The Worst Kind of Heartbreak

My Dear Readers,

In my opinion, the worst kind of heartbreak is the one you can’t undo, can’t repair, and never recover from. It’s irreversible because it’s final, and no love letter or gracious apology will ever bring the person back into our lives. The worst kind of heartbreak is when a loved one dies. The past month has been a heartbreaking one for me and my family. That is why I’ve been quiet, because I couldn’t write about anything else but this great loss. It’s why I felt compelled to write this particular piece. I wrote it as a letter to my brother (in-law) Eddy, who passed away 21 days ago from stage four stomach cancer. In no way is this a precise chronological account of the events, nor am I sharing anyone’s perception, but my own. This is my personal, long-winded way of sharing my deepest thoughts and feelings on the loss of a great love. 

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Dear Eddy,

As you recall, it was sixteen years ago when we met, which means you knew me for more than half my life. You danced with me at my kitchen-style Quinceañera, wearing a red napkin bow-tie and all! You held my hand as I cried over love and life. You were there for me on my highs and very lows. Since you married my sister Monica, you found your way into my life as another brother, one I never asked for, but definitely needed. “Hey little girl,” you always called me from the day we met and I think until the day I turned 30 last winter. I had to gently remind you a couple years ago that I was “too grown up” for you to still call me that! But you didn’t care…

And now I sit here, with this feeling I have of exasperation, sadness and anger. Barely holding my insides together. Because you’re gone. And I’m not angry at you, but there’s a hole now in our lives, that no one will ever be able to fill. And that’s kind of your fault dude, because you were quite the person! I write you this letter because It’s the only thing I can do right now to get through. Also because I’m pretty sure Alex and Sofia will ask me one day to tell them more about their dad, about the pain, and those last memories we shared together. So here it is…

It Started 16 Months Ago

When you were diagnosed last August, I thought I was dreaming. I knew several people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, but cancer was always a distant thought. Yes, my grandfather, my aunt, and mom’s best friend all died of cancer. But it wasn’t supposed to happen to our nuclear bunch. It wasn’t supposed to happen this close, and especially to anyone so young. You were 37 that summer, and slowly I started to understand that you were really sick, and would be taking time off work to try and heal.

11 Months Ago

After your surgery in January I thought for sure they had removed all the cancer, and we were hopeful. I saw you on my 30th birthday, and you were in so much pain, but I was so glad that you came dancing with us. Except you didn’t dance this time, you sat and watched, tried to help us take pictures, and barely touched any food. You were skinny, you looked tired.

A few weeks later I was sitting in grandma Chuy’s kitchen in Aguascalientes, when I received the message that the doctors had found cancer spots on your liver… I believe that’s the medical term. For the first time since you were diagnosed I sobbed and complained about how unfair this was. I was angry that after going through such a painful surgery, were they removed your stomach, you still had cancer! I was frustrated and started calling everyone I knew who had offered alternative healing methods. “I leave in five days,” “I need it now,” “No it can’t wait,” “Yes it’s urgent.” Were my most frequently used words.

Maricarmen (our cousin) got me the name of a very well-known alternative medicine doctor, whose secretary I harassed until she gave me the answers I was looking for. This is one of those times were my annoying persistence paid off. I pushed my flight back a few days so the medicine could arrive. There was no guarantee this would help you, but it was a natural sort of approach that wouldn’t interfere with the chemo so you, Monica, and I all agreed it was worth trying.

A few weeks later, you were on a more aggressive form of chemo, while taking vitamins, drinking green juices, and trying to eat as healthy as possible. The problem was that you could no longer stomach certain foods… zing! Yeah, you used to love it when we would crack that joke. So what you ate sometimes wasn’t healthy, but it was the only thing that wouldn’t make you nauseous.

