By far two of the most difficult times in my life that I went through were the deaths of my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather. They died within a year of each other. But, as I think anyone can tell you, amidst even the greatest trauma and sorrow, you can experience joy and humor.
My Abuelito’s death was preceded by a very long battle with cancer. Despite the sadness and anxiety of seeing him in pain, the family all came together in support of each other. He died on September 8th, 2006 and was buried on September 11th, at the national cemetery in Puerto Rico where members of the U.S. Armed Forces are laid to rest.
His wake, which lasted a couple of days, was filled with the lively music of my uncle Iván’s group, Segreles. Everything went exactly as he would have wanted it.
My grandmother had the hardest time letting go. We were all with him when he passed, and the sound of Abuelita’s screams when they took him away are forever etched in my memory. My grandparents married very young, and he was her soulmate– she relied heavily on him. He took very good care of her, and now she felt completely alone.
What’s worse, she had already buried a son– my Tío– years ago, and it destroyed her.
It was really sobering to watch my grandmother being handed a folded American flag in honor of Abuelito’s service in the U.S. Army. It just made everything seem real. Although I can’t quite recall, I can almost imagine Abuelita staring at the flag, thinking to herself, “This cloth is supposed to comfort me in my greatest grief? Seriously?” To me, the whole ceremony also seemed to take away from the intimacy of the event. Until now, we’d had a lot of visitors at the funeral home, but they were all friends and family. People who actually knew and loved my grandfather.
What’s more, since Abuelita doesn’t really understand much English, whatever was said at the ceremony was entirely lost on her. She only knows a few basic words and phrases.
To top it all off, some medals he had been awarded for his service were supposed to be presented along with the flag. They were forgotten.
After the service, Mami, Abuelita and I were discussing the day’s events. Abuelita recalled what she had really wanted to say to the man who handed her the flag. In broken English, she said, “Thank you, President Bush, you fawking saramanbich.”
We couldn’t help but burst out in giggles at our matriarch’s matter-of-fact statement of “gratitude.” We were also left wondering where she had learned such language!
Who knew my grandmother could be political during her time of greatest grief? I guess this story is just so telling of her personality– she’s seen more than her fair share of hardships throughout her entire life, but we can always count on Abuelita to make us crack a smile even during the most devastating of situations.
If he had still been alive, my grandfather would have died laughing. 😀