
Even in this picture as you look into his eyes you can see the kindness of his heart. He was more than a grandfather to me, he was a 2nd father, and someone that taught me how to love, laugh, and serve those around me. It was him who made the season of Christmas so special to me.
I still have a distant memory of when I was around 4 years old. It was a time in my life where I was being treated for Rabdomyo Sarcoma, which is a soft tissue cancer that I had on the left side of my neck. It was not an easy time for my family, and I don’t remember a lot of the trials, and struggles that my family was going through, but I know they wanted to make my Christmas something to remember.
We were living in Provo at an apartment complex where i shared a bunk bed with my younger brother Christian. We had just come back from Papa’s house where each year we would go to have a Christmas Eve party with all of our family, and at the end we would open presents that Papa had gotten us. We would all be sitting around the tree that was so full of presents it would fill half of the living room to have all of these gifts for us grandkids. It was magical and something I looked forward to every year.
Like I had said we had just gotten home, and were very riled up and couldn’t wait for Santa to come and give us his gifts, as we had been good boys and wanted the next day to come. As we were shifting and rolling in our beds we heard some bells jingling outside of our window. We suddenly went quiet and didn’t move a muscle as the noise got louder and louder. Suddenly there was a knock on our window and a voice that said “Ho Ho Ho! Is Jordan, Christian, and Ryan asleep!?” We were flabbergasted! Santa had come to our house and knew our names! It wasn’t until years later when I was around 16 that I found out that it was Papa who had taken the extra time to come to our apartment and make that year that much more special.
As the years progressed I started to care less and less about the presents I got each year and just appreciated more and more the time I got to spend with Papa. He let me travel with him to Alabama when I was in 5th Grade to go learn more about our family history, and to be able to learn more from him.
Yes, we drove in this Ryder truck from Utah all the way to Alabama. Along the way he took the extra time to show me some of places that he felt were important for me to see, and to really learn more about our country. We went to St. Louis, Nauvoo, Independence Missouri, Hannibal Missouri, and more. It was at these places I learned to appreciate my pioneer heritage, Tom Sawyer and the author that created him, and also the respect and knowledge of our ancestors. We took this Ryder truck because there were headstones in the back that Papa had made for some of our ancestors in Colorado, Kansas, and Alabama that didn’t have a proper headstone to mark their grave site. I got to explore graveyards and learn more about how markers are made, and why we have them there.
I always will be forever grateful for that priceless time that I got to spend with him on those trips. There were a few times we flew out, but when we drove I appreciated them more, as I got to see the country and spend more time with my Papa. It was after these trips as I grew older that he started calling me one of his sons. I was more than just a grandson.
As each Christmas came as I went through my teen years, I couldn’t wait to see what Papa had planned for us for our annual Christmas Eve party. We had our normal traditions of a White Elephant gift exchange, a Pinata, and a dinner, and he would always ask for me and my brothers to come over and help set up. It taught me to appreciate the time and effort it took to get a party together, and what was needed inorder for it to be successful. He enjoyed the work, he always enjoyed the work, and then watching the rewards of his work by giving to others. There was no other man that I knew that gave so much. I always remember him sitting in a chair just enjoying the moments of us getting strange white elephant gifts of spam or a back scratcher, and then seeing who would break the pinata, and then the finale of us opening the gifts we had asked for from him that year.
I still feel ashamed that one year I had been ungrateful because he had gotten some megablocks to my brothers and hadn’t gotten them for me because I hadn’t asked for them. But I had wanted them (this was back when i was 8). I was angry and didn’t have a happy face or acted that good for the rest of the night. I didn’t even tell Papa thank you for the gifts he had given me. I finally had apologized to him a few months later when I had the guts to tell him, but to this day I feel ashamed that I wasn’t as appreciative as I should have been.
Papa worked hard and he always gave to others before himself. Whenever there was a need for help he was first to volunteer. He showed me that giving was so much more meaningful and rewarding than receiving. Others needs were a lot of the time more important than his. And I wanted to be like that.
After Papa had retired from the Forest Service after working there since he was 18 years old, his health started to drop dramatically. He had had heart problems, and some back problems in the past, but now it was focused more on his kidneys. He lost a lot of weight, had no energy, and started to become so frail and weak it was hard to see. He still kept his spirits up though, and continued the tradition of having Christmas Eve at his house. He worked so hard for all of us, and I know it wasn’t easy for him at all. It brings tears to my eyes to remember the pain he suffered through to make Christmas still magical for all of us, and to understand what it meant. I know it wasn’t easy and I remember wishing I could take that pain away. That was all I wanted for Christmas that year. That was in 2009.
I had recently come home from my mission, and while i was there Papa had kept his promise of writing me every week, and always helped me with my investigators, and understanding of the gospel as I continued to learn myself. He also kept me posted on his health and how things were always up or down. It was hard when I had to come home early from my mission because of medical things I was facing myself, but I know there was a reason that I did. It was so I could be there to spend time with Papa before his final days on this earth.
Near the end he had decided to stop dialysis and to stop the pain, and it was then that we all started to say our goodbyes. He was in and out of consciousness through these last few days, and there was a time that I had was able to stay my final goodbye to him. I told him that I loved him, and that I always wanted to be like him. That he taught me to be the man that I am, and I would never forget his laugh, his smile, or his attitude of giving to others. I was holding his frail hand as I spoke to him and I had told him I needed to go. His eyes were closed and I didn’t know at all if he had heard me and as I got up his grip on my hand got stronger, and his kind eyes opened and he said “no” to me, as he didn’t want me to leave yet. He looked at me, with the look of longing, that he didn’t want to leave me, and asked me to stay. I did, and it was in the next day or so that he ultimately left this earth and was no longer in pain.
I didn’t cry then, or cry as his body was taken by the mortuary, or when I had dressed him for burial, or spent time at his viewing. It wasn’t until I started to speak at his funeral, after we sang Smokey the Bear’s song that the tears started to flow. The realization that my Papa was gone, and had left to the other side actually hit home.
No more Christmas Eve’s at his house, no more Brithday dinners with just me and him to spend time together, to laugh, talk about anything I wanted to talk about, and him giving me the love and attention that only he could give. I got through my talk, and we took him to his final resting place and it all was over. For the rest of the year it didn’t seem real, it just felt like Papa was gone on a wildfire, like he was most every summer. That he was busy with work, his scouting, or working on his yard that he took so much pride in. It was that year at Christmas Eve, when the thoughts and memories of the traditions I had grew up with started to help me look forward to the chance of going to Papa’s house that it really hit home. It wasn’t ever going to be the same. That spirit had left me, because Papa wasn’t there. The man who when I was 4 played Santa to some excited little boys in their small Apartment in Provo had left us. My hero, who showed me what the true meaning of Christmas was, and how giving really made you feel special was on to the next life. I missed him more than words could express, and it was hard to keep that spirit of Christmas alive in my heart.
It still is hard after 3 Christmas’ of him being gone. I know it is vain of me to shout “Ba humbug!” at this time of year, but it is a process that is going to take a few years for me to finally find that magic again. I still miss you Papa, I keep trying to be the man that you were. I hope that someday I can live up to your legacy. I promise to bring the traditions that you had instilled in me to my family one day. Christmas wasn’t the same this year and I wish with all my heart I could see you again, and huge you and hear your laugh. Merry Christmas Papa, and I love you.