Eight Months Ago

On mother’s day weekend we all hung out at The Commons and played kickball. You joined in for as long as you could stand the running, kicking the ball way out of bounds. I remember Sofia and Maya were team captains and Sofia picked all the kids, and Maya picked most of the grownups so we had to give Sofia’s team Monica and Heather to “play fair”. The twins, at four-years-old, had a really hard time understanding what they needed to do after kicking the ball, and we were all cracking up so hard throughout the whole game that we could barely keep the scores straight. We had so much fun that day, you tried really hard to keep your “normal” energy level up, but we could all tell you were tired and not feeling well. Still, we were so happy that you tried.

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Six Months Ago

In the summer I had my housewarming party, and you and Monica were there, along with so many of my friends. I was so happy to see you out, chatting and being social. It seemed like you were progressing well through your treatment. I can’t remember how many rounds of chemo you’d gone through at that time, but I remember that it seemed to be working. Ironically, that was around the time I started having chest pains. “It’s acid reflux caused by your stress,” said the doctor. “But I don’t feel stressed,” I told him annoyed. “What do I have to be stressed about?” I asked myself, “I’m not the one who has cancer!” Still, I decided to follow the doctor’s guidelines of daily meditation and diet changes.

After long periods of reflexion I realized why I was stressed, sure, work had gotten crazy since you’d been on medical leave, I had moved and ended a serious relationship, but none of those things seemed to compare to what you were going through. And I realized, I was feeling anxious about the possibility of losing you.

I specifically remember one day in July you came to the office to do interviews, and training. Our latest new-hire had quit after only being on the job for one week and I was completely frazzled. You must have noticed my level of stress because you immediately comforted me with the advice you’d given me once five years before, with a similar situation: “Don’t let it stress you out,” you said, “Remember this isn’t the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last,” you said with a smile. “I’m  not stressed out!” I replied with tears in my eyes. And we both had a little chuckle over it.

Three Months Ago

Before too long, fall had arrived and we were all overjoyed to witness our friend Claudia get married in my parent’s backyard. It was the first chilly weekend in October and you and Alex greeted guests as they arrived, directing them where to go. You had lost the use of your right hand by that time, but as the talented artist that you were, you could still draw logos for people, left-handed! It upsets me now that I didn’t make a bigger deal about it at that time. I feel I should have applauded your tenacity and hugged you harder, but I didn’t… I was absorbed in so many other things and somehow missed your awesomeness at that particular point in time. For that I am sorry…

I mean, we all know how awesome you were, also annoying at times and completely hilariously inappropriate. But awesome still, nothing short. You even taught Elliot and Zoe to say: “Uncle Eddy is awesome!” When they were like two years old. You loved hearing them chant it behind you as they chased you to the living room and you would let them jump on you so you could tickle them.

Two Months Ago

I believe it was the second week of November when we found out your last round of chemo wasn’t working. I remember that phone call we had, I said something like: “I really need to pray more, I know I need to do better with that.” And you smart-assedly replied: “Yes Maribel, that’s why I’m not getting better, because you’re just not praying hard enough.” As usual, you made light of something awful and made me laugh.

As the days passed, I started to realize that we might not make it to Christmas with you, and I felt like I had wasted so much precious time. I started blaming myself for not hanging out with you more often, and for the feeling of uneasiness I would get when I would see you push your plate away in pain. I didn’t understand why I had such a hard time seeing you suffer, I wanted to be more understanding and kinder and more helpful, but I didn’t know how. It sounds so absurd now that I’m writing it, I mean how hard is it to extend your hand and help someone in need? It’s not that hard! But I now see that I was in pain, and every time I saw you hurting I would hide inside myself and freeze, I would watch you and be unable to help at all.

I felt guilty, selfish, and angry at times. But nothing I experienced could possibly compare to what Monica, Alex, Sofie, and your parents must have felt. They were the ones who spent the most time around you and got to know your pain intimately, it became a part of their routine, like putting on their shoes before leaving the house. “Daddy’s in pain, we need to be quiet around him so he can rest,” the kids would say nonchalantly. This phrase became the norm.

