Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Eulogy to my grandmother

This blog actually started out as a response to an email of a friend asking me how I was feeling from the death of my grandmother. Then I realized it was probably more than this person actually wanted to read so I decided to respond with a simple ok and spill the wreckage here:

I am doing mostly ok...it kinda depends on the moment. Sometimes I spontaneously burst into tears and cry. Right now I am fighting them because I have so much to do tonight since I decided to ignore my responsibilities for today in order to reflect. I needed to figure out why I am constantly bursting into tears because it made little sense to me, that I keep crying like this since yesterday after I received the call from my father that my grandmother had died. 

To be honest, my relationship to my grandmother was minimal--after all she lived in Guatemala my whole life and I saw her a total of maybe 7-10 times--I am not even sure how accurate this number is. Mostly my memories of her consist of her telling me I am gorda (meaning fat in Spanish). Not really my most treasured memories but at least I met the woman. Maybe it was her way of showing affection and saying, "Your dad takes good care of you." Either way, it's true and it doesn't really matter to me at this point. 

The more morbid side of me has thought about this day. I knew it would happen some day and I always thought that it would be like hearing the death of a celebrity in the news. Sort of like when I found out Steve Jobs died recently and I thought, "I hope his family is ok." And I would carry on with my life as if nothing had changed in my life. Yet when my call ended with my father, I bursted into tears. I was walking from downtown Davis to my house. There I was on 2nd St crying as I tried to hurry home to hideaway in my little nest of safety. I couldn't make sense of the feeling. Did I love this woman? Who was she to me? 

It didn't take long that evening to figure out the source of pain: my father's voice. The most painful aspect of my grandmother's death has been hearing  and seeing my father cry (this is only the fourth) about her death and knowing he wanted nothing more than to say goodbye in person before she passed away and that he didn't make it. My heartbreaks knowing he is Guatemala right now without me. I guess, it's more of a selfish pain that I feel because I want to be there with him to protect him or maybe I need him to protect me from my own thoughts? Maybe I am seeking reassurance that he is going to be ok?

As a little girl, my dad was like a superhero to me. There had never been anyone like him, he was my Zorro (the one and only Halloween costume I remember him wearing when I was about four years old). Yet, in the last few years I have noticed him getting considerably older and physically weaker. His once invincible muscular arms and legs seem to be part of some distant past, some kind of romanticized version of my father as this magical man capable of performing amazing physical feats. I was certain my dad could have beaten up any one of my ex-boyfriends. In fact, you know kids sometimes "joking" around say, "well my daddy can totally beat up your daddy." You remember that? Well, I told my ex (my daughter's father) that my papa could totally beat not his dad but him up. He looked at me and laughed but I was serious--I really believed it then. Man, I thought my dad was like Arnold back in his bodybuilding days...that man did not really exist but nonetheless it was the reality I was certain of. 

So yeah, I thought my dad was my superhero, someone I could turn to no matter what. Now-a-days, I am far more reluctant to call when I need something because I don't want to stress him out--in fact, I don't do it anymore, I seek to solve my problems on my own. This is probably a mixture of self-responsibilty and this growing need to protect my father in some strange existential way that I am yet not able to articulate. When I go visit my parents, I look at his tired face and his ability to fall asleep in the mist of loud conversations, which he pretends to be a part of with a random comment that makes little to no sense to the conversation. I guess what I am trying to say with all of this is that the death of my grandmother just puts into perspective my father's own mortality. My father is aging. My dad is going to die. One day, I will lose him. Death is real.
So these tears that keep surfacing are my tears to him. He is grieving his mother but I am grieving him. My grieving is selfish because I won't miss my grandmother but I will miss father. I need to save him, somehow! Yet there is nothing I can do...

