Going to a funeral is always awkward. In my experiences, I go and watch and watch and then try to move toward the family. This week I went to a funeral again, death is part of life.
Andrews First Loss:
When my sister Patty passed away almost suddenly in 2008, she left behind her son Andrew. He was three years old at the time. He didn’t understand what was happening. One day, he went to his grandmother Mary’s house, but he always did that on Mondays. That Monday Patty went to the hospital and Andrew never saw his momma again. When he asked for her and cried for her, he couldn’t grasp the reality of never ever seeing her again.
I don’t know what it’s like to grow up without a mother, gracias a Dios I had the privilege of having my ama throughout my childhood. For the next 14 years Andrew had his dad, Deidra and his grandma Mary. Aside from his emotional meltdowns at the sight of me and my sis he has done very well. He is a handsome and sweet young man who strives to excel.
I knew Andrew’s grandmother through Patty’s daughter in law experience. Mary loved my sister. She pulled her into the family and Patty was so grateful for a mother in law that helped her and loved her. Mary made herself available to Patty when she had Andrew, in her recovery and her return to work. She treated her like a daughter and me and my sister Marina rested in that. I’m pleased to write here that Patty loved Mary right back and was grateful to her. We, my sis and I loved Mary too for stepping in for Patty and helping to nurture our sweet nephew. Mary was 92, she hung on participating in Andrews extracurricular activities as much as her body would allow her. Gracias a Dios, Andrew had his grandma almost into adulthood.
Andrews Second Loss
A couple of weeks ago I got one of those calls from David, Andrew’s dad. He was to the point, “Rosie, I’m just calling to let you know that my mom passed away this morning” I was so sorry to hear that, what about Andrew I thought? Pero, I collected myself and gave David my condolences “David, I’m sorry” What else is there to say? He asked if I would let my sister and family know and I assured him that I would. I had to know how Andrew was, David said he was ok. I texted Andrew, I wanted to call him, because I should pick up the phone, yet I knew Andrew wouldn’t talk to me. In time Andrew responded to my text, usually we second guess a person’s mood on text, but I could almost feel his lonely heart through that text.
Then I called my sis, her concern too was Andrew. How is he? When’s the funeral? I didn’t have answers, Dave would let us know the details.
We drove to the funeral with that heaviness that death brings. Everyone was standing around outside, waiting. The big black hearse which carried Mary’s body was surrounded by her grandsons and great grandsons. They stood very close to the carroza waiting for the signal to move her into the church. We went to Andrew and when he saw us, he gave me a half a hug. I said, “give me a real hug” We both embraced very uncomfortably.
Catholic mass or misa is a quiet affair usually, but for Marys mass the family had hired Mariachis, music that is rich in culture and emotion. One song they sang was one of my amas favorite songs. The words brought life in the midst of that funeral. It was hard not to clap in appreciation for those beautiful lyrics, mira: “Senor, me has mirado a los ojos” did the others understand? “Lord, you’ve looked into my eyes” My goodness! I remembered that beautiful day that I actually noticed when Jesus looked into my eyes and I was changed from that day forward.Thank goodness nobody could hear my thoughts, still I looked around because they were like fireworks going off at the memory of my beautiful conversion experience.
Ashes To Ashes, Dust To Dust
At the burial, I was awkward as always. My sis, she’s very thoughtful to participate and give her condolences. I didn’t want to do it. As I watched the interesting burial traditions of releasing the doves and tossing earth onto the casket I ruminated on the crooked paths death takes at times.
