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The Good Housekeeping Quote: Complaining to a Friend Who Is Grieving

Belated for my great-grandmother’s first yarzheit (4/3/14):

Charles W. Bartlett, “Hawaiian Mother and Child”

It’s just a blip quote but my family thinks it’s hilarious that I ended up quoted in Good Housekeeping magazine.

Okay, it IS kind of hilarious.

The first thing people think when they think about me is NOT housekeeping, especially considering that awful allergies (dust, fragrance, chemicals) make me unable to do most housekeeping. Not to mention my Ehlers Danlos makes most repetitive work impossible!

So here it is:

Complaining to a Friend Who Is Grieving (Good Housekeeping Magazine, April 2014)

Until recently, I had never had to grieve for a relative. I have been blessed with family members who live for a very long time. It wasn’t until my great-grandmother Leonidas passed last April that I truly understood grieving. And having been born in April 1912, she was just about to turn 101 before she passed away. I had my ticket booked for her 101st birthday after having missed her 100th birthday due to my health problems and I ended up having to use it for her funeral.

My great-grandmother, my Abuela…I have to stop. Because I have never called anyone but her Abuela. I will never call anyone but her my Abuela. I have always called her daughter, my maternal grandmother Mami because my grandmother had had her last child a  year before my mother had me, her first, and that is what I heard my mother and my aunt call her.

Abuela was the matriarch of my maternal family. She was the person who consoled me when I was 4 years old and too young and too old to understand that my parents were separating forever. She was the person who humored me by calling me Xavier that year, ALL YEAR, when I insisted I had changed my name (the first of many name changes) to my favorite Menudo boy band singer. She will never embarrass me again by revealing the deep dark secret that used to be my favorite song in the world: “Subete a Mi Moto.” (My husband just told me to SHUT IT OFF!)

Abuela will never see the GREAT-great-granddaughter, my second niece born last year, who was in utero ready and waiting to meet Abuela in July of last year. She will never meet my own children though she was just 94 when I got married and I thought I had all the time in the world. But most people do not get to meet their great-grandmothers. They do not get to enjoy their great-grandmother’s wicked sense of humor. They do not know that they talk as much on the phone as their great-grandmother did because they spent hours on the phone with her.

So you can imagine, when someone tells me that their mother or father has passed, like many people I do not know what to say. But unlike most people, I know that it is mainly because while I sympathize…I will never feel the same way. There is a void. A space in my heart. It grew a long time ago and it will always be there because  my parents…are not the same.

If I am lucky, I see my father once every five years. My father knows he is more like a distant uncle…who just happens to bless me every year with a new sibling! And despite his neglect, my mother is still the abuser, the perpetrator who got away with one of the most heinous crimes one can commit against their own or any children. I do not feel as others do about their parents. It is almost impossible to break the bond between parent and child but someone wise told me that I had to stop feeling for them…in order to survive. So I survived.

And when my much younger paternal sister lost her too-young mother unexpectedly this year, I had no idea what to do or what to say.

I grieved…not as a child but as a big sister. I grieved because I could not “fix this” for my little sister. There was no one that I could beat up. There were no dragons I could slay for her so that her mother could yet meet her beautiful, first grandchild who is also my adorable first niece. I could not exchange with her the days I can still have with my not-really-there-mother or father.

My wise LITTLE sister knew more about loss when she decided to join me at my great-grandmother’s (no relation to her) funeral the year before than I did when she lost her mother suddenly this past year. For when she lost her mother this year, I was for the first time rendered VERY speechless. So I knew that when I did speak, I would put both feet in my mouth down deep. I ended up apologizing a lot for everything and everyone under the sun. And she was patient with me. But I still do not know what to do when I say the words “my mother” in the present tense and she has to use them in the past.

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