The Mourning Process

Mourning has seven stages. The mourning process is a difficult passage that requires time and grace. Mourning will take you to sweet memories and then cast you into darkness. You plan your day, it’s going to be a good one. Then one thing, anything, will trigger a memory. If you’re all alone you’ll find yourself crumbled up in a heap of tears. I’ve walked this road three other times and I still don’t know what stage I’m in today.

Triggers

This afternoon at the grocery store I saw a man walking with his elderly father. A frail old man who was being led by his son (at least that’s what I imagine). The son impatiently prodded him from behind to make his father walk faster. The viejito took those tiny steps as quickly as he could. I held my breath as I watched him, ready to run and catch him if he fell. Every step, every movement was a victory for him. I was happy and I was sad for him.

Once upon a time that son was being led by his father. We never think that it’ll happen to us. My dad was too strong to have his body weakened by age. His back was not supposed to give out at eighty years old!

I Don’t Want To Get Old

Once, when I was fifteen I overheard him say, “I don’t want to live to be an old man.” My snotty teenage self thought, “Dad you’re already an old man!” He was fifty-five, didn’t he realize that was more than half-way to one hundred?! Yikes! That’s my age now.

My father hated the humiliation of a weakened body. I hated it too! Every time I lifted his arms to dress him, his skin hung on him, I was sorry for him, I did not like that either. I realize now that I was already mourning.

La Tercera Edad

The english word for a person over 65 is “senior”. My apa was a newlywed for the second time at his senior age of 65! In spanish, it’s called la tercera edad. Think about it. We carry a baby into the third trimester and at the end of that tercer tremestre that baby passes that birth canal and takes his first breath, a very difficult passage. La tercera edad is like that. Not everyone gets to live on that stage and my dad didn’t even want to be on it. Many times he murmured his frustration that he was done living. I got to the point that I would say “Dad, you need to bring that complaint to God” 

Dementia

As difficult as that stage was, I thank God so much that he gave us these years. Despite the cloud of dementia we managed to get through the  difficult conversations and confront past violations. We faced that terrible pride looking kind of haughty as we took it on.  It has destroyed relationships and deceived us into a corner of fear and rejection. Many times we were able to push the dementia aside and make sweet memories. Of course the many years of  “no relationship” wants to accuse me at times.  I do find myself wondering if my apa loved me. He didn’t say those actual words to me, and when I finally said them to him I’m not sure if he heard me. 

His tercera edad affected us so much. I cringed every time my big sister called him “daddy”. It made her so vulnerable. We couldn’t be vulnerable, we had to be strong as we  helped him get through that dark and scary valley. When we were little and the  earthquakes would wake us up at night we would run to my apa and amas bed. There in their bed he would protect us. 

Caregiving

Toward the end of last year,  I grumbled a lot about the constant repeated conversation  “AAYY!” I’d go down the hallway, no longer running because I knew the routine. “Que Paso Apa?” He thought I left him again. It was wearing me down. “Cuando nos vamos a la casa?” “You are home Dad.” He knew he wasn’t home. “Donde esta Lupe?” “Your wife died Dad.”

Why didn’t he ever ask for Chuy? My mom was forgotten to him and it hurt so much to know it. I cried many times over, so conflicted with emotions. I was angry that he did know what he was saying! I mourned my shut up life. I felt guilty that I felt so much, what a selfish daughter I was!  I was exhausted. 

Final Stages

Then, he turned ninety-six. By this point in his life, his last month he was spending all his days in bed. He was shocked to know he was so old and when he said again for the millionth and one time “ya estoy listo para el arrastre” My usual response was “Well only God knows when you’ll be ready to be buried Dad” But this time, he was. It’s what we were expecting, yet it was so shockingly unexpected. We were barely able to warn our brothers. 

Just like that! In a few days, he breathed his last breath and was gone. My nephews drove up from the Valley and missed him by fifteen minutes. He could no longer wait for them.

Death

Suddenly, his cluttered room with all his equipment and endless supplies was empty of him. He couldn’t be gone! Wasn’t it supposed to be dramatic? Shouldn’t my sister and brother have seen that last breath leave his body? How could he slip quietly away, I wasn’t even in the room. He never listened. I had specifically told him that morning “Apa, por favor. I want to be right here with you when you leave.”

