As Dia de los Muertos draws near once again, our thoughts travel to those that have departed. In our family, that is Isabel, our mother, wife, grandmother, aunt, and sister-in-law. This will be our second year of honoring the dead, but most particularly our mother (and wife). My father holds onto the remnants of Catholicism, so his prayers serve to comfort him, but the rest of us have jumped off the ship of organized religion to embrace new ways of honoring and remembering our mother. And for the remaining five of us, each of us has done it so elegantly, so naturally, and so beautifully that Isabel would weep if she could bear witness. We honor her by actually being her.
Our mother was singular; everyone said so that met her. Please don’t confuse that with saintliness—she wasn’t that (even though she had her moments). She was extraordinary and a generation before her time in intellect, theory, philosophy, philanthropy, and abilities. She was such a dynamic personality that at the moment of her death all the lights and the television in the room in which she died flicked on and off. Even the Hospice nurse was rattled and said she had never witnessed that before in all the death scenes at which she had been present. It didn’t surprise any of us, however—she was saying goodbye and letting us know she had made it to the other side. Or, as I sometimes think, she lived at such a high voltage, when she died it created an electrical overload.
She certainly was a force of nature—both good and challenging. Extremely selfless, giving, and loving, but also equally controlling and opinionated. Admittedly, we are, none of us, purely good (or bad)—we are complicated shades of grey. She was by far more good than bad, but (Oh!) how she could make us want to scream in frustration. My sister Resa said that she drove us crazy, but she was our crazy. And we miss her so very, very much that each of us has assumed her position within the family. Somehow, her roles became neatly and equitably reallocated among us.
My father, Gene, has become The Cheerleader and witness to all family events (often, he used to opt out—but he never does that anymore)—he graciously is at every family dinner, event, ceremony, and celebration that we ask him to attend. He lends his funny presence and always bring a bottle of wine or Spazaretto or Spazbuco to be enjoyed. He stays longer, engages more, and is accessible and present to all attendees. And like Isabel, he doesn’t miss a trick.
My sister, Raina, has become The Hero. She selflessly saves the day. She ran over to help me file an extension on my taxes at the last minute when I was panicking and clueless (my mother had been our tax accountant). She took the toughest watches at my mother’s deathbed and was the only child to bear witness to her passing. She takes point on overseeing my father’s medical care (and taxes), and she’s who I call when the world feels overwhelming. She will make it better and take care of it.
My brother, Gene (Beedee), is The Heart. He is the softest and kindest of us all with depths of compassion the substrata to his bravado. He feeds starving, wild Coyotes, neglected farm dogs, has adopted 16 stray dogs, 2 neglected mini-donkeys, and a mini-pony who was going to be thrown out because he can’t stand to witness suffering in any form. He is the first one to say “I love you.” I love that about him.
My sister, Resa, is The Family Epicenter. She keeps us connected and on track. She remembers and organizes birthday and most holiday celebrations. She is the focal communication point for all of us. We all talk to Resa more than we talk to each other. She is our glue, our harbor. And she ensures that my father has a good, home cooked meal at least twice a week, usually sending him home with comfort food and a homemade pie (no, really).
I am The Outreach Coordinator. I now am the communication liaison to several members of our family. I am the connection to our family in Spain and several of our other relatives throughout the country. Whereas Resa is the Octopus body, I am the tentacles. It has brought me joy and new connections with cousins and a strengthened connection with my niece.
It takes all five us to do the job of one small woman. That leads us to question what legacy do we leave behind? My mother was fortunate, she left heartsick, mourning people that took over roles to fill the massive gap she created at her departure. She lived an imperfect life with gusto, verve, and generosity. Like a Pollock painting, the lines and colors of her life were vibrantly chaotic yet masterful and stunning. I too, would like to leave a heaving mess of color and brilliance behind carefully curated by those who have loved me. And a power failure wouldn’t hurt either.