One Month Ago

Thanksgiving arrived, and when you, Monica, and the kids got to my parent’s house, you were so sick, that you barely spoke and headed straight to the couch. I remember Claudia covered you up and Monica told us you had gotten sick at your grandma’s Thanksgiving celebration earlier that day. “What is happening to him?” I asked, no one seemed to want to say the answer out loud. We ate without you, which felt so wrong, but you seemed to prefer it that way. I remember I asked if you wanted to drink or eat anything and you asked me for mint tea. “He likes it sweet,” mom told me, while the water boiled.I put two teaspoons of brown sugar in it and gave it to you. You took a few sips and laid your head back down. The kids were jumping around you, but you didn’t seem to mind. We asked them to be quiet, but well… you know how it goes.

The next morning Monica took you to the ER at The James and I met you guys there. When I got there you looked genuinely happy to see me, and for some reason that memory really sticks with me. I’m glad I was able to hang out with you while we waited on the many tests they wanted to run. The doctor’s talked about letting you go home, if you could start to eat something and keep it down. The resident doctor said: “We might give you an enema to help with the constipation.” And you so inappropriately replied: “Actually I was hoping you could use Summer’s Eve, I’d like to go home feeling fresh.”

We all cracked up, I mean… there was nothing stopping you from making hilarious ridiculous comments, not even the horrible nausea you were experiencing. A few moments later, I got uncomfortably close to you, as you so enjoyed doing to us, and whispered in your ear: “You know what you need?” “What?” you replied. “Some mary J wana,” I said back with a wink. We both cracked up at the thought of lighting up a dubbie in the ER of The James. Imagine such a distinguished place tarnished by our immature antics. “Actually it’s the Abercrombie and Fitch” ER now,” you said sarcastically. “Well, I’m surprised they didn’t give you flip flops with your hospital gown.” I replied, as we laughed.

A few hours later, I decided to go back to my place, while the doctors made a decision on discharging you. I cried in the car as I was driving home, I was supposed to go to Katie’s house for a gathering but I didn’t want to be around anyone. I remember praying that God would just relieve you of your pain. I went to bed shortly after I got home, but was awakened by my dad’s call at 1 a.m. “I’m sorry to wake you,” he said, “but Monica said they were still in the hospital three hours ago and we haven’t heard from her since, and her phone is off, have you heard from her?” he said sounding desperately anxious, “I will call Eddy’s phone and see if he answers,” I replied immediately dialing for you. There was no answer, and I was terrified. My phone rang five minutes later, and it was a call from you, but Monica was on the line. “They admitted Eddy because they found fluid in his perineum,” she told me somberly. The inevitable had happened.

I couldn’t sleep for two hours after that, I sat and cried, wrote gibberish, and scoured the internet for information about stomach cancer. I came across the NIH page and it said that a stage four cancer patient had a 4% chance of survival. I remember staring at the page forever, I couldn’t believe it 4%!!! I had been living in denial this whole time and I was so ashamed for being so ignorant about all this. I pulled as many happy memories of you as I could into the forefront of my brain. I wanted to go over these moments over and over again, as if to make sure I would never forget. I wanted to make sure they were stored and filed properly so they would never fade.

The next day was Saturday and I was cursing the Buckeyes as I drove to you, because I couldn’t get to the hospital! I drove around in freaking circles for two hours because I timed my visit as the Michigan game was ending and all the stupid exits I needed to use were closed. When I finally arrived, I realized we had all showed up to visit you in the hospital with ginger ale, because it was your other drink of choice at the time. You were sitting up and in “good spirits.” I also brought you a root beer and some tortilla soup, because the night before you had been craving soup. I remember you hugged Maya, Elliot and Zoe extra long when they said goodbye, it wasn’t your normal uncomfortable hug style though, it was a deep embrace, and your face seemed genuinely sad. It seemed as if you knew something we didn’t. They were going back home the next day and you might not see them again.