Another part of me knows that now my father is forever a changed man. The man my father was before my grandmother's death is now gone because I have seen the consequences of losing a mother. My maternal grandmother died December 30, 1998 and this date changed my mother forever. My mother always tells me the mourning of both parents being deceased is forever present and makes one feel like an orphan in the world because the people that have brought you into the world are gone. She says that you are no longer someone's child, you're an orphan.
I am not saying my dad will be like my mother, they are very different people with two very different outlooks on life but I know for a fact my father is forever changed and forever will feel this loss. Remember earlier when I said I had seen my father cry only three times prior to this? Well, one was a drunken night when I was a little girl where he was telling me he loved me, the other was when he talked about my grandfather (who died when my dad was only eighteen), and when I got married. Don't get me wrong, I honor this woman who raised twelve children on her own, my father being only the second oldest. But my grandmother is more of folklore to me, a women I only know through stories spun together by my father. I love her because she gave me him. For this I will be eternally grateful but I do not mourn her because she had her life, eighty-two years of it. I mourn for my father--he is now more vulnerable than ever--he is an orphan. I am not sure what it is like to be an adult Guatemalan man despite my vivid imagination but as a Latin-American (almost) thirty year old woman, I sometimes feel like I need my papa and my mami. There is a part of me that has refused to grow up and is vulnerable. From what I hear, this child remains a part of our lives and at times needs consoling. I imagine this child is present right now in my father. I want to cradle this child and hold him. I want him to feel comforted. This would comfort me.

This is why I want to be with him because I know he is in pain...I want to protect him from himself because he is only going to act like a "man" (in that Latin-American tradition) and hold the pain inside. He is going to feel obligated to be strong for the rest of my extended family. I don't want him to have to do that. He needs me. 
Maybe I am elevating his ability to open up with me, maybe even this is some other fiction that resides in my head, but I honestly feel like he opens up to me more than anyone else. Not that he pours his soul but he exposes a little bit more of that vulnerability he was raised to eternally keep hidden. My father has never been a man of expressive emotions but I know inside of him lives an immensity of love, devotion, and optimism I have never known in anyone else. My dad is amazing, he is the type of person that you want to be next to in tragedy, he would turn it into a moment of thankful reflection. He'd be the one to remind you of everything you do have--that's my dad, eternal optimism. According to him, it will always gets better. And believe me, as much as it has irritated me at times because I want to be victimized, it is always my ultimate conclusion to my problems. 

Yesterday when I drove him to San Francisco International, I could hear him crying. I couldn't see it because it was dark but the occasional wiping of the nose would confirm my suspicions. I wanted to cry too, I wanted to tell him that it was going to be ok. I didn't know how. I tried to talk to him about his feelings but I noticed that he was not really paying attention and possibly a little frustrated because I kept talking about it so finally I talked about frivolous things. I talked about my dreams and passions to which he seemed like he was only half listening, not that I expected more. The thing is, I was sharing these things with him because I wanted him to see that despite my rebellious years, he was continually (and still is) a source of inspiration for me. He never gave up, he never does. So in-between the frivolous words of my conversation of academics and the philosophical undercurrents of Arte Povera, I was secretly whispering into my words,"I am just like you, you see? I keep following my dream even when I have had to fight against the ocean currents that have knocked me down and constantly taken me back to shore." 

I have never been the most conventional person or followed the most conventional path. I have been difficult and I am far from the conservative political ideals of my father. We don't agree on religion either. He thinks I am an atheist. Sometimes we sit in uncomfortable silences on the phone when he tries to "check" on me seemingly nonchalant. And sometimes even though we are both speaking in Spanish, it is like we are speaking two different languages. We rarely see eye-to-eye. My father is a man of mystery, part illusion and fantasy, some constructed from photographs, my faulty memory, and his fantastical stories interwoven with magic and white lies. Fundamentally, I am just like him. I am hardheaded, fire-spitting, won't take shit, hardworking person...it just took me nearly thirty years to realize it. 

Although it may not seem like it, this really is a eulogy to my grandmother, even though my grief is not because if I am a consequence of my father, well then, I am eternally grateful to this woman I never really knew and helped form the first man I have ever loved.

I need to travel!