Again I was glad nobody could hear my thoughts, my tears escaped. I cried for Andrew. I was busy regretting Pattys death, tan joven, she died at such a young age, especially when she had a toddler to raise. It is the natural order of life to bury our elderly when they reach a ripe old age. My apa was 96 when he died and while it is so lonely and painful, we make our brains kick start quicker into living again. I ran back to that day when my sister died and Andrew had no idea that the most important woman in his life had left him without notice. That day I didn’t even think of Andrew, I was lost in my loss, but as Andrew buried his grandma this week, now I could weep for him. He worked really hard at mastering his emotions or at least his tears. He flared his nostrils, his nose red from secret tears. I wanted so much to hug him again and tell him how sorry I was and so I did. Pero, Andrew had to be strong, his primos were around him and I was awkward some more. I just asked “Andrew, where is your mom’s gravestone? (Mary was buried very near Patty) and I had to go there, it had been a long time. I didn’t like going there, it was a reminder of the pain, and besides I knew she wasn’t even there. Andrew pointed and said “She’s just over there by that big tree” I guess he didn’t see that there were many big trees. Eventually we found her gravestone. Marina talked to her, getting on Patty for laughing at us as we walked in circles trying to find her. I prayed for Andrew there at his mothers graveside. Then Thomas took a picture of us during our short visit.
My apa, ama and sisters are in a better place, Jesus was Lord of their lives. I didn’t feel right to participate in the ceremony, perhaps I should have, no se, my brain keeps arguing that all those touching traditions don’t soothe, they hurt. I loved Andrew’s grandma Mary and I was glad to support Andrew and my brother in law. Andrew sent us a sweet text thanking us.
Funerals are so final, I miss Andrew’s mom and I’m certain he misses his Grandma Mary and yet we must go on. I came home to finish the Christmas season. Por supuesto, that it is sad and lonely to experience death at Christmas, es obvio that funerals can put a “wet blanket” on Christmas. It is my choice to replace it, with a cozy throw of peace and joy. After my respectful condolences have been given, I choose to rejoice at Christmas. It is a beautiful season for me, I pull my loved ones in close and to anyone who will listen to my joyful Christmas pasts I give them an earful 🥰 Gracias a Dios, that while I wait to see my loved ones again, the ones we’ve buried, I have these beautiful memories to enjoy and share.
Twenty two days until Christmas, I wish and I hope to see Andrew again soon and bring him some Christmas joy.
Que Dios los bendiga, enjoy the hustle and bustle 🙂
It turns out it’s true that mourning is a winding path and not a straight line. We experienced a busy April and May, up and down and all around! Then things quieted down, ya saben, a calm before the storm of wedding planning pelts us. A quiet house is rare for the Greene home, but we’ve had a couple of days of it, bien nice! Pero, every time I slow down, even just a little bit, I start looking back, wrapping up all the events in sweet memories, but somewhere along that wrapping I feel the absence of my loved ones. I get emotional and the void in my life accuses me. If Patty were here, she’d approve of Emery’s choice. My apa wouldn’t be able to make the long trip for the wedding. Y mi ama? What would she say about my hijos? Lupe, my big sister, she’d scare Emery’s girl with her piercing Zepeda gaze.
It all started on Memorial Day when I counted my amas, 33rd year gone to her rest. Then, that night I read a blog about caregiving, y ahora I was looking for a picture and I got caught up rereading a string of family emails about my apas care. Tengan paciencia, I need to go through this process, my therapy, I went back to a time when my apa was a young man of 90.
Following In His Grandfather’s Steps
(This was when my apa was still able to live in his own home with caregivers)
It was my turn to take Dad to the doctor for his neurology visit. I drove into town early and thought that I would pull him out of his adult care program early and go have a treat. I had to wait until his full four hours were complete, the program was not going to bend the rules for Don Manuel! Maybe their funding was on the line? No choice but to wait. When my apa saw me, he knew the day was over. The ‘junta’ was over and his work was done, ‘la mesa directiva’ had made no decisions in that meeting. Many times he was frustrated with that “board of directors” for wasting his time in these meetings. You see, every weekday when my apa was picked up for his adult care program, he believed that he was going to work. A day full of meetings, like when he was a young man in 1970 working for a program called Campesinos Unidos. Asi es, for a short time my apa didn’t work out in the fields.
