Monday, March 26, 2018

Getting Good at This: Losing a Loved One


Odd, what some people say when offering their condolences.  In an attempt to say something meaningful, they stumble out what they think is kind and well-intentioned but sounds rude instead.  At my mother’s funeral, one stark comment that stayed with me was, “You’re getting good at this.”
Good at this?  What did that mean? Losing my family? Managing a funeral? Penning eulogies? I would rather be good at anything else but this. I know those who said this to me did not mean it to be rude, so instead of being offended, I try to understand why they think I am “good at this.”
I was in my early 30’s when my grandfather was dying from cancer.  In their grief, my grandmother, mother, and aunt hadn’t thought about getting him a priest to give him “Anointing of the Sick,” what non-Catholics like to call Last Rites. I called my mother’s parish priest and he came immediately. My grandfather died soon after. I like to think he found comfort in this rite.
A few years later, I did the same for my dear grandmother.  As a matter of fact, I got her two priests.  One came immediately after she was admitted into the hospital after her heart attack, and the second one came later in the day.  At her bedside, I joked with her though she was in a coma.  She probably thought we heathens had forgotten our obligation and she would face eternity without her last rites. She too passed away soon after the second priest left, probably relieved that we hadn’t forgotten our Catholic upbringing.
Years later I did the same for my dad, my grandson, and my brother.  I asked for priests or chaplains to come pray with us so we could keep God and His angels close as our dear ones met their ends on this earth. I know it gives those left behind comfort for I have seen the sense of relief prayer gives them in their grief and loss.
Yes, I am getting “good at this.”  I could see my mother was losing her battle here on earth the day she died, and as difficult as it was to be strong and grown up and resolute, it would have been unforgiveable to be anything but.  If I truly believe in Jesus Christ and life everlasting, then I had to be like Him at that moment: committed to my task and mission, kind and compassionate, afraid but brave. I only hope that when my time comes, someone does the same for me.   

Monday, March 19, 2018

My Grandmother’s Tamales



Grandma Ene made sure I had the recipe for her tamales.  She stopped and waited for me to write each step down before adding another.
“Una cucharra de sal y una poquita mas porque se pierde cuando los cocinas.” Add a little more salt than usual because they lose their saltiness while you cook them, she said.
I think she may have known she would not last forever and none of us, including my mother, had ever bothered to learn her recipe for tamales. I wrote it all down, translating “handfuls” into table- or teaspoons and “tanto asi” into measuring cups.
The filling was made with pork and beef mixed together in a red chili pepper sauce and a whole box of raisins thrown into the simmering pot.  The raisins were an Old-World addition that cooled the hotness of the spices.  She supervised the making of the dainty tamales, a thin smear of corn masa inside a corn husk and a stingy tablespoon of meat tucked into the center. She made sure they all looked and felt the same.
The Christmas after she passed away, we decided to make Grandma Ene’s tamales. How hard could it be?  We labored over the process, using the recipe I had written down a few years earlier. We laughed because our tamales were of all sizes and weights but we got them done, knowing Ene was looking down at us from heaven, shaking her head.
We tasted them and were pleased with our results but something was missing. Maybe a little more salt? A little less red chile?  We all preferred the dainty tamales over the husky ones. Then we realized what was missing. 
We missed her supervising our efforts, handing out orders, redoing the fat tamales into trimmer versions. She missed her patient voice, showing us over and over how to make tamales.
We never tried to make them again, instead we trekked to a tamaleria and bought them by the dozen.  Even when we find some that claim to make half pork/half beef/with raisins, they don’t taste the same.
There are just some things, moments, and people who cannot be replaced.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Living our Life Story/ Autobiographical Writing Prompts


Among the many preparations for my mother’s funeral last week, I was responsible for collecting and scanning photos to create a video of her life.  I also volunteered to deliver her eulogy, a presentation and a farewell for a long life well lived. 
Not everything I collected was used.  Both the video and the eulogy were heavily edited by me, not because my mother lived a scandalous life, but because some things were private. 
Some folks sent pictures that out of context were no longer funny.  Some things that happened in her ninety years on earth were not for display.
All of this makes me aware of how I have lived my own life.  Some things were not of my choosing and also not for public display.
My maternal grandmother once told me one should have no regrets at the end of the journey on this earth.  I asked her how one accomplishes that, and she said, “Forgiveness.”  Forgive yourself and the other person. Life is full of mistakes, but instead of dwelling on them, forgive yourself, learn from it, and move on.
Wise woman.
Here are some autobiographical writing prompts.  They dwell on the positives in our lives.  Use them as a guide as you move toward a life with no regrets.
1.    Who did you love most and why?
2.    What are your best accomplishments and why?
3.    What are your best characteristics/the best things about you?
4.    What were the best days of your life and why?
5.    Who were your best and truest friends and why?
6.    Who are/were the people who made the most difference in your life?
7.    For what would you like to be remembered?
8.    Make a list of “firsts,” firsts that shaped you into the person you are today:
first kiss, first car, first love, first encounter with death, first moment you realized you were now an adult, first heart break, first disappointment, first . . ..

Monday, March 5, 2018

Be the Hero of Your Own Story



Half a lifetime ago, an acquaintance walked up to me and handed me a worn paperback book.  She thrust it at me in passing and said the book reminded her of me.  I was caught off guard.  We were nothing more than fellow employees so I was intrigued by what she meant by that.  I looked at the book and noticed its imprint.  It was a romance novel. 
She took off, back to work before I could ask more from her, but she did yell over her shoulder that she wanted me to return the book once I read it. Since it was Friday and the weekend loomed ahead, I decided to read the book and return it the following Monday.
It was long ago but I remember the plot and the author’s name.  It was about a single mother of three who falls for the hunky neighbor next door.  Since both my neighbors were happily married and only one kind of fell into the hunky description, I figured that was not the part that reminded my fellow worker about me, besides there was no way she would know either of these two men unless she stalked my neighborhood.
I must have reminded her of the lead character – a single mother of three and her sad sack life:  divorced from an abusive, freeloader of a husband, one who abandoned all responsibility onto the ex-wife.
How this woman knew my personal life is the bane of all small, tight working communities.  Everyone knows the other person’s business and feels it is their right to interfere and offer counsel. Either this woman was offering me hope – I would one day find a hunky handyman and live happily ever after, or she wanted me to stop with the hangdog frump and get my act together.
I pasted a smile on my face when I returned her book and thanked her, not for the comparison to the protagonist, but for introducing me to Nora Roberts. She looked surprised, probably thinking I had missed her not-so-subtle hint, but unless she came out and voiced her insulting opinion of me, I wasn’t going to let her off the hook.
I now own about half of everything Ms. Roberts has ever written but that is because it does not include her J.D. Robbs’ books. My library includes first-hand and second-hand purchases.  I even own an original copy of her very first romance novel that I found at a used book store. As a true fan, it means more to me that owning a diamond ring.
I have forgotten the name of the lady who handed me her worn out paperback, but that day is etched in my mind forever. I decided I would not wait for some handsome hunk to save me from my distress. I would save myself, thank you very much. Ms. Roberts would expect that from me. 
And if I ever met a handsome handyman (shout out to HoneyBunch), he would love me for being the hero of my own story.