A Good Life

The sun is sparkling on the Mississippi and my Papa has his shorts pulled up to his hip so that the tops of his legs get tan. His arms and half his chest are exposed in his white undershirt.

He isn’t smiling, but I know he’s happy.

The fish are biting.

And somehow the topic of death comes up, of unexpected death specifically. “What if…?” I ask him, something about an accident or lightning striking while he’s on the river.

“Well then it’s my time to go,” he shrugs.

I laugh. “And that’s it?”

“Listen,” and he gets his serious face on, “if the Good Lord says it’s my time then it’s my time and that’s all there is to it.”

You do not question the Good Lord.

“So you’re not scared at all?” I ask.

And then he tells me his Truth.

“I’ve had a good life.”

Sitting on his throne, the captain’s chair of his fishing boat, with a wife and grandkids waiting on shore for him to return, he was the picture of contentment.

The night he arrived at the hospital by ambulance, in pain and far away from his favorite fishing spots, he told his wife and two kids the same thing he’d told me on the river years ago. “I’ve had a good life.”

His aorta was torn. The paperwork said no extreme measures.

You don’t question the Good Lord.

He died Sunday December 15, and they tell me he didn’t look like himself at all. I’ve watched strong men die before so I’m certain this is true, but I’ve no doubt that he was still – at least in the ways that count – the picture of contentment.

Papa Dad Grammy

My Papa was not a saint.

He gave up his favorite brand of whiskey for Lent each year and was giddy when he got to crack the bottle open again after Easter Mass.

He hollered at the “busted assholes” who drove too fast on the roads where his grandkids played, and he still referred to the people he served at the Salvation Army as “colored”.

He insisted that I could be as thin as Mother if I got up and did 6am workouts like she did, nevermind that my grandmother and I don’t actually share any genetic material and that I was 13 when he started telling me this.

He used an aluminum sleeve and a shotgun to protect his yard from squirrels – in town.

I’m sure he was expecting to spend a little time in purgatory, as most good Catholic boys do.

But he was also certain that he’d make his way to Heaven eventually, and he’d see not only God but the Blessed Mother, whom he adored.

His entire life was about loving his family, his God, and his Church. He doted on his wife, and let us know he “chased her around the house” long after any of us wanted to picture such a thing. He loved to fish, and so he made time for it whenever possible in between volunteering and keeping his garden going.

I never had any doubt what my Papa believed or that he loved me, even when those two things seemed like they should be in conflict.

He didn’t scold me when I showed up unwed and pregnant, but hugged me and told me he and Grammy would do everything they could to help me.

He loved my mother thirty years after she divorced my dad, and told me so every time he saw me. “How is your mom? Tell her we said hi.”

His wake and his funeral will be overrun, I know, by people whose lives he touched. His absence will be felt. He will be mourned. He will be missed.

He will also be remembered. The stories about his life will make us laugh. He will be quoted, and some of the lessons he taught us will be passed on to future generations. He will still be loved.

That is a good life.


  1. What a great man. And what a fine tribute you’ve written. Thanks for sharing him with us, so we can be glad for his life too.
    Cindy Closkey’s most recent post: Detente

  2. daniel says:

    Glad you had him.
    daniel’s most recent post: Phamily Foto Phriday 12-13-13

  3. Katie Biehl says:

    Beautiful. My grandfather was the same and I called him Pap too. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  4. deedee lutgen says:

    Wow. I am beyond touched by these words. I can just feel the love, respect and admiration. And of course I smiled at the busted assholes comment :)

    • Britt Reints says:

      Oh good! I was worried it might be insulting, but it’s one of the things my husband loved most about Papa! lol

  5. Alan Labovitz says:

    A nice tribute to your dad. My father and I didn’t alwas get along and he’s been gone now for years. I’m an only child and my wife and I moved away a long time ago. In the last few years of my father’s life we did begin to get along. I think of him a lot now and sometimes wish he was here so I could talk with him. Thanks for your article.

  6. Megan says:

    So sorry for your loss, sweetheart, but so glad you had this man in your life. You have been blessed.

    Much love to you and the family. xoxo
    Megan’s most recent post: Sun Day

  7. Julie Weber says:

    Uncle Paul was truly a wonderful man whose legacy will live on. This is an absolutely beautiful tribute.

  8. el-e-e says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

  9. Naomi says:

    Beautiful tribute.
    Naomi’s most recent post: On Speaking Up

  10. Mary says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. He sounds like quite a guy. May God bless you and your family. Hugs

  11. […] letter to Santa and then I got instantly teary and reminiscent as I read this amazing and heartfelt tribute to a loved […]

  12. Melissa says:

    Hi Britt! It is so great that you had such a special relationship with your Papa! What a great story to share with everyone! Love it!
    Melissa’s most recent post: Giving is the Miracle to Transforming our Hearts

  13. martymankins says:

    A well written tribute to your papa and the awesome life he lived.
    martymankins’s most recent post: Random Leakage #18

  14. Rita says:

    So very sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to your grandfather.
    Rita’s most recent post: Christmas Crochet Delivery

  15. i’ve read this several times since you first posted it and didn’t comment each time because i was searching for the perfect words. problem is, i can’t find them. so here i am, telling you days later that i am so sorry for your family’s loss and i love the way you shared him in this post. it was truly incredible and quite touching.

    p.s. busted asshole might be my new favorite thing to say in the car.
    hello haha harf’s most recent post: Question

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