He was ready to leave, but we had to wait, so we made small talk. I had to keep redirecting him. He asked about my family, and his usual focus was, “Y tu hija? Valentina, ¿Ya se caso?” For some time dad had been calling my daughter Daniella, Valentina. She must have looked like a Valentina to him, so I quit correcting him. Back to Daniella’s marital status. “Si Apa ya va a cumplir 3 años de casada.”“Como? Cuando?” He was as always very shocked to hear the news that she had already been married for a short while. I asked about his day and the response was usually, “The director stood up there and talked and talked, but I didn’t know what he was getting at” Then, “Y tu hija, como esta? Ya se caso?” This time, although he was shocked at my answer, he remembered, and reminded me very apologetically that he wasn’t remembering things very well anymore. That’s when he asked again why he was going to the doctor. I explained his dementia issue. He was diagnosed with short term memory loss, the new memories were lost immediately. However, my sister and I suspected that his memory loss was very selective. I explained that his struggle with memory loss might be helped with medication. Suddenly he remembered his grand- father who lived to be 101 and also suffered from dementia.
Young Manuel with His Abuelo
His grand-father was old and frail, housebound, confused about his past and present. He lived in the past. One day as his abuelo looked out the window he saw the sky heavy with rain clouds. Manuel knew that it was a beautiful clear day, blue skies and sunshine. He listened as his grand-father worried out loud about the dark heavy rain clouds. He turned to him and said “those clouds are heavy with rain, it looks like an ugly storm coming in.” Manuel knew his grand-father was confused and said nothing, it happened often. Gone was his strong grandfather who had sat erect on his horse and gave orders.
Then Dad paused and looked at me, “It looks like I might be taking after him.” I said, “Quizas, since you’ve only got 11 years before you’re 101!” Again, shock registered in his voice, “Que tan Viejo estoy?! He didn’t remember that he was 90, he was sticking to 80. Interestingly enough, it was that year that he officially entered the ‘needing care and supervision” stage of his life. All I could do was ask God to hold back that dementia as much as possible. As I situated him into the car to go to the doctor, he casually asked “Y tu hija, Valentina? Como esta?”
At The Appointment:
Sitting at the doctor’s office was a sad unveiling. It was crowded. Chairs too close to each other, before covid of course, when all the world stood paralyzed. Men, women, young and old people all with some kind of nerve damage or muscle injuries, looking pained, angry and entirely restless. Hijole! I cringed at what I saw, heard and imagined. Most of them were there just for refills, they needed the temporary relief from the pain. Dad wasn’t in pain, why was I there anyway? And as if dad heard my thoughts he asked “Porque estamos aqui?”
The appointment was to see the much demanded neurologist in Imperial Valley, in which I hoped the evaluation would determine a solution, a goal… something. After an hour of waiting, dad was called. We walked slowly to an examining room, when we sat down, my apa was suddenly clear minded and present. As we waited for the doctor to enter, he asked if he was sick? He wanted to know why we were with “this” type of doctor. He looked at me knowingly, “estoy loco.” That’s when the nurse practitioner stepped in, the doctor wasn’t available. He greeted us, shaking dad’s hand, and both men stared at each other.
Nurse: ¿Cómo está señor Zepeda?
Apa: Bien, con un poco de dolor en la nuca.
He was always fine except for the pain in the back of the neck which was his usual complaint. The nurse looked at the back of his neck, determined that it was probably arthritis.
Nurse: What is your name and birthdate?
I guess if he knew those answers he must be fine verdad? Really, a long term memory, ingrained into him after 90 years.
Apa: Manuel Zepeda Solano, 12-15-24.
He stared at the doctor, dismissing him with his eyes. The nurse looked at me.
