Friday, June 15, 2012

Sing a New Song, Chiquitita: Of Grandmothers and ABBA

What in the world can a 30-year-old bit of pop fluff possibly do with the death of my grandmother? I'll get there.

Last August, my 81-year-old grandmother fell ill. One thing led to another and she ended up spending close to two months in the hospital. There were the nights when she was barely conscious, knocked out by pain killers. There was the open heart surgery, done to replace a narrow valve. There were the endless days on an oxygen machine, courtesy of the fluid accumulating in her lungs. A domino effect of issues cropped up until she ended up on dialysis.

We convinced ourselves that it was a temporary measure. After all, the nephrologist told us her numbers improved significantly following the first couple of treatments. And her brother, who'd been put on dialysis because of diabetes, was about to begin his fourth year of the treatment. Surely my grandmother would be done with it by Christmas?

Since I was unemployed, I gladly shouldered a lot of the hospital time. My grandmother first came to this country in the 90s and she never learned any English. At most, she could say hello and thank her nurses. We knew she was alarmed at all the piling health concerns and being alone in a hospital would only add to that panic. No one escaped sleepover duty. Even friends cheerfully volunteered to spend the night at JFK Medical Center or a few hours in the middle of the day while my mother and aunts went home to tend to all the things that still need attention.

During the many hours I spent alone with my grandmother, we never really delved much into her earlier years. I knew the main details: Maria Dominga Ruiz; born in 1930; at the age of 23, married my grandfather, who was 56 and a widower with children older than she; four kids; etc. She herself was widowed at the age of 37. One would think that alone would spark endless talk between us. 

But my grandmother was never really chatty. Scratch that, she was never chatty about deeply personal things. I always wondered if she ever regretted staying alone after my grandfather passed away. I wished I had asked her how he'd courted her, what it was like to marry someone who had children your age. Alas, I thought we'd have more time. Even after all those health issues, I firmly believed my grandmother was a fighter. She was widowed in her late 30s and she picked herself up by the bootstraps and raised my mother and her 3 siblings to be respectful, loving, decent human beings. 

What exactly does this have to do with that ABBA song I posted in the title, you ask? When I was born, my mother and father were living here in New Jersey and my grandmother was living in Dominican Republic. My parents were thrilled to be the new parents to twin baby girls. Three months later, my twin sister, Wendy, passed away. The doctors told my parents it was SIDS-related. They also advised my parents to keep a close watch on me, that they could easily lose me too. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child and on top of that being casually told, "Hey, it could happen to your other child." My parents were devastated.

My grandmother's heart broke for her family. There she was, stuck thousands of miles away, with no way to comfort and console her daughter. Eventually, she sent my mother a tape with the Spanish version of Chiquitita. For my mother, it became an anthem. Years later, it would become my younger sister, Jessica's favorite song. But I never truly listened to the lyrics until my mother told me the story of the tape her own mother, in a moment of desperation, sent to her. The final lines genuinely speak to me:
Otra vez quiero compartir tu alegria, Chiquitita
Once again, I want to share your joy. 

All I needed to know about Mama Minga is encapsulated in that single line. She loved nothing more than opening her home to her family and friends, cooking up a storm and spending an evening just being with loved ones. We will greatly miss our matriarch, our Chiquitita. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

7 years...

7 years ago, my life derailed. It literally blew up in Pablo's face. And not a day has gone by since where I don't miss him, that I don't feel that ache inside.

A few days ago, I was driving to Queens to pick up Baby Girl. She was visiting Pablo's sister for the weekend. As I drove, I listened to my iPod. Everything was cool until Patty Loveless's "How Can I Help You Say Goodbye?" came on. I was hit with a wave of sadness and grief so strong that I nearly pulled over. As I choked down sobs, I wondered, "Whose life was that? Who's left a widow at 26, while pregnant? That only happens in the movies!" These thoughts weigh heavily on my mind nowadays as my new husband and I contemplate having babies.

I can't help but fear that the exact same thing is going to happen. And how selfish and stupid of me it is! As if my pain can compare to the fact that Pablo never got hold his baby in his arms, that he never saw how perfect she was. But in some ways, Pablo's pain was brief. He will never know the pain of loss. The pain of feeling a loved one torn away.

One of the most thoughtless things I heard in those early days was "You're young, you'll find someone new." As if it was merely a thing that had been damaged or lost. As if any one person can replace another. Now that I've remarried, it may be surprising to think that I still mourn the loss of not only my first husband, but a dear friend.

I still think of him every day. There are moments when I yearn for a glimpse of an alternate reality, a reality where he met his daughter and where he became the father I always knew he'd be. I usually banish those thoughts quickly because the pain is still sharp. There will always be a part of me that never heals, that always remains grief-stricken over the loss of someone so young, over the loss of our life together. Even as I amaze myself with the girl I once was, on that cold January day 7 years ago, to the person I've become today, I know a part of me will hurt forever.

This memorial post now becomes my yearly appeal to you all. Tomorrow is never promised to anyone. If there's anyone who you've been meaning to call or see, just do it today. For me. For Pablo.

We miss you always, Pablo.