A Decade Later

I remember the day very well. The morning was cool, despite the soon to be Florida summer heat index of 100 degrees. The day held promise, the birds sang outside, and the house was quiet. It was June 24th, 2006.  A gorgeous summer day, that would also hold a thousand painful memories.

At this point in time I was nine years old. I liked playing outside, drawing pictures of horses and riding my bike (which I would pretend was my very own elegant steed). My favorite food was probably Ice cream, and my favorite game was probably Parcheesi (Weird, right?). I had a dog named Checkers, and a whale blanket I would sleep with at night. My best friend in the whole world, and a real life super hero (to me), was my incredible grandfather- I called him Pappy. Wherever he was, I was right behind…or clinging onto his leg.  I didn’t know much about myself yet, and was quickly learning about the world, life, and my own personality.

My ninth year held so many different life lessons. Most nine year olds will learn the general stuff; Don’t steal things, don’t bully other kids, treat others well. Things like; how many planets there are, basic world history or maybe how to write in cursive font. I however had a very different year. The end of my 8th year I learned about a wretched, horrible, life debilitating disease called cancer. It had came and made its disgusting home in my child hood hero, and that’s where my story begins.

For a year and a half I quietly witnessed hundreds of doctor visits, hospital stays, various treatments, and the adults in my family try to figure things out. Many days were spent dancing around the hallway of Moffit Cancer Center trying to entertain myself. Occasionally the nurses there would bend the rules a little bit, and give me and my siblings tiny cups of ice cream that were meant to be for the patients. Those days were super awesome! Other days I would scan out-dated magazines, watch movies in the waiting room, or just sit in Pappy’s room and color. I became very familiar with life in and out of a hospital, something I hope most nine year olds won’t have to deal with. (Even though my childhood seemed to be stunted by doctors and hospitals, I wouldn’t have changed it. Given the circumstances, I learned so many things and had so much fun.)

I didn’t know anything about cancer except that it killed people. That fact alone scared me to pieces. How could I bear to lose my best friend?

The summer came around and Pappy’s health was declining rapidly. Looking back my mind couldn’t comprehend death and it wasn’t even something I considered to be a realistic outcome in our situation. It was all slipping away so fast. Pappy was strong, he was my superhero. Nothing could ever stop him. God was good and he would heal him, this was something I was sure of and prayed for day in and day out.

I remember the day they took Pappy home from the hospital. “They wanted him to be comfortable”, was what I was told. The next few days were filled with many relatives flying in, many people driving long distances through the night to be there. My cousins (all 11) were there, Aunts and Uncles I rarely saw came into town. People from our church came over and there was so much food everywhere. What was happening began to sink in. I was very afraid. I tried to stay in the room with Pappy as much as I could. What was once a favorite play room, living room and football watching room, where Pappy would play with us and read to us, now became a place of sorrow and gloom. Looking through the lens of salty tears was the new normal. The pain in my chest and lump in my throat was constant. The breaking of my heart was almost audible in my small ears. I didn’t know that I could feel so much. I didn’t know that death was so real.

The last day I was around Pappy was both my favorite day, and my least favorite day in all of history. I only wanted to be as close to him as I could. I even refused to leave with the rest of the cousins to go swimming and have fun because I was scared I would come back and he would be gone. The day moved so very slowly, various people were all around my grandmothers house. She being so strong and also so broken holding tightly to his limp hand, was the grandest gesture of love and loyalty I have ever witnessed. It was a beautiful picture of one big family, made of many different families, all coming together for a man who had impacted every life in an incredible way. The evening came and I was told that it was time to say goodbye to Pappy. The grown ups knew that it was more than likely the last time I’d see him. I carefully walked up to the bed and looked at my strong childhood hero, laying there, unable to move, unable to make a sound or even open his eyes. So many things I wished I could say, but only one phrase I was able to choke out. “I love you Pappy, See you later alligator.”, as I bent over and kissed his cheek. All I wanted in the world was to hear him finish our traditional farewell with “After a while crocodile!” There was no response. It had never been so hard to walk out of a room in my whole life.

I remember the day very well. The morning was cool, despite the soon to be Florida summer heat index of 100 degrees. The day held promise, the birds sang outside, and the house was quiet. It was June 24th, 2006.  A gorgeous summer day, that would also hold a thousand painful memories.

My father walked down the hall way to the front room where several of my cousins were sleeping on a pull out sofa bed, and I on the floor bundled up. He quietly gave us the news. His words were, “Pappy has been healed in the best possible way. He’s in Heaven now”. I believe I know what it feels like to have your heart stop completely and your life crash down before your eyes, for that is what I felt that day. My little world had ceased. I slowly pulled the covers over my head and curled up into a ball, unable to move. No tears came out because I had cried all of them already. My  best friend had left this world, and I was left behind.

Years went by until I was finally able to grieve properly and understood the goodness through all of this. Pappy was ultimately healed and his life legacy impacted so many people around the world. Though he was only 64 years old, he left behind the most wonderful memories, life lessons and legacy to a loving wife, four children and 12 grandchildren. Paul Henry Harshbarger was the most magnificent man I have ever met. He loved others more than himself and before himself. He served constantly and willingly. If there was a need to be met, he would try his hardest to meet it. He led people to Jesus so well, and made sure they knew what the actions of Christ looked like. He was a shepherd, a pastor, a mentor, a servant, a joker, a culdesac kickball umpire,  an ice cream man, a cuddler, a story teller, a videographer, a superhero, the best damn grandpa in the whole world. He was my Pappy and I am forever grateful. I owe my life today to him, because his influence made me who I am now. I wish every day that I had more time with him, that I could ask him more questions, that I could be held in his arms one more time. So many life events have come and gone that I struggle with, because he’s “missing it”. Even as I look forward to my future, my wedding day, when I have my own kids, and still even birthdays and Christmas, my heart breaks. Folks, you hear this a lot, but please go call your grandparents, or even go see them! Don’t regret the conversations and memories you didn’t make. Every second matters.

Pappy, you are never forgotten and always appreciated. May your legacy forever live on in my life and the life of others. “I love you” is not a strong enough phrase.

See you later alligator,

Your “babe”



2 thoughts on “A Decade Later

  1. Hon, yes this is a day of profound memories and emotion. How we all miss our Pappy who influenced each of us in unique ways. I remember one of his comments to all of us, ” obey God, and do what is right.” He strived to live this motto- even when it was most difficult not to retaliate. And I witnessed how God blessed him for this stand and worked situations out that seemed impossible. I remember the week before he went home to heaven, when we knew something was very wrong ( doctors hadn’t told us yet) Pappy told me to be strong, be brave. How could I when the one I love, the one human I draw strength from, would be gone! Ten years have passed and I keep on keeping on. I strive to be faithful to God and to do what is right. How I miss him, how I love him, there is a big hole in my heart do to speak. But God has been so faithful to me.

    Your thoughts express each of our hearts. Thank you for sharing. I love you, Tor,Tor!


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