Note: This was not an easy essay for Richard Rodriguez to write. In fact, it was in development for six months before he decided to go ahead with it.
The results reflect a profound courage to confront the pain, anger and confusion of grieving for lost loved ones. It’s a real credit to Rich that he opened up like this. It’s well worth your time to read.
My first time dealing with death and grieving was with my maternal grandfather.
My grandparents lived with us in a two-family house, and one morning my dad and I went into their apartment and my grandmother said my grandfather was still sleeping.
We went into the room to wake him up.
As soon as I walked through the door I froze as I saw his pale face.
My dad went over and tried to wake him but I knew he was dead even though I had never seen a dead body before.
I never went past the doorway that day and was always wary of going in there for years after.
Many years later, my mother had complications after heart surgery and ended up in a vegetative state for a year before she finally died.
I have never had closure with her death.
Prior to the surgery we hugged and figured all would go well. After the surgery, she never regained consciousness. The day after, she had a cardiac arrest.
Her heart was restarted but the damage was done as the time her brain was without oxygen proved to be devastating. I was never able to say goodbye.
I was away at a job-related workshop when she entered the hospital a few weeks before, and the night she went to the hospital in an ambulance I was awakened abruptly in my hotel room by a “presence” in the room.
It could have been a dream but I woke up screaming. The next day when I called home, my brother told me of mom’s condition and that she was in the hospital.
I still wonder if somehow she was reaching out to me. I never saw her at home again.
Years later, I remember having a dream that she had come home. She seemed so relieved. In the hospital prior to the surgery that is all she wanted: to come home.
She was fearful of having the surgery. I think she knew she would not make it.
Among her things at the hospital, my father found individual letters addressed to us.
In them she expressed her love, words of encouragement and about my upcoming wedding and my brother David’s wedding.
She spent the time to write her last thoughts and wishes for us. I can’t imagine how hard that was for her. I still have my letter tucked away in a drawer. I’ll never forget it.
We visited her every day with hopes that there would be a miracle and she would come back to us. Numerous doctors and specialists evaluated her and they all concluded that her brain was too damaged to recover.
The doctors approached my dad with a DNR (do not resuscitate) and he was so upset he would not sign it. He was angry and demanded they do everything in their power to keep her alive
It was heart-wrenching to see her every day and hold her hand and try to communicate with her and hope to get a response.
Deep down we knew the chances of her coming back were very slim. I knew my mom would not want to exist in this state when she was so vibrant and full of life before.
She was eventually removed from life support and was able to breathe on her own and transferred to a nursing home.
I stopped coming to see her, as it was so painful to see her this way.
My father was unhappy with me. He was there every day. I couldn’t do it anymore. I would pray and ask God to take her and end her suffering.
She remained in this state for over a year before she succumbed to an infection and died.
The funeral was a blur. Her one request was not to be buried underground.
She did not want to be below the dirt. She feared it. I’m not sure why but she was adamant about it.
We were able to place her in an above-ground mausoleum. I have never been back to visit it. I know it should have been a relief to finally let her go, but the whole experience wrecked my feelings of my mom.
I still think of her every day. I still have no closure and I’m not sure if I ever will.
Fast-forward about 20 years later to my oldest brother’s illness and death.
He was sick but had gotten better and we were all together for Thanksgiving.
He seemed to be on the mend, but being a longtime rheumatoid arthritis sufferer on immune system-compromising medications, he needed to be very careful and concerned whenever he was sick.
He had lost his wife some years earlier to a bad infection that hospitalized her and eventually took her life. It was a devastating loss for him.
He relapsed that week after Thanksgiving. Eventually his daughter needed to call an ambulance to get him to the hospital. His condition deteriorated quickly and he ended up in intensive care with a bad infection.
He was on a respirator and it was hard for him to speak but at least he was still present and fighting. The one thing that truly disturbed me was that he was in the same hospital room that his wife died in. Deep down, I knew he would never leave this room.
His conditioned worsened and his organs began to shut down. They had to start dialysis as his kidneys stopped working.
I could not believe that this was happening and he was going to die in that same hospital and that same room. I hope I never need to step into that hospital again — ever.
Christmas was awful that year. His children stayed with him at the hospital on Christmas Eve when we traditionally all got together.
Two days after Christmas his son and daughter decided to stop the machines and treatments.
He went quickly. I did not make it to the hospital before he died. I did not get to say goodbye.
They kept him in that room until I could get there — my poor brother in that same room that his wife died in. I hope there was some connection for them and they are together now.
I have not sent out Christmas cards since his death. I also used to do a yearly Christmas letter and have not done that either. I’m not sure when I will start those up again.
Is this still mourning? I can’t imagine what it is like for his two kids: They lost both parents way too soon.
Fuck you God. What the fuck is wrong with you? You suck. Sorry that’s just how I feel right now.
I know these feelings are raw and harsh even after the years since these events, but my mom and my brother were the most influential people in shaping the person I am today.
My brother was a sort of surrogate father to me growing up as for many years my father worked two full time jobs to provide for us and save in order to purchase a home for his family.
I spent a lot of time with my brother who taught me how to work on cars, build things, etc. All things that a dad would typically would do.
In my dad’s absence, my mom took me to the park and taught me how to hit and throw a baseball, ride a bike, and many things you would think your dad would do.
I’m not knocking my dad for not being around as he did what he needed to do to provide for his family but the other members of my family stepped in and filled the gaps and helped each other with our everyday lives.
My mom and brother were more important to me than I can begin to describe here.