Nurse: Ok, I’ll write his prescription for a refill, doesn’t seem like there’s any changes. Que?!Por supuesto que things were changing! Why were we there? Was the medication helping? How could we help him? And us. When we got in the car dad pulled out the $5 that was always in his wallet and said “Vamos a una nieve.” So we went for an ice cream and I enjoyed hearing more about my strong bis abuelo, Solano.
Hijole! I do miss my sisters and my parents, I don’t know when I’ll see them again. It is my prayer and hope for that reunion. Pero mientras, it helps to pull out the memories and enjoy la familia I have here on earth.
Note from the editor(a.k.a. Daniella): This post is brought to you after a hard weekend full of prayer and a roller coaster of emotions. It was traumatic for my mother to write and for us to read and reread it over and over again during the editing process. If you are sensitive to topics like death, this post may be too vivid and triggering for you. As I told my mom, “The writing is good. A little too good.” I felt like I was in the hospital experiencing it all through my mothers eyes. It feels a little weird posting these stories in a blog format, but my mothers stories are finally being shared and I hope you enjoy taking this journey with us.
My Big Sister Patty
My sister Patty was older by two years, but our relationship didn’t sit on the hierarchy tier, or like my sister Marina likes to put it “the chain of command”. In case some of you don’t know it, or if it is a thing of the past, listening and respecting your older sibling is a way of life, at least it was with the Zepedas in Calipatria. However, Patty and I were peers, we shared our hearts alike, I didn’t consider her to be older, nor did she treat me like a little sister.
Since we were little girls, we shared a room and for a while a bed. More importantly we shared secrets and dreams. We coined our gibberish word “Kernitos” when our nephews came along and later definitely saw our own kids as little kernitos, so sweet and chubby.
We had our demons and insecurities to fight about but we always came together to compare notes, me echaba un ojo, we checked on one another. Oh! what a rest I had with this sister friend of mine. Middle school, boys and drama were such a pain and I was so glad to have her so close.
Middle School Love… and Heartbreak
During my season of boy craziness, I was “madly in love” with a boy since 5th grade, but he didn’t know I existed. My mind always conjured up wonderful tales on those rare occasions whenhe happened to look in my direction, I always told Patty that he had looked at me and we would plan a strategy on how to get him to keep looking my way. On that day, when he would finally notice me, I would be nonchalant, throw my hair back as if he were just like all the other boys who looked my way, insignificant.
Patty knew how much I loved my boy and it bugged her. She didn’t think I was too plain or ugly, in fact she thought he was stupid to not notice me. she thought I needed to move on. I agreed, but I didn’t know how.
One day, she said in the taboo english mode “I have to tell you something”. Bad news. I imagined it was about her. Like the great sister and loyal friend she was, she said “vamos a tirar la basura” Both of us, mi ama and I were shocked, that she was volunteering to throw out the trash. Our backyard was a short walk, enough for her to tell me her secret, she even carried the can! Hijole, it was gonna be serious. She didn’t waste time, it was always her way to put the bottom line first.
“Rosie I heard that someone else likes like him”
I mean, I shouldn’t have been surprised he was the cutest guy in our whole middle school, maybe even the world (rolling eyes), but it worried me.
I told her “He looked at me today.” We were walking back from our trash throwing and Patty put her arm around me. Maybe because I was almost taller or maybe because I could feel her pity I was uncomfortable.
“She’s going after him, I saw them talking at the park today… He’s stupid anyway. If he likes her, he’s not worth it Rosalba.” She rarely called me that. I was feeling like the stupid one, and she was trying to help take that weight off me.
The Path to Adulthood
Through the years our hearts entwined and she learned to read me like her favorite book. Our paths parted as we made life choices, but being on different roads didn’t separate us. We needed each other, and I’m thankful we continued in adulthood as when we were little girls; true friends.
We shared our lives, like sisters often do. Nothing was too sacred; boyfriends, friendships, marriage, or lifestyles. Our insecurities; too ugly, too fat, were a constant topic, you name it we talked about it! When I got married she was with me, when I had each of my kids she was with me. Patty had a different response to each one of them, amazed at how very much she could love them like her own.