30 Days Ago…

The following days were a blur. Every day we thought they would discharge you, so you could at least be at home, and comfortable, but every day passed and nothing. Alex and Sofia stayed with me on a Tuesday night and we called you on face time before they went to bed. I remember Alex asked if he could play you a video he’d made that day at school, and you and Monica watched from the hospital bed intently. “Are you ok dad?” Alex asked. I don’t remember your response, but I remember I could barely hold the iPad straight because I was so nervous that my hands were shaking. I knew the answer was no.

26 Days Ago…

That Friday I had the nagging feeling that I needed to stop by before going to the office. I knew I would be at a play rehearsal all night and wouldn’t get to see you again until Sunday. I showed  up that day bearing gifts, very special ones. 🙂 And I had made some green juice I thought you might like. We chatted about the play I was directing, and you shared with me the story of when you danced as the candle in a Christmas show, and how one time you danced so hard that your flame came off! That thought still makes me laugh. Your sister was there too, with her baby boy, and the four of us hung out and talked about whatever. I remember Monica was frantically trying to complete a new packet of forms for another cancer treatment trial in Houston.

25 Days Ago…

On Saturday December 6th I was at the high school, waking up after a whole two hours of sleep, ready to keep directing the holiday play, which by the way was going on in less than 12 hours. I was feeling so happy that day, sleep deprived, but glad to be working with such talented students. Around 12:30 p.m. I got a nagging feeling that I needed to check my phone, which didn’t get signal inside the auditorium, so I stepped outside to see if Monica had any updates. I had three text messages, two missed calls and a voice mail. I opened Monica’s message first: “Please come now,” she said. I dashed out of there apologizing to the students and parents, as I ran out the door.

When I got to the hospital I couldn’t find parking. I drove up and down the levels trying to snag a spot, funny how when you need things to happen quickly they seem to move at the speed of turtles. When I finally made it to your hospital room it was packed with family. I saw your sister first, and hugged her as I immediately fell apart. Alex and Sofie were sitting next to your bed alongside Monica, your mom and grandma, who was reading you prayers. The room was quiet, but for the sobbing noises we each made. You looked like you were in pain, but also not very conscious. Your friends came pouring in, and you opened your eyes long enough to recognize each person, before falling back asleep. I sat next to mom and Monica for a while, while we prayed the rosary at your bedside. I remember seeing Alex and Sofia praying intently, hoping for a miracle.

I sat outside your room with mom for a little while, and she told me that the disease was so advanced and you were in so much pain that there was nothing more to do. You had fought arduously and exhausted all your options, and I couldn’t possibly blame you for wanting to be in peace now. I went back in the room, kneeled by the end of the bed and put my hand on your leg, hoping you could somehow hear my thoughts: “I’m so sorry for being such a bratty little sister,” I thought. “I’m sorry for every time I fought with you, and I’m especially sorry for any time I did something that might have hurt your feelings.”

We were all holding on to you, and it seemed no one was ready to let go… literally. More of your friends came by, and they all had the same look of confusion, grief and sadness on their faces as I did. I tell people now that I wore the same look on my face for days, it was the only way my face could stand to see the world. Before I left the hospital that night, I leaned over to kiss you and I whispered in your ear: “I love you, thank you for everything you’ve done for me.” and you opened your eyes and replied: “You give me too much credit.”

“No, you have no idea,” I said back in tears.

I decided to go back to the high school that night and watch the results of my debut as director of the play-in-a-day. I was so proud of the students! They really pulled through and did an amazing job. It was a bittersweet moment for me, amidst the incredible sadness I was feeling. It was one of the saddest and happiest days of my life. How strange it was. I felt like I was floating about, nothing seemed concrete or real that night.

24 Days Ago…

I came back to the hospital on Sunday Dec 7th, where I pleasantly found you sitting up and talking again! I was shocked, it was a complete turn-around from the day before. Later, I would find out, thanks to a hospice booklet, that this type of “energy burst” is normal when people are approaching death. It can happen days or hours before passing. But that day I was so happy to see you talking. Your friend Jill was there and you introduced me as “my other little sister” to her. I smiled so brightly and felt like my heart might stop for a second from the joy of hearing your proud introduction. I hugged you as hard as I could without hurting you.

