Pain, loss, death

I find myself with a blank mind when it comes to choosing a title for this post. The feeling is there, the words aren’t.

Just over a month ago,  we had a tremendous loss in the family. My mother’s (first) cousin died after several years of battling different health problems.

She was -really- like a sister to my mom, and one of my favorite aunts. She was passionate about everything she spoke of, specially politics. She was a truly concerned human over the poverty and corruption in Mexico, even though she lived most of her live in the US. She was generous with anyone in need of help, generous with many that probably never even met her, with those in need, with her own immediate and extended family. And when I say generous I am not only referring to financial aid or charity but generous with her own time.  An extremely smart woman, efficient, loving. She was one of those people that when you called her, she was sincerely interested in your life, you family and your well being. I had the joy of having at least a dozen phone conversations with her during my 90 minute commute to work. I laughed a lot with her, and cried too, over my worries, over hers.

I attended her funeral and was able to spend 3 days with her husband and 2 daughters who I adore.  Ever since my grandfather died 9 years ago,  I had not been in the midst of so much pain and sadness. The absence of my aunt became a presence, all over the house. In every room, in every sound or lack of it.  In the faces of the 2 sisters she left behind.

But what moved me the most, was the pain in my uncle’s face, in his slow movements, in his breaking voice.

They were married 44 years. And all I could think of was… them as a two, never as individuals. They were one of those couples whose names almost blend into one.

I thought also of  the first night alone for my uncle, on a half empty bed. The silence in the house once the crowds go back to their normal routines, when everyone sets the pain aside and it turns into dear memories that bring a smile, while for him, the pain would get sharper and would make streams of tears, anger and frustration; the thought of unspoken words, unlived years, untraveled roads and towns. More birthdays and anniversaries  that were yet to come.

I sat with him for as long as he would allow me, to hear his stories, his advice, to hold his hand and put my arm around his shoulder.  He told us of the times when they had met, how they fell in love, and I could hear the melancholy in every sentence. The refusal to accept, to resign.

The last time I had  attended a funeral was at least 25 years ago. I had forgotten how brutal the experience is. How devastating is the feeling of burying, of letting go, of saying good bye, physically.

At least 100 people stood there, around the placement of her tomb. Listening to the priest talking about her, about the “mystery of death”, about celebrating her life, and praying for the family, more than for her, who already had her peace.

Halfway through the ceremony, I noticed all of us were standing on other graves, where small, medium and large stones were marked with names and dates. I realized, on every inch of this garden, someone has cried; it suddenly felt so wrong to be stepping on these graves where others have mourned.

As it ended, I almost felt like a little girl playing hop-scotch trying to avoid stepping on any stones. I saw soil freshly turned in the shape of a rectangle  here and there, and concluded those graves were recently covered. I saw others where the grass was fresher and shorter, other recent deaths. A garden that at a distance looks so simple, told so much if you looked closely. The big bold stones with ornate finishing touches probably belonged to the more affluent families, while smaller simpler ones you could barely read likely were paid by more modest people.

My eyes burned that Sunday and my head was really hurting, it had not cried that much in a long time. So I could not imagine what the immediate family was going through; my pains were nothing compared to theirs.

I flew back home with a heavy heart and I wished that I could have stayed longer, to hold my cousins, to keep them company, to sleep in the guest room to make the loneliness  a little bit lesser. But most of us have lives to go back to, children to tend to, husbands that need us, a house to make feel like a home, a job that waits for us.

I have reached out to them, to say hello, to listen to them. Every other day I think of them and wonder if the pain is a bit less, or even worse as realization sinks in and other problems arise.

It hasn’t been 3 months and just a couple of weeks ago  I got the most horrendous news: my best friend Mariela’s husband died, killed in a car accident on his way home.

He was 45 years old with 2 children, just barely touching upon teenage years.

The death of someone who is ill or has been for years, makes us -even against our best wishes-to visualize ourselves without that person. We initiate a very slow process of accepting a very possible death, the “what if” thoughts, of family matters unresolved that need attention, even  legal instances that represent a potential problem. We try to put it aside because it hurts, but in the back of our minds, we see it coming. And we slowly take steps to see ourselves in that position of loss. Start thickening our skin to get ready for the blow.

With a death as sudden as my friend’s husband, there is absolutely no thought that prepares you even slightly, for a loss. There are no goodbyes, no apologies, no love words, or thank yous. If you are lucky, maybe a “see you later” and a decent kiss good bye.

The way I see a death like this is similar to the loss of a limb with no notice. One day you have it and it is part of your body, your functionality, your life, the next it is not there.

And you find yourself not knowing how you can get up in the morning and go about your day without it, you just can’t!

In my own marriage, I have worked hard to have a healthy sense of individuality, of self fulfillment, of enjoying my solitude, my thoughts, my writing and my reading. However, my husband (as cliche as it sounds) completes the puzzle, he has that piece in him that makes me feel  just good, as simple as that. He gives me peace, he helps me feel balanced, he is my teammate in many projects. He is my best friend without a doubt. He knows me better than I do sometimes- it’s scary! And most importantly, he gives me motivation for many of the things I do every single day.

The thought of not having him with me terrifies me, yes.

Many have said that the loss of a child is the worse in life, much more than the loss of a spouse or a parent. I don’t know, I have never experienced either. But I have seen, many people overcome the death of a loved one, and not many that fully overcome the loss of a child. So there might be some truth in it.

That still doesn’t comfort the ones in the place of my friend right now.

Unfortunately, she and I live hundreds of miles away, and my current circumstances keep me from being by her side, with pains me just as bad as her loss saddens me.

She has been without a doubt the one you call “my best childhood friend”.

We met when we were in 4th grade. I was the new girl in the classroom and it wasn’t even a month before we discovered how alike we were, and to top it off, we lived 4 blocks away from each other.

Growing up we were both most definitely  nerds, straight A’s all the way to high school. We were both extremely organized, excellent planners , very social and respectful of each other. She kept all her shoes (all of them) in their original boxes, labeled with a full description, stacked in the top shelf of her closet, and still does (I went into her closet months ago). We loved the same bands in the 80’s, recorded many cassettes tapes together and shared our first concert experiences together as well.

She knew my late maternal grandparents more than any other friend.  We have travelled so many times together I lost track years ago. She knew of all the problems in my house, ALL OF THEM. She was never scared or intimidated by any of it, and there was a lot to be nervous about, she never was, never judged or broke our trust bond.

She came to our house for dinner and helped my Dad make tortas like another daughter to him. Sometimes I wasn’t even home and she still stayed. She is the type of friend that knew every nook and cranny in the house; she never had to ask where the forks were. The type of friend that sometimes came and asked for advice to my parents about her problems with her own parents.

We got into trouble many, many times together for getting home at dawn after partying hard. We lived endless hangovers together, some heartaches too.

The day of my wedding, since my mom uses a wheelchair to move around and couldn’t do was most do, Mariela helped me get dressed, buttoned the 20 something little tiny buttons on the back of my wedding dress and was with me the whole morning until I left for the church. She is there in all my photos. She is that kind of friend.

Knowing her so well, I know she will slowly but very surely overcome her loss.

These are the times in which such life events prove that our family, our loved ones, our true friends make a difference in coming out of such desperation and hurting.

I, as many others, are a bit afraid of death, of the unknown, of what comes after. I have faith, yes, I believe one day I will reunite with all those who have already left us, and that I will see and feel God’s presence.

Today my thoughts are will all the women that have lost their loved ones. May the rest in peace.