A Girl For Patty
When Daniella was born, it was a time of crisis for Patty, her life was unraveling and for a moment it was difficult for her to notice my beautiful girl. When she settled down and as she picked up the pieces of her broken life, she looked at Daniella and pulled her so close. At the ripe old age of 30 she was feeling that perhaps she would never experience a child of her own.
A Married Woman
She met her husband David and was married very quietly, inviting only family to their union. I had the honor of signing her marriage certificate. Things settled down to normal. Ya sabes, that unspoken order of things that are supposed to happen as we grow up, Patty and Dave bought a house. They had some nice things they enjoyed and life was good. Then in my older years (36) I had my last baby and my little guerito stirred up desires in her that she never thought she would have, she had been quite satisfied to enjoy my kids and splurge on Daniella. Suddenly, at 38, Patty wanted a baby of her own.
That was crazy! I had dug deep into conversations with her asking if she wanted a baby, she always said no. It was probably for the best because Patty suffered from several ailments which caused a lot of pain and stiffness. Some days it was hard for her to even move.
I ached for her. I was beginning to avoid conversations about the baby and mothering. Then one day, as it was her habit when she had big news or bad news she called and said “ I have something to tell you” Oh no…. “Rosie I’m pregnant!”
Can you feel the glee in her words? It was a miracle. We had concluded in our extensive diagnostic conversations that she probably couldn’t have babies!
We were off on the pregnancy journey. She was “extra” about everything, but so far it was an easy time, going in monthly for doctor appointments and different tests. In her 4th month appointment, when she was excited to be feeling the baby soon, the doctor measured her and noticed she was smaller than she should be. When he went to check the heartbeat, he couldn’t find it. She called me. “Rosie, they can’t find the heartbeat, I’m getting an ultrasound” Neither of us considered what could have happened.
I went as soon as I could find a babysitter. What devastation, she had lost her baby weeks before and carried it for almost a month. Why hadn’t a problem been detected? She had to schedule a D&C procedure to remove the baby. Can I describe my feeling and reaction as none? Numb? She had questions and I had no answers. Why? What if?
Hospitals have too many procedures and medical needs to address one woman as her world is caving in around her. When I saw her, we spoke with our eyes. She would have a couple of days to recover and then resume her regular living. What was that supposed to be like now? Patty’s body recovered faster than her spirit, but our God was faithful and Marina was there…
Before long, Patty was pregnant again. She carried Andrew James to term and held him in her arms. (In another post, when I’m feeling inspired, perhaps I’ll share the dramatical story of her pregnancy, labor and delivery)
El Amor de Una Madre
Patty was in love, just imagine! El amor de una madre. She wanted to do all that she could for him and as he grew she turmoiled over the weight of life as a new mom. It hit her hard one day when he began crawling, then walking, that it was getting very difficult to keep up with him, she almost couldn’t.
Our Ever-present Weight loss Battle
She believed that much of her ailments would be controlled or dissipate if she would only take her excessive weight off. More importantly to her, she’d be able to enjoy all those things that little boys like to do. Weight loss was always a conversation we circled. The weight battle has always been in the forefront with the Zepedas. Through the years we had seen some victories and felt the heavy weight of defeat.
As Andrew quickly grew she was talking more and more about doing something drastic; a gastric bypass. It made total sense to her, a quick kick start to a new life. I was vehemently opposed, cutting away a portion of her stomach wasn’t going to check her habits. We were both extreme in our arguments and fought about this for a year. She was moving forward hoping I would see her side because she needed my support. How could I support something I didn’t believe in?
Patty was well into the Bariatric program, having been assessed and taken classes and controlled her eating, everything was moving forward but I wasn’t onboard. Just as she had lost weight in this program to prepare for the surgery, she could keep taking off the weight and change her habits. It was our battle to fight!