I had brought you some fresh made ginger ale and a shooting star from Northstar. “I’ve never tried their shooting star, it’s good,” you said. Even though you could only have sips from the spongey pink swabs by then. When your friend Joey showed up, he said he was so glad to see you doing better. And I remember you very calmly replied with: “No dude, it’s just a matter of time, they already unplugged everything.”

I was so impressed by how convinced and at peace you seemed with the fact that you were dying. To hear it from your own mouth made it somehow a thousand times more real. I spent all afternoon there, trying to be helpful, and also trying to stay out of the way, for you had other visitors who wanted to talk to you too. Ergun brought you some hot mint tea, which was your favorite these last few months. “He likes the sugar in the raw,” he told me as he handed me the tea, “I know, he likes it sweet,” I replied with a smile, trying to be comforting. He seemed so covered in grief, I could see it in his eyes, and I’m sure you could too, for his partner in crime was dying, and there was nothing he could do about it.

There’s a certain kind of desperation that was eating all of us up inside, almost as if we should be doing more, or should have done more. We started questioning every interaction with you, every moment wasted, every ill word said, every opportunity missed. “Why didn’t I spend more time helping him while he was sick,” “Why didn’t I hug him more?” all these questions were running though my head, and still do to this day…

23 Days Ago…

On Monday December 8th I stopped by the hospital before going to the office, I wanted to check in on you and your companions. Your mom, dad and Monica were always there, sleeping there, barely eating, sometimes leaving long enough for a quick shower, but always there. Mom and Sofia were also there, along with your sister and nephew. I decided to stay and help with Sofia, since she decided to skip school because her “tummy ached” that day, while mom went back to the office. You were slightly less talkative that day, but still very in-tune. You would often chime into the conversation with the end of a joke, or a random thought. You asked if I could rub your feet, and I did so gladly, while Sofia watched TV, and Monica and your dad went to talk to the hospice lady. I remember your poor feet were getting so swollen and tired, they literally looked like you had walked in them for 38 years. All your pain, your struggles, your accomplishments and joys were right there, between my hands.

I remember trying not to cry, as I felt the knot in my throat choking me harder and harder. Suddenly my attention was interrupted by Sofia asking: “What is marijuana?” Ohhh crap… “Umm it’s a plant,” I replied nervously. “Quick you idiot, come up with a better answer that gives her all the age-appropriate information she needs to know without scaring her or making a big deal out of…” I was thinking to myself, when I was saved by the bell by your much more parental and perfectly phrased reply: “It’s a plant they make drugs out of,” you said calmly with your eyes closed. Phew… “Thanks Eddy,” I said. “Ohh, well they found 20,000 pounds at the border,” Sofia shot back. “What are you watching?” I rushed over to the tiny hospital room TV, “Border wars!” she replied, pointing at the lower third on the screen. I looked back at the bed to see if you had caught that, and I know you did, but you kept the comments to yourself. “Let’s change the channel,” I said as I frantically searched for Nickelodeon.

When Monica came back to the room, she sat on the bed and told you we would be moving you to the hospice room soon. “And it’s gonna be a party!” she said trying to make you laugh, in that humor style you and her shared. “Yeahhh!” you said back, holding up the rock on symbol. I couldn’t help but laugh.

When the nurses arrived, once we had packed up the room, Monica asked if they would let Sofia ride in the bed with you, and they agreed. Monica gave very specific instructions to the staff that they were not to move you to another bed, or go too fast through the hallways. She was so worried about you being in any further pain. She truly was your # 1 advocate. She was determined to ensure that your wish of no more pain was granted properly, and on a timely manner.

When we arrived at the new room, the hospice nurses were there waiting. They made us all feel very welcome and it was much quieter. That night Alex had his strings concert and your dad and I encouraged Monica to go, along with your mom. In fact I think the whole family went. Your dad, Sofia and I stayed with you. You had a few more visitors, but I could tell you were getting increasingly sleepier. The energy level had decreased again. Sofie and I set up the picