Tonight, as I sat at my grandfather's rosary, I couldn't help but feel I was outside of my own body, watching bits of a film from someone else's life. In fact, since loading into the car Thursday morning with my five siblings, ranging in age from 7 to 32, my stepmother, and my father, then driving 18 hours in one day to San Antonio, spending the morning in one home playing and laughing, and spending the evening in another, praying and crying, I realize the majority of this trip feels like something out of a movie...
Here is the scene:
The widow, an elderly woman of 88 years, is seated in a rocking chair by the fireplace. The fireplace is unimportant and, without a doubt, unnecessary, as it is the middle of August and the temperature reached over 100 degrees this day. She is peaceful, quiet, watching as people move about the room. This is my grandmother, in all her beauty and wisdom, experiencing a goodbye to the man she has loved since she was 16.
When her son-in-law and one of her thirteen grandchildren approach with two of her youngest great grandchildren, she comes alive, cooing and purring at them in Spanish. When my father, sister and brother sit by her, her hands move about, animatedly telling stories and asking questions. When I come over to kiss her, I can smell her perfume, which always reminds me of holy water and the church we attended during the summers we stayed in San Antonio. I can feel one of her hands softly rest on my shoulder, the other squeezing my fingers. Despite kissing my Grandma's cheeks, I am reminded of Grandpa instantly. Where is he for my kiss? Where is his hand on mine?
The house has filled with strangers. Strangers to me. I've met many of them once or twice, but couldn't tell you their names. If they recognize me, its because they remember Grandpa Joe's twin grand daughters, even if they met me when I was still only four feet tall.
I wish I were still only four feet tall.
If I were still a child, I could innocently hide away in the playroom, watching movies and sleeping until this foreign experience was over. I want more than anything to honor my grandfather's memory, to hear stories about his incredible life, to share in my family's joy in him and grief in his passing. But the rosary is not something I have ever experienced. I'm worried about the ceremony of it. I am worried about the emotion behind it. My tears have come and gone randomly since I heard the news of Grandpa's passing early Sunday, but I know that seeing my family cry will undoubtedly bring all of those tears and feelings to the surface again.
One of my aunts gathers all of the guests in the living room. It must have been Titi Gloria, it is her home after all, but I honestly can't say. I'm anxious and distracted. I didn't bring the rosary my grandmother gave me years ago, nor the one my best friend Chris gave me. I didn't know I needed to. Should I ask for one from Grandma? But she is seated, so comfortable in her rocking chair by the fireplace, her friends and family surrounding her as they catch up.
Now I feel like I am still four years old, unable to go to Grandma and ask her for a rosary, afraid of being scolded or embarrassed in front of all these strange faces. If Grandpa were here, I would ask him. I decide to take a seat on the stairs with a young girl I do not know, my little sister Shoshana, my twin sister Jessica, and Emma Grace, one of my younger second cousins. I am immediately at ease when I notice from across the room that one of my older cousins and her husband also do not have rosaries, though they may be excused by the presence of their baby and a rosary around his tiny neck.
I cannot see my aunt's faces during the rosary. Nor can I see my father's. I can see my grandmother's though. I realize her expression, whether she is happy or sad, or even in prayer, never seems to change. I wonder if my own perception of her face has been so deeply engrained in my mind, that I can only see now always what I picture when I am not near her.
The rosary continues. I picture Grandpa in my mind. The image is him, sitting across from me in the den of Titi Gloria's home, more serious than he has ever been in my entire life, although Titi Gloria and he himself have assured me that he is 89 going on 13. It's February, and I've stopped in San Antonio on a break from my cross country road trip. Grandpa is telling me about the day he met Grandma, and about how he came to study engineering, and about his friends that are long gone. He doesn't know it, but I've begun recording him telling stories on my phone. I record him saying "90 years old" to himself, as if I am not even there, as if he can't believe it.
The day he passed away, I listened to all of my recordings of Grandpa from that short visit. It was the last time I saw him in person. It was the last time I kissed his cheeks and felt his hands holding mine. I wanted to see him again before his birthday, but I let money and work and other things get in the way. But my own last moments with Grandpa, I have them saved.
I am brought back to the rosary by my little sister's head on my shoulder. She is fighting exhaustion, having woken up early after spending all day in the car, with no nap and a day playing with her young cousins and at the pool. She is fighting tears too. She is a sensitive and intelligent girl, and at almost 10 years old, Grandpa's passing is not something that is over her head. I laid down with her and my stepmom Tamara after my Daddy told her the news, unable to hold back my own tears as she sobbed. Tamara and I held her, kissed her, tried to comfort her. "I wish he was immortal. I wish he didn't have to die." She cried to us.
I wish he was immortal. I wish he didn't have to die.
During the rosary Sho is sweet and calm. She holds my hands. When the group begins singing,there is all at once both a feeling of lightness in the room, yet also an overwhelming sense that the damn may break at any moment. I can't see many of my family's faces, but I have the idea that they are struggling to fight back tears, if not already letting them flow. Maybe its in my head, but the singing seems to channel everything everyone is feeling, making it stronger.
Sho figures out where Daddy is in the room and moves to his side. I see her curl on the floor next to him, and Tamara moves to them both. My brother is close, meditating or praying, I am not sure which. I am alone on the stairs as the rosary ends.
The man leading it tell us that he has heard there are two deaths. The first is when your body gives up. The second is when the last person who remembers you dies. He tells us, I think Grandpa Joe will live a long time.