Packing It All Up

Hospice took his bed and oxygen tank. Any supplies that they lent us were swept away. My sis and I kept ourselves busy with clearing things out. But now, all the little things that are left fill his room and it feels like he’s there again. I have to finish up his room. I have to move forward. Things are going back to normal, whatever that is. Business as usual.

I got busy with emptying out my fathers room. My plan was to just get rid of everything my sis didn’t take. It should have been easy to do. Bag it up and designate donations or trash. 

I didn’t realize I was avoiding the chore. I didn’t know I was deeply missing my apa. I mean, my goodness I am now able to leave my house. I can sleep through the night. I am not anxious, nor is my dad. It was the final stage; la tercera edad and he so graciously and quietly crossed the finish line. You know, he was like that always, quiet smiles when he was happy, quiet firm stares when he had to take care of business. He never had to raise his voice at us. My ama on the other hand, let’s put it this way, I was blessed with her vocal chords.

Mourning

My dads keys. The keys to the house I grew up in.

It’s over now. His room is almost empty. I picked up his keys and I went to toss them in the trash. As they dropped into the can I remembered the arguments we would have about him needing his keys. His car and house keys. Wait! It was my house too! The keys to the house on 511 E. Delta street were still on the ring. I had so much to clear out and keys were stopping me?!

Every episode, any little thing that provokes me I share it with my big sis. I miss her too. When dad left, her week long monthly visits to my house ended. Mourning kind of piles up. So with my apa gone, I miss my ama more than ever. With my ama gone I miss my sisters. 

In mourning as you heal, you always water that memory garden, sometimes it is with your tears.

Some Advice

Back to where I left the viejito and his son . I wanted to judge that son and criticize his impatience, then I remembered my recent journey. Trips to the grocery store were a burden to me, but for dad they were his delight. Dementia affected his memory but not his sharp mind. He paid attention to details when we were on the road. He loved to watch all the interesting people almost as much as he enjoyed watching and hearing the birds. I wish I could have told that son to enjoy his apa, because even though you know that last passage is coming, it still catches you off guard.

Mourning comes and goes like the ocean waves. Hope is very key, while they cannot come back to us, I can live my life so that I can go to my apa, ama and my sisters. 

Have you lost a loved one? How are you coping with life?

An Epilogue of a Eulogy

The Last Page:

So today, it seems like I really turned the last page of Dad in my present. Is it possible to lose a parent at 55 and feel orphaned? I know, that’s weird, coming from a grandmother of 7. Losing dad seemed to unravel each of us (myself and my siblings). Who will keep us connected now? 

In order to stay away from the “should haves” (You know how it is when you look back at something, the “I should haves,” and the, “Porque no lo hice asi mejor? torment”) I’ve been on memory lane, any little thing will trigger a memory, and I’m choosing to bask in the good ones.

A memorial service is a big trigger. We celebrated my dad’s life surrounded by family; my flesh and blood and God’s family.

How do you sum up almost 100 years?

As I prepared for the memorial, I had to figure out what I would stand up and say. I think it’s the unspoken rule that Eulogies must be short and concise. Maybe because people can’t sit for too long, a service over an hour will make people fidgety and they start checking their phones.

I could tell everyone about the bloody grass cutting accident dad had, drama always keeps you listening huh? Ok, I’ll tell you this much. Dad was moving along cutting the grass, I was outside (my favorite place to be, outdoors) the loud noise of the lawn mower chugging along, when all of a sudden! (someone onced teased me, saying that Mexican Americans use the dramatic “all of a sudden!” a lot, when telling their stories, it fits right here) there’s a bang! And a clunk! The machine died, and there’s a wire clear through my dad’s ankle! Yikes! Then, Dad pulled it out, ARGH! with one yank (yes, if you’re grimacing, you should be, it was nasty) blood gushed out like crazy! Then Comadre Chala, who was also outside working on her plants came running, saw the mess and went and brought coffee grounds to stop the bleeding! (I know, leave it to the comadres to come up with the crazy remedies.)

Maybe I would have time to squeeze in some trivia and tell everyone that my dad ran for mayor in our little city of Calipatria! He might have won, not being a politician he wasn’t quite saavy, he was short on campaign funds, regardless,he was a well respected person in the community.

