Michelle called him Barty. Their relationship was complicated, as Michelle’s parents were divorced while she was new to the world. I’ve heard stories. Some good. Some bad. When I met him, he was bed ridden. Paralyzed from the neck down after a fall from a balcony. Twenty years prior the doctors gave him five years, at most, to live. We went to his house so Michelle could cut his very long hair.
His new wife was not home and he was lying there, playing video games with some tool that allowed him control with his head. His smile was contagious and his commentary on life in general was refreshing. No matter what had happened in the past and no matter how he had gotten to where he was, I couldn’t help but like him. I held his head while Michelle cut the back. And then, I fell in love with Michelle even more deeply as she asked Barty if he wanted a cigarette. I smoked then, she never did.
She put a cigarette into a loop of iron fastened to his wristband and lit it. It was apparent that he enjoyed it and I wondered how long he had been there just wanting to smoke. There were other brief visits and eventually he found himself in the hospital for the last time. Though I have known people, including my mother, that have died, he is the only person I have been with when they passed. Mostly for Michelle, but for him as well. He was my wife’s father, yet somehow, in the brief time that I knew him, he became my friend. I remember one thing more than others about Barty.
Maybe to others, but never to me, did he once complain about his situation. He laughed when we spoke. He cut up with me when we talked. His family loved him. Perhaps I saw only one side of Barty. Perhaps my memory is skewed. But I remember a kind man, with a sharp mind, a wonderful sense of humor, and a great will to survive. At his funeral, Michelle, in her children’s honor, placed a pillow inside his casket that read, “Papaw Party”. The name they called him when they were young. And though this may seem odd, I was happy that my mother, upon her passing, was able to meet the man. I am a better person for meeting the man myself. May we be thankful for what we have, who we have, and the time we have to enjoy them.