The Long Goodbye

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When I came into the world my cousin Paul was already here. He has been an integral person in my life from the first memories that I have. Growing up we saw each other every Friday night at my grandmother’s home. Paul was the sweetest among my grandmother’s grandchildren. He always possessed a calmness and sense of humor that made him a favorite of all of us. For a time we even thought that perhaps he might become a priest or some kind of minister of God.

Paul had the largest collection of comic books that I have ever seen. He never threw an issue away and they were stored in piles wrapped with string in the back of his home. He seemed like an only child because his siblings were much older than he was and had gone to live on their own from the time he was quite young. His parents doted on him but did not spoil him. They modeled the kind and easygoing behavior that was his trademark. Just being with them was enough to lower one’s blood pressure several points. 

Paul and I both attended the University of Houston in the late nineteen sixties. His education there was interrupted by the Vietnam war. He enlisted in the Air Force and spent time in Oklahoma and Germany where he matured and honed his wisdom and compassion. He would be incredibly proud of his university and his time in the military for the rest of his life. His loyalty to God, family and his country was unshakeable. 

Paul married and went to work. His mother and father both died when he was still a very young adult. When his daughter was born he focused his loving nature on her and his wife. He was a success at work mostly because he was indefatigable and had such a generous personality that everyone loved him. He rose through the ranks and life was good until it wasn’t.

During hurricane Harvey Paul’s home of many decades flooded. It was a total disaster and for the first time in his life he was completely overwhelmed. He was nearing retirement age, but realized that this setback would force him to continue working well into his seventies. Once he got over the shock of what had happened he returned to his determined survival mode and did his best to be optimistic. He repaired his home, continued working at his job and enjoyed talking long walks in the park next to his abode. He often posted lovely stories on Facebook of his life in the military. His sense of humor became ever more delightful. 

Paul finally retired a couple of years ago. I went to his retirement party and he seemed to be exhausted. He made a speech extolling the symbolism of his wedding ring and his Air Force ring, two of his most cherished possessions because of what they represented. It was apparent that his family and his country had always meant everything to him. The people who worked for and with him praised his goodness just as those of us who are his cousins have always done. Kindness is his most lovely character trait. It is what makes him “our Paul.”

I would see Paul again at the funeral of another of our cousins in late 2021. He was looking better, as though retirement was agreeing with him. We enjoyed the usual cousin’s banter complete with his great story telling and a few wonderful jokes. It was good to see him looking so well, but that was not to remain the case.

In the spring of 2022, Paul had a heat stroke while walking. Even though he appeared to only need more hydration on his daily journeys through the park, his condition continued to deteriorate quickly until he was diagnosed with advance stage dementia. The one time my brother and sister-in-law and I saw him he was a shell of his former self, but he was still laughing and enjoying a good joke. I am glad that we were able to tell him how much we love him before he reaches a point of no longer knowing who we are or understanding what we are saying. 

When a loved one has dementia it is a long goodbye. The grieving for that person begins even before they die. We remember all of the wonder of their lives, but they forget. It is terribly difficult to watch such an incredible person like Paul dwindle away. Somehow we never saw this coming or we would have made more effort to save his stories, enjoy his jokes. We would have spent more time with him and told him more often how much we have always loved and respected him.

Paul’s wife and daughter tell us that he is quickly nearing the end of his life. It’s difficult for me to imagine a world without him. He has been the anchor of goodness among us cousins. He has been the exemplary role model and voice of wisdom that we have needed. We all pray that he will not suffer too much. We know that he will immediately go to heaven. He is one of God’s angels who came down from heaven to live among us. We have been blessed by his presence. We hope that somewhere in his heart he knows just how important he is to us. We hope he realizes how much we love him.

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