Went to a funeral on Friday and it reminded me once more the actual meaning of life. I must take you back a little to enable you to understand my present state of mind, so please bear as I walk you down the corridor of my yesterdays…
I’m one of those people who don’t happen to think death is such a bad thing. After all we have been made to understand death itself is a call to a higher glory. I have lost two people close to me in my life; my cousin and best friend, Chichi who passed when we were seven years old, and the other is my papa.
With these two people I had a rather unique relationship and the effect of losing each one is glaringly different on me. Chichi and I had a thing where words were not required; we only needed to look at each other and know what the other was saying or wanted. She was like cake, sweets and ice cream all given together at one go. I loved her and she loved me. I know many will wonder how two seven year olds, could possibly have anything so deep between them, to which I can only respond; we were spiritually connected.
Coming from a rather big family, we all sort of found someone we paired off with as kids, hence her and me. She lived in my hometown, while I spent most of the time in the city with my parents. I saw her mostly on short and long holidays; times in between these we scribbled little notes which passed for letters through relatives. The most we conveyed never went beyond “I miss you, when are you coming home or when are you visiting?”
The night she died, I had a dream the day before. In my dream she was very sick and I woke up crying. I remember papa promising he would take me on the next trip home so I could see that she was okay. The news came the next day that she had died and a part of me also died that day.
I walked about with a cloud over my head for days, not so much because she was dead, but because I could no longer play, hold hands or laugh with her like we used to. But Chichi remained a long while with me for many years long after her passing because in my heart she was still there. The extra blessing of seeing and doing things with her frequently in my dreams was quite comforting but surprisingly, many things we did in my dreams would later manifest in one form or the other in real life making it real to me that physical death was not the end to life.
If she were alive today, she would be 44 years old just like me, perhaps with kids but definitely not seven. Chichi would pass out just at the thought of more than just two!
Now my papa was a different story. How does a man with so many children and far too many commitments have time for the fantasies and mischief of a seven year old? I of course never saw papa as that until perhaps later in my teens when I became 16 and realized I had boobs now and was no longer allowed to climb trees and play football with boys all day long.
Papa and I had a code; when he offends me I let him know by not smiling or speaking to him and on really serious offenses I would refuse to eat. That was something my siblings rather enjoyed because in our home you did not need to refuse twice before an eager and able mouth took over your meal, but that’s another story.
Papa on the other hand, let me know when I was the offender by making my young brothers run little errands that were meant for me like bringing his slippers or sitting by his feet and sharing whatever snack one of the wives gave him for the evening.
These are my memories from childhood until I matured and began to see papa’s faults and decided he was not my favorite person any longer. This of course has to do with the realization that polygamy sucked on every level especially when favoritism is played and you see with innocent eyes as your mama falls short of everything all the time. That again is another story but in all; these were and still are my best people departed so far.
I miss them physically but in my head and heart they still live and daily I acknowledge their influence in my life and the occasional conflicts that arise albeit one sided.
Life moved on and so did I until another huge change occurred in my life and I became a parent. From this point onwards my view of death also encountered a slight shift. I now found myself somewhat scared of death, not because I feared life after death, but because I worried about my kids.
If mama is gone who will care for them? I struggled with this for some time especially during the period I was crippled with an inexplicable illness. Every day I woke felt like a special gift. During these periods my relationship with my faith became redefined. Gradually but steadily, I began to learn that life and death was not about the length of time you spend on this earth, but what you managed to achieve and the lives touched and I also began to appreciate living once again.
I still get the occasional panic attack of what if something happens to me; but I don’t freeze like I did in the past any longer. I deal with life one day at a time.
So back to Fridays funeral and what began this story in the first place.
I first met this family through my sister who has been friends with one of the daughters to the departed man; their kids played football in 6th grade. In 2011 he became my client through the Dept. of Aging and Disability and I found the family a provider. I must confess I never really knew the man who everyone, including his wife Ms Kathy, fondly called papa. The little I saw and knew of him was enough to form such a great impression.
On days when he was not too ill, he would smile and mumble a greeting. On other days when my sister, his home health nurse, visited, I would watch in awe as she communicated with him. The look in his eyes always told a better story.
Ms Kathy is a petite beautiful blond haired woman with a heart as big as Texas. Between caring for her husband papa, she also had the full time job of caring for her beloved 87 years old dad who in my opinion epitomizes a true gentleman. He too is another story perhaps to be told another time.
This family is fascinating and the collage of colour in them as a people is truly amazing. In them is a mixture of Black, White, Hispanic, Colombian and those I don’t know about. And when you see them, a true picture of the beauty in diverse cultures truly emerges.
I watched this man fight with all he had to remain on this earth, not so much that he wanted to remain here because well nobody wants to die! He had a more selfless reason; he was concerned the effect his passing would have on his beloved wife and family more than anything else.
I got a better glimpse into the life and man that was Papa Tapia at his funeral. The words said painted a more beautiful and endearing picture on the canvas of my mind and every stroke of these same words made my skin breakout in goose bumps. I looked around me and what I saw was the life and influence of this man pouring out from every orifice of life surrounding him that day.
A Hispanic deacon gave a sermon and spoke about the comfort in knowing that papa rested in the bosom of the lord. Having lost his own wife just a little over a month ago, he was emotional and struggled to remain calm several times. In him I saw the beauty of faith; faith in knowing that though it’s difficult to understand why God allows some things happen in our lives; we must embrace these in good faith, believing he has a reason and purpose. I’m not catholic, but a year of convent school versed me well for the Hail Marys and sacraments.
