Eulogizing Mother. The Phone Call.

Eulogizing Mother. The Phone Call.

The year 2000 ended very sad, and 2001 started even worst. After much encouragement and begging her, mother had finally agreed that Christmas… she was supposed to come up and spend it with me in Connecticut. At the time, I was single; I lived alone in my huge 2000sq” three floors, three-bedroom condominium. I was so looking forward to being proud of myself by taking good care of her, and loving her, as only a good son could take care of their mother. Just as I had promised her I’d do since I was a child.

It had been only 5 months since mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer prior to her passing. I lived in Connecticut, and She lived in Miami with my 3 sisters. In those five months, I’d drained down all of my sick time, my vacation time, the family leaves sick time, and the sick days afforded to me by the generosity of my colleagues from the Meriden Independent Community Living, run by the State.

It was painful, I was missing her, and I couldn’t afford to continue to fly down to see her as often as I wanted and needed to. So we settled upon my calling every day. Since I worked the second shift, and mother was always an early bird, I could not talk to her in the morning due to my having to study or sleep late after perhaps working overtime. So I sat my then flip phone to alert and remind me each day at exactly 12:30 pm.

Every day that alarm would go off, and I would immediately call, and we’ll share our daily chat. As time passed, I’d call, and sometimes she was in much pain and couldn’t talk, but the hospice nurse would hold the phone to her ear and tell me that she smiled and fell asleep. That “she was waiting for my call.” Mother was very precise, and punctuality was one of her major hang-ups. I took after her in that respect. (Hate excuses for being late or not following through.)

Anyway… on the night of her passing, I played my piano all day, as if in a form of prayer, it was the only way I could console myself until around 12:00 am when my sister called and told me (that “she had finally fallen asleep. She was no longer in pain. the morphine is given to keep her comfortable which was making her alucínate hallucinate and talk out of her mind, was no longer necessary.”) My sister then hanged up, reminding me that she’ll call me back that she had to notify our other siblings.

As I put the phone down, I then entered into a bout of confusion, desperation, and pain, and darkened sadness, but I could cry. After waiting in vain for the phone to ring and afraid to pick it back up, thinking that she might call back and tell me mother had reawakened, the fear and confusion grew even deeper. Although part of myself was relieved, knowing that she no longer suffered in pain, but the selfish side of me, was getting ready to curse and hate upon others. As I wondered, why my mother, who’d suffered so much, while raising all of us by herself, in a poverty-stricken country… why not them?

It was then that the pleasing rational army of angels, who always guided me, apparently stepped in to redirect. I sat back down to that old piano around 2:00 am and played, write, and composed all night long. Didn’t Eve cared if my neighbors had complained, since I was always considered of them, but not this time.

It was then that I finished composing and recording that entire album, The Flight of The Phoenix (Tribute To Middletown). Today marks 20 years of the sad anniversary of her passing. Since that dark day, I have never again sat to play and composed to that piano, nor any other one for that matter.

The following morning, as I tried to close my eyes, my sister finally called back. She was crying in distress, wondering how she was going to do to plan a funeral, etc.; by then, I was calm, relax, and could take on the role of consoler. I asked her if she’d care to listen to what I had just composed in mother’s memory? And played some of the music, as I could hear her breathing softer, and she began to relax.

She then reminded me… “oh, I was wondering if you could do mother’s eulogy since you are the writer?” Of course, it was kind of flattering, though, in my moment of grief, since I had recently published, Vestiges of A Journey, my first book. I thought she meant just writing it since she was the poetess with a fabulous and moving delivery of a poem… any poem-but instead, she meant reading it off during the celebration of mom’s life and wake.

Of course, I accepted, then pondered and wondered to myself how and where I could start?

As I arrived at the airport on that cold February 20th, I still struggled with what I was going to write… since knowing myself, as a writer, I could be sharp and to the point, regardless of the situation, then knowing my brothers and sisters, and rest of the family I realized I better thread lightly. This was going to be, at first, a very hard challenge, and that I would cry and smudge every page as I began the second or third line.

This was prior to 9/11, so arriving at an airport, checking in, and going through security was a breeze. I had done so dozens of times, during my days as a sailor, as I traveled throughout the world to join different ships. And most recently, as I visited my mother and sisters and frequently traveled back and forth out of State with my children, in fact, that was where most of those poems found in vestiges of a journey had been written… I always, always carried a backpack with my laptop, a notepad and would write at the drop of a pen. Many of the folks who knew me recognized me because of such. Some often even criticized and poked a bit of fun… although nine books later, who’s laughing? 🙂

So, as I sat down in the airport waiting area to await my boarding time, Went to take a sip of coffee that mistakenly became somewhat of a much larger little sip… my eyes opened wide, and not just from the big gosle of a gulp of that very hot piping coffee, which made the people sitting in the aisle across jump and felt somewhat uncomfortable, but because the bright idea, the solution to mother’s eulogy had finally formulated in my mind.

This, I thought, doesn’t even have to be written down. As I boarded, the plane got somewhat comfortable in my seat, tears rolling down my eyes. I looked out the window as we took off and saw Connecticut countryside swiftly distancing herself amidst the crowds.

I pressed that little green light button with a person tray in-hand over my head and ordered the customary drink I only drank only when I flew. Though I no longer do such, but today I instead drink red and only red wine.

Still not sure why, but even before I could legally drink on land, anytime I boarded an airplane, I always requested a Johnny Walker, Coca-Cola, and lemon. It was something I never ever did on nowhere on land. So once the flight took off, and an attendant brought my drink, one sip. And I scribbled down the words ying and yang, and drew the little Asian Black and White representation of a Ying and Yang.

Thinking to myself, mother had ten children; two died when they were very young, but eight of us survived. We are four boys and four girls. Four of us were left-handed, and four of us are right-handed. That we were my mom’s left and right side. The perfect, the imperfect, and the beautiful sides of her, and perhaps the darkened and imperfect side.

That all we each had to do, was to remain as grounded, blessed, and beloved as she was, and we would be alright. Mother was respected and loved by everyone, even those who’ve never met her. Yet she was outstanding, none gossiping 72-year old, who always spoke her mind. Honest and truthful, even when it might have affected her if she’d admit to it.

As I looked around in the room that night, all eyes were teared up. I looked at each of my brothers’ and sisters’ hands, and every one of their fingers were counting, trying to add up who was right-handed and who was left-handed among the eight of us. I then gathered a smile to soften up the moment as much as one could under the circumstances. And I said, yes, there are two left-handed boys and two left-handed girls. There are also two right-handed girls and two right-handed boys. You figure it out. This little moment helped ease the moment and soothe the pain while I gathered the courage to read a poem I’d written for her years earlier.

My oldest sister, Esmeralda, had given us specific and very simple instructions, “get here as soon as possible, “Miami funeral and burial department are very strict.”

Well, my sister Susana (RIP), who lives in New York City during such time, thought she meant to take time. She didn’t only invite my other cousins, my aunt Idoly, their kids, and of course her daughter, Susie, who lived in North Carolina, and her three cute and adorable little boys… so instead of flying, they decided to go down to Florida by way of a greyhound bus.

Keep in mind that this is February, after all, and a very cold and snowy one at that. Susana always very smart, had made her calculations, and estimated her arrival to be on time. Although one could never ever plan ahead for the unexpected, and there was a massive, fetal multi-car piled up right outside of Raleigh, which caused a huge delay on her road trip. My three other sisters in Miami, Esmeralda, Luisa, and (Patricia) Joann Whittaker Luckie, had done a fantastic job with preparation and organizing an extraordinary funeral procession fit for a queen, for she was our queen. We were suggested to wear a black suit and white shirts, a blouse, and skirts for the girls. Of course, our younger brother, Morris, being always that sharp dresser, had been charged with making sure that Overton (RIP), our oldest brother, who was severely distraught, would be dressed and there on time.

Prior to her casket being shut thought for the final and last time, I stood beside her head, as she’d perhaps done so many times before at my head post. I read another poem from my book, following the minister’s prayers. Prior to given that copy of my book to her best friend, I leaned over and kissed her forehead, then touched her living hands for one last time to realize that she’d need frozen cold. That took me as a shock!

