More than a year has passed. More than a year and I still cannot start to write this without the tears showing up. August 13, 2011. That's the day he went home to heaven.
I miss him. Oh, how I miss him, especially this time of year.
You see, we did Christmas Eve dinners with the Segovia's. Every year, never failed. And every year, Juan sat near me. He would whisper things to me, and I would always laugh...and I am not a quiet laugher. He knew I would laugh, that's why he said things...because he always got the reaction he was looking for from me. No matter what was going on, no matter how bad things were, he could make me laugh. When my life fell apart, and I mean it fell to complete pieces and even now, years later I am still finding pieces I didn't know existed, they were there. He would hug me and call me one of his Panda daughters. He loved me in a profound and beautiful way. He was the dad in my life, the only father figure who never let me down. His all too short presence in my life, was nevertheless one of the most meaningful that I have ever experienced. We faced some difficult times together, our two families... We survived the year when I finally admitted that my step-father had molested me beginning at age 14 and that 13 years later he was still doing things to me to keep me quiet and traumatized...and together, our families came together to say goodbye to this man who was losing the battle to cancer. We cried so many tears. Oh, but we laughed, too. Juan and I, together, we laughed.
There are so many years of laughter. So many memories and all of them I remember laughter. He brought joy into my soul. In the darkest moments of my life, there was laughter. In every precious memory I have of him, somewhere, there was always laughter.
The very last time I saw Juan...I had been watching Sandra and Jackie's dog while they stayed with him and Lorraine. They asked me to come to the house so I could say goodbye. When I walked in, he brightened. This man who could barely move, who was a shadow of his former self, this man who by all rights should have died days before, if not weeks, brightened when I walked in the house. He smiled and me and he hugged me. He told his family in from out of town, "this is my other daughter, Sarah." That night, we all sat around and we listened as someone from his church read from his favorite passage in the Bible. Then she read some more... and somehow we all started singing to him. He loved the music at church, and all of us, maybe 20 people in total, started singing hymns in perfect 4 part harmony. We hadn't discussed it, we never practiced it, we just sang from our hearts to the man we were all there to say goodbye to. He closed his eyes and listened, a smile playing faintly on his lips. He looked peaceful. As the night came to an end and we all started to leave, he asked me to hold him up. I hugged this man I love so dearly. I lifted him from his chair in my embrace and he just held me for the longest time. Then, he pulled his face away from my shoulder, he kissed my cheek and told me "I love you my panda." I told him I loved him too, and before I could put him back in his chair he looked at me, this man who could barely speak, barely move, stopped, looked at me and said in a voice that was clear and could be heard, "Hey! Now you can tell all the boys that you pick up old men!!" and we laughed together.
That is how I will always remember my Panda Papa, Mr. Juan-derful, the dad i didn't have, my Juan. I will remember our laughter, because it was our bond.
They asked me to sing at his funeral. I'm not sure I could do it for anyone else, but for Juan, for Lorraine and the girls, anything. So, I sang. I had helped the girls go through hundreds of photos of him. We put together a photo montage with music... and as the video played we watched the photos pass by and we laughed.
I will love you forever and ever, my Panda Papa. When I miss you, I still sleep in the shirt that I have...the shirt with the paint from my bedroom walls. Thank you for taking care of us, of me. thank you for loving me unconditionally and for letting me be your other daughter. But thank you most of all, for the laughter. Every time I laugh I can feel you close to my heart.
Oh, but we laughed....