She Needed Me
For Andrews birthdays I always planned the partys with Patty’s pocket book. Her continuous pain and fatigue made things difficult and I was used to these occasions. Everything was completed in her program and she just needed to set her date. One day, I’m there in Party City getting decorations and she calls me. “Rosie I have something to tell you” Really? I stopped. “Que paso?”
“Why won’t you support me in this? I need your help, I’m tired of this pain and weight. It’s an opportunity to get better for Andrew. Rosie please” And to my constant regret, between theme choices for the party, I caved. I told my beautiful sister to go ahead with her plan. What did I need to do? I did just exactly what she needed, she just wanted to hear my words of approval. That was that.
The party went off with only a few glitches and the surgery was scheduled for August.
Life Altering Weight-loss Surgery
It is a common surgery, and it was very popular in those days. She had friends that were grossly obese and suddenly very thin and seemingly without complications. I on the other hand had known a couple of ladies who were quickly gaining their weight back, besides all the diarrhea and vomiting they experienced.
On the week of the surgery, Patty made all her arrangements. She went out and bought all the needed liquid vitamins for days ahead. Andrew would be with me and his dad. She went to a hotel to make sure she wasn’t late for the time of registration and preparation for the surgery early the next morning. It was one of those rare occasions that my blingy beautiful sister was undone. No make up, her hair in a ponytail. No dinner, just quiet solemn conversation on what to expect. The doctor had warned her that it would be difficult in the beginning with only a liquid diet.
She came out of surgery fine, but recovery was slow, she stayed longer than the 3 days. She was weak, which they said was all normal. Then she went home to recover and adjust to her new way of living. Not Marina or Lupe or I; her sisters, were able to go home with her as she recovered. She was having a difficult time and she was immensely discouraged that hardly any weight had come off after two weeks of a broth and soft food diet. Her doctor wanted to see her, but in the meantime she decided to go out for a cup of soup, consuming only the broth. In the middle of her dinner she needed to throw up, she was very weak and slowly managed to make it to the bathroom. Throwing up continued through the night, in the morning her husband drove her to E.R. She was admitted because she was dehydrated. She called and left me a message that she was in the hospital. She said she was fine just dehydrated. I gathered myself together and so did my sisters and we went up to see her. Things happened so quickly and severely it couldn’t be happening!
It was Monday, she was coherent and things seemed ok. My older sisters went home to get organized and plan a strategy to be in the hospital with her and help her. As the hours passed she was becoming incoherent. Nurses came in to explain in medical terms the problems in her blood. Low platelet count, low white blood cell count. a blood transfusion was needed. My brain wasn’t registering, and in those days, before taking care of my apa, I allowed myself to be intimidated by the professionals and their medical terminology. But what was wrong with my sister? Why was this happening? Finally! A nurse said that she had an unknown infection that had compromised her blood or what had caused it. By Tuesday night she was completely incoherent and agitated despite her little strength she pulled on tubes, she tossed and tried to turn. The hours passed as I watched my sister fight for her life. Every once in a while I would run out to get a nurse, because something beeped or she pulled a tube, by this point she had so many tubes and she was on so much medication. Ativan was the drug used to calm her down, her heart rate was dangerously high.
Rare Blood Infection
I still wouldn’t believe she was in danger of losing her life, I simply could not register this. This happened to other people. By Wednesday blood transfusions were increasing as the unknown infection had finally been revealed. TTP, a rare blood infection that prevailed over her body. I was keeping ominously calm. “Yes” I texted my friend, “She is getting dialysis, her kidneys have failed, they called it sepsis because the infection has spread to her organs. Please keep praying” I watched helplessly through the night as her blood pumped through the dialysis machines to clean it from the dangerous toxins that had invaded her. Patty had her eyes open but she wasn’t seeing me or anything physical, but she was afraid and anxious, she spoke incoherent words and mumbled. I updated my sisters. It was late Wednesday night, Marina was trying desperately to return but her own husband had gotten into an accident and needed her help also, my calm responses made her feel that we would get through this and Patty would be fine, and she would be back in the morning.