Esmeralda had ordered eight white roses, one for each of us. The famed basketball superstar, Shaklee O’Neil’s mom, had sent her the biggest and most beautiful wreath of flowers I’d ever seen, such adorned her coffin as we rolled out of the room. There were two extra roses left unattended, one belonging to my brother Martin who wasn’t able to get out of Honduras on time, and the other belonging to my sister Susana, who’d now gotten stuck in the middle of the car pile-up right outside of Raleigh. We checked up on her that morning and heard they were all okay; they’d been transferred to a new bus and that they meet us at the funeral site.

Three of the largest black limousines I’d ever seen followed behind us as we slowly followed the funeral hearse carrying her casket. I believe that inside those limousines were our kids, her pastor, best friends, and some of her beloved church members. Although it was somber, the sunlight was rather shaded and almost pampering warm, rather than the hot, hot summer Miami Florida sun we’d always identify with Miami. It was a long, very long, and somber ride. We all sat quietly and still. Looking across at each other, as we tried comforting and easing our pain by steadily steering at our white rose, pausing just to smell it, then look out of the window. It was the quietest I’d ever seen us as a bunch. We are normally very loud and often tries to out loud each other.

On the way to her final resting place, appropriately named Jardin de Angeles (Angel Gardens), right outside of Hialeah, my mind run heavily on our youngest brother, Martin, who’d been stuck back in Honduras, unable to get out on time for the funeral.

As the procession slowly made that turn into Jardin de Angeles, a deep feeling of real raw grief finally sat in, and I began to cry uncontrollably. Such was interrupted by my brother-in-law Gustavo’s delivery of the sad news that Susana, her daughter, their kids, and aunt Idoly hadn’t yet arrived at the Miami bus terminal. Keep in mind that this was early 2001, not everybody owned a cellphone, and payphones were often none reliable. This meant that Gustavo had to keep going back and forth checking. Although by now, the funeral directors and the Jardin de Angeles cemetery personnel had grown tired of waiting. It was past 12:00 noon, when they made their first warning that they could no longer wait, because of Florida state laws, they proceeded to sight some codes, etc. between Esmeralda and the funeral director had managed to plead and gained a few extra minutes, which had now also swiftly gone by.

It was then we looked across the lawn, and as in the classic Steve Macwain movies, we saw Gustavo’s speeding up toward the gravesite. By now, the Jardin de Angeles’s boss had really gotten enough of us, and he personally had walked up toward the leaver and had started lowering mother’s body. Her church’s congregation began signing while her pastor prayed aloud, while by now, the funeral director had regained control and taken over the lowering.

As my sister Susana, aunt Idoly and their tribe rushed toward mom’s coffin that was slowly being lowered, Susana realizing that she’d never get to see mother’s face, decided to attempt to jump in behind her, not sure if it was a contagious effect, but my youngest sister Joann also grew the same desire. So, as I was holding one back, my mental health instinct kicked in, just in time to grab the others wrist.

If you could picture us, I’m in the middle with a firm grip on both of their wrist, as they are dragging me down, but I knew well if I let go, they are going to have some serious injury… cause they were going to jump in. I, therefore, kept my grip, making sure not to cause harm.

And it is at the time that mother’s casket sits at the bottom of her final resting place that the alarm on my phone that I’d sat months earlier to remind me to call her each day at 12:30 noon goes off.

Of course, the phone is in my pocket, and I couldn’t reach it because I’m holding both my grieving sisters for safety and comfort. So it rings and rings and rings until they regain control… was embraced and consoled by other siblings, families, and friends.

I left that phone program unchanged for years following mom’s funeral, and each day that phone rang at 12:30 noon, I’d stop whatever I was doing and shared a prayerful conversation with my mother.

Though it’s been 20 years since today, and that old phone is no longer around, but such memories of deep great loss and love, remains alive as if it was today.

Always loving you, and missing you, my dear beloved mother. I search for you in the stars, in the sun, the sea, and each and every flower and grain I plant. You live in me, and I therefore live and love better because you taught me to love.

Thanks mom!

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