I pulled out memories to share with anyone that would listen, memories are at the tip of my tongue, but, in this moment I had to do it in 5-7 minutes. Which memory would tell the most about my dad? His strength, his good looks, his swag that could easily reveal a twinkle in his eye and a half smile.

The Eulogy

When I stood up to speak, I wondered out loud, how do you sum up almost one hundred years of living in a few minutes? Not possible. I wanted everyone to know what a strong man my dad was. They had to hear about the “conejos” that bounced up down inside mi apas bicep? He enjoyed watching our eyes get wide with excitement as we saw his muscles flexing. I wanted them to picture his vigor and sharp stance in his Levi jeans, cowboy boots and hat. I wanted everyone to feel the weight of his life experiences and be amazed at his perseverance.

In those short moments as I spoke, the memory of El Cocoy came forward, like he always did for dad, that victory was unforgettable. El Cocoy was the boy from his childhood, I told everyone why dad remembered him so well, then I forgot to circle back as the eulogy went on. I didn’t tell the story! How did I neglect dad’s favorite story? This story represented one of his strongest convictions.

El Cocoy, The Bully Who Pushed Dad To Stand

El Cocoy was the school bully. He was older and bigger and he was king of the school yard. You know the script, what he wanted he got. In that little mining town with those little boys the most he got was a marble or a taco, but for these little boys it was everything, and they couldn’t stop this punk from pushing them around. Dad was scared of him too, he had lost plenty of tacos and a marble or two to this stinking bully. When my dad told the story, he was like a little kid describing an insurmountable foe, his eyebrows coming together as he frowned at the memory. 

One day as the time for break was approaching, Senorita Marcelina (Dad said this teacher was a corajuda, yikes! He didn’t mess with her) assigned clean up of the pizarron to el Cocoy and released the other kids for their break. El Cocoy said “Que me ayude Zepeda” But dad was gone. He had jumped on an opportunity to enjoy the break without Cocoy taking something from him or threatening him, let Cocoy do the work, lazy bum! 

There he was enjoying his break, in perfect position to win a marble. Aiming, when all of a sudden, someone shoved him from behind and he went sprawling to the ground. (Dad usually positioned himself, arms pulled back, to mimic the hard shove he got that day)  He was mad. That’s too mild. He saw red, and without skipping a beat he stood up swinging. The boys were in a tangled mess, punching and grabbing at each other. Dad saw red again, this time for real, he saw blood and that fueled him on. (He never did clarify if his nose or Cocoys nose was bleeding) He went at Cocoy with ferocious strength. The kids in the yard were cheering and yelling until someone said, “Hay viene la maestra” and everyone dispersed. Senorita Marcelina grabbed each boy to separate them and sent them to the creek to wash up and get to class. At the creek dad eyed Cocoy, Cocoy eyed him. Dad said they were like dogs, with the hair on their necks raised, they almost growled, ready to pounce with any sudden move. They made it back to class and dad never again had trouble with El Cocoy.

That story seared a lesson into his brain that he passed on to us. He didn’t want us going around looking for fights, but he also didn’t want us cowering because of fear. He wanted us to fight for what was rightfully ours. Our position, reputation and our peace. 

What Will Hold Us Together Now?

When my mom passed  away 30 years ago the ties that held my family together loosened, now it seems as if they have almost come undone.

The day dad passed, I was right there in his room early in the morning, I didn’t know what else to do, I was losing my grip on family, crying, groaning from the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t fix my family and dad was leaving! 

Thankfully, God’s not easily offended, he put himself right there in the midst of us and  handled my complaint. I was tired and he comforted me as I groaned in sorrow. Then, I felt pressed to make a pact with my dad about my siblings. I was torn and weary, I didn’t want to work so hard  for relationship, I wanted to hide behind the wall of pride. But, I went to his bedside, and as I heard dad struggling to breath, the oxygen failed to give him what he needed.

With Jesus as our witness I told my dad between sobs that I loved my siblings, that I did need them, it was so hard to tell them to their face though and I needed strength that was way beyond my capability. I told my dad not to worry, I promised him that I would never give up. Promising to love, pray and reach out to my siblings just as my ama would want, then dad went home to rest that afternoon.