There are certain things that stick with me from our last trip to Mexico. The most vibrant and sad image is the one I saw every evening. Three of my husband’s sisters curled together on a mattress on the floor of their dad’s room. Sleeping in their clothes from the day, jeans and bare feet sticking out from under the blanket. A jumble of arms and legs each overlapping the other. As one sister shifts and turns, the other two instinctively turn also, throwing a leg over one sister and an arm over the other though I hear their quiet snores even as they move in unison. I tease my husband that he is just like his sisters. He sleeps the same way, always tossing an arm or leg around me, needing contact. As soon as I hear his snores I wiggle loose, immediately he senses it and shifts to throw his appendage back. Even though we’ve slept like this for 8 years, now when I feel the pressure of his leg on mine I feel a sense of loneliness and sadness that I never felt before. I picture his sisters in Mexico on the floor and wonder if they are still sleeping that way.
I remember the mariachis and their somber processional. There is such ceremony in a Mexican funeral. People dress in jeans or everyday clothes, some in black shirts but not many. The walk from the church to the cemetery was about 12 blocks. There was something so deeply sad about the procession. The combination of the music and the intense labor of four men carrying the casket on their shoulders. I can’t hear the music any more in my head but when I close my eyes I feel the sweat trace down my face as I put my arm around Ely, the sister who is my age almost exactly. I know how alone she feels. She is the only one of the 10 siblings who is not married and does not have children. Her father was the most important person in her life.
The sense of love and respect the people around me have for my father-in-law overwhelms me. There is something primitive and deeply respectful about carrying the casket by hand. The primitive side stirs something deep inside me that I never felt before when surrounded by death. Especially when we enter the cemetery and see the rawness of the rectangular hole and the mounds of fresh dirt. The roots of the nearby tree show down deep into the hole. This stood out later in my mind when his sisters were discussing how they worried about the large tree at the base of their mother and father’s grave. I don’t know what kind it is but they worried because the roots grow really big and they don’t want them to bother their parents as they rest. When I saw the large tree I remember being thankful that there was shade over his parents and shade over the visitors. It just seems right that in death, the get to be an a place surrounded by shade, since it is such a rarity in this part of Mexico to find a cool spot to rest.
His sister Filo told us how when his father died, all five of his daughter’s and his one son that were in Mexico were laying in bed with him. How different from most death’s in the United States which happen in a nursing home or hospital with only strangers as witnesses. Apparently, that morning when Ely had checked on him he wasn’t breathing and she shook him awake. During one conversation I think I overheard her saying that she felt guilty for bringing him back to life if it was really his time. I wanted to tell her that it was a blessing she woke him up and he was able to stay alive until 3 pm.
If he had died that morning I would have had to go to my husband’s work to tell him instead of giving him the news in the privacy of our home. If she had called too late we wouldn’t have been able to see him at all. We may have been able to get to Mexico that day if she had called soon after his death so we could have seen him a little more and mourned in the house with his family. However, a part of me is glad we arrived after he was in the church and didn’t see him laying in his bedroom. Right now the last image I have of him alive is in July when I hugged him goodbye as he sat in his doorway in a blue plastic chair. I wouldn’t want that image replaced with one of him in a coffin with everyone sobbing around it.
Almost every day last week when my husband came home from work he said to me “I’m sad today. I couldn’t stop thinking about my dad.” It hurts me because I have had nightmares for as long as I can remember (back to elementary school) of my parents dying and I know the terrified feeling I have when I wake up in the morning after those dreams. Unfortunately, this is not something that he can wake up from. I used our frequent flyer miles to buy us tickets to go to Mexico for Day of the Dead this year. The first year after someone passes away is the most important and it is such a huge part of Mexican culture so I knew he wanted to spend the time with his sister’s. I know that some day he will take care of me when I need him to.
The following photos are the way I want to choose to remember my father-in-law and since none of you have ever met him, here are my favorite images. He would have been 74 on October 21st.