Next was the non-denominational priest with songs of praise… all he spoke of was what the family told him of papa but with his new found knowledge, the words of God and love, he spoke like an old friend of Papa’s. He began by telling how papa saw life only in the clear. He saw no colors or gender, old or young. He spoke of a man who loved life and lived life to the fullest up until this physical flesh began to fail him.
At that point we heard the story of how papa got his kidney. He and Ms Kathy lived in Rosenberg, in a quiet mind your own business neighborhood. Papa never could help himself but would always mow the lawn of the elderly couple next door and from there onwards the man too would mow papa’s lawn when mowing.
A time came when a nephew of the elderly couple moved in with them and somehow he also took to papa. Years passed and the young man took over the mowing when papa had gotten too sick and neither could his uncle do much. They lived as neighbors would, until one night they got a call from the couple. They informed Ms Kathy their nephew Johnnie had been in a car accident and was brain dead.
Ms Kathy devastated, immediately began to ask what they could do to help. She wondered if they wanted her to feed their cat, take out the dogs or perhaps even bring some things down to the hospital for them; but the couple said no….it’s what we want to do for you, the man replied. At this time, papa was on the donor list for a kidney.
The couple offered papa Johnnie’s kidneys! Ms Kathy was speechless and handed the phone to papa who simply said thank you. After goodbyes were said, the hospital was called and the next day he went in for the prepping.
Bear in mind they don’t know if this would be a match; if the body would accept it after the match, but papa was like a kid off to Disneyland. Short version…they got in, everything matched right down to the blood type! According to Ms Kathy, she coined her phrase “The Lord’s still in the miracle business” from then on. So like Hezekiah of the Old Testament the Lord gave papa eight more years to live. To see more great grandchildren born and grandchildren grow up.
As I listened to all these testimonies, we sang hymns and songs in between. The hymns were uplifting and joyous, just like papa everyone said.
The time for family to speak came and the first was Joe, papa’s son-in-law. I met Joe last year; he is quiet and appears shy to me. Seeing him up there reading a poem he wrote, not only blew me away but the raw emotion in his gestures and eyes was much more powerful than the words he spoke. He said in his poem, “Papa and me have our way.” It was somewhere in these lines I of course got lost because my heart was wrenching from the sheer agony and loss written on the face that spoke the words.
Next was Ms Kathy’s first child. Small in stature like her mom but with a slight disability due to an open heart surgery at the age of three. The professionals back then believed she would not survive, she not only lived, but has been here now for 46 years and still going strong! She is also mother of a college student. As you can see, miracles started happening in this family a long time ago.
She began by saying that papa was her mom’s 4th husband, and including her own father, Papa was the only man, who ever treated her mom the way every woman longs to be treated…with dignity, respect and love. She spoke of a man whom when she met for the very first time, she was confused about how to address him because everyone spoke in Spanish. But he pulled her to a corner and whispered.” I got a secret that will make it better, I’m legal and I speak English!”
The entire room, including her burst into a fit of laughter as she repeated this story. She said from that moment onwards, she and her three siblings finally got a home and a father. She spoke fondly of memorable vacations and fishing trips; of BBQ ‘s at home where papa would grill all day and at the end when everyone is eating, go about from table to table asking like an eager child “Is it good? Do you like it? Want more?”
The thing that stuck in my head was her last remarks, she turned to the room of about a hundred people, filled with young men mainly in their teens and twenties; and said “You men should look upon this man and learn a thing or two from him, he was a father, a good provider who loved and lived for his family, and he was dependable!”
A certain young lady spoke on behalf of the grand children, though she was incoherent most of the time due to the tears and sniffles, she did stop at one point long enough for this to register. She said “I will miss you granddad, we all miss you so much already,” then turned to us and told a little story about when she was a teenager;
She became a teenage mom and for the longest time was so embarrassed and sad because she felt she let papa down. She only had the courage to ask him recently if he was proud of her; he smiled and hugged her, and said not only was he proud of her, but proud of the young woman she had become and nothing she could have ever done would have made him ashamed of her. Still in tears, she said that was just the way papa was…he never judged anyone and he never minced words. He was direct and candid without making you feel less of a human being. Neither did this stop him from embracing you.
The room was quiet and I felt the presence of God with us. There was something in the air. Something words could not describe. Despite the sadness, a calmness and quiet awe consumed the place, that presence of greatness that is the universe which has no beginning or end.
The priest took over again and we sang a truly awesome hymn that took me back to my days with Chichi singing in St Matthias, our village Anglican Church with its leaking roof. The hymn… ‘Yes, Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me , yes Jesus loves me …the bible tells me so.’
Sitting beside me is my way too serious and sometimes weird sister Gert, face struggling to remain calm and mine drenched in tears. I did see her wipe her face several times but I looked away, she’s weird remember, lol.
As I looked once more towards the front, people lined up for one final look at papa’s body and Ms Kathy stood there, smiling with the most serene look on her face. I remember her talk with us two days before, she said he would be laid beside his ma and pa and sister, and there was a big old tree like an umbrella to shield papa from the elements. Ms Kathy is a simple woman, transparent as they come; no hidden agenda or feelings. Perhaps that is why she sees so clearly just like papa—in an array of rainbow, not just black or white.
We sneaked away before they left for the cemetery, Gert could not bear it much longer and we had to get the little one from day care. On our way home we spoke about the funeral, it was then I decided to write this little tribute to papa…He did not know me, but the little I knew of him, made me feel welcome in his home and life. The much I got to know about him after his death, makes me feel like I’ve known him all of my life. So papa, till we meet again…you’ll always be right here in my heart where Chichi, my papa and now you rest.
FOR PAPA VICTORIANO TAPIA. BELOVED HUSBAND, FATHER AND FRIEND TO MANY.