A Dark Night
When dialysis was complete, we went back to her room. During a long dark night, my sister fought for her life, her blood being attacked by this infection that permeated her body. In the early hours of Thursday, Patty loudly grunted like she was choking as she arched her body, I screamed for the nurse, she came rushing, pushing me out of the doorway. The entire hospital sounded the Code Blue alarm. Several other staff ran in filling the room with equipment and roughly giving orders. They caught her. They brought Patty back and rushed to get her into ICU. As we rushed to the ICU area and into a room, where she was going to get intubated the doctor told me I would have to step outside. No! I didn’t want to separate from her, but they couldn’t let me stay. I pleaded with them to call me back as soon as they were done.
While I waited I called my Benjamin, I called my sister Marina and I called my bestie, all those conversations and they weren’t calling me back in! I asked to go in and I was told to wait. I now know that my sister had gotten transferred around shift changes, just before 7am and all those preliminaries of the day had to be squared away. When I asked to go back with my sister again, they allowed me. I found Patty with A tube down her throat to help her breath. Monitors for her heart, drip medications going into her and my sister oblivious to what was happening. The nurse encouraged me to talk to her, it might be possible that she would hear me and calm down. You see, even though she seemed to be sleeping her heart was bursting with work effort, despite the ativan medication. Soon her husband arrived, I couldn’t tell him anything, then a friend of hers came in. I encouraged her to talk to her and let her know she was there. Marina was on her way back, a two hour drive. All we could do was stare at her, I tried to speak words, to get her to recognize me, Rosie, I was there with her. Patty had barely been in ICU a couple of hours, nurses came and went. Another nurse came in to check her heart rate and it was dangerously high again. She went to give her more medication and I stopped her. “What are you giving her now?” The nurse glanced over at me, “Oh it’s ok, it’s just medicine to calm her, it’s ativan” “Wait, she just had some, it’s too soon.” But the nurse hadn’t stopped, she was following doctors orders as she emptied the syringe into the IV tube. “It’s ok the doctor ordered it.” She went around her bed and continued her routine check up. Within minutes, I watched her blood pressure drop rapidly and the nurse saw it too. The machine went off again, and her heart had stopped. Doctors came rushing in, my brother in law and I watched as they manually pumped her heart, it was keeping her heart going. The doctor looked at me and said “We’ve been working on her for 13 minutes, she’s not responding” “Don’t stop!” I yelled “You can’t stop!” The doctor looked at Dave and they stopped. They let her go. I couldn’t believe they stopped. They stopped, she was gone. All that were in that room cleared out, the doctor was no longer addressing me, I was out of control. I ran in to help Patty. I climbed on top of her, as much as I could, put my face on her face and now my voice and prayers were being heard. “God! Like you heard Elisha, hear me! Bring my sister back. Give her life here again. God please bring her back.” I climbed on her a couple of times, so sorry to be hurting her some more, I was desperate. Maybe I had prayed wrong? Maybe I should line myself to her eye to eye, nose to nose… “Bring her back”. I groaned for my sister, how did I let this happen? I sat there, weeping. My sister Marina walked in, staring, frozen. Patty’s hair was a mess, who let that happen? She had to fix it. Patty wouldn’t appreciate people seeing her like this. As the news got out to the family they came into that little ICU room.
Three days, before her hospitalization, Patty and I had discussed death and dying. I was always the practical one in these discussions and she was always worried about the details of these things. She was feeling very emotional that night. “How should we get buried? Who would take care of our kids? Promise me that you’ll always keep Andrew close to you and your kids. Should we let our husbands take care of the details of our burial?”
Before we ended the conversation we prayed and asked God to give us his salvation and peace.
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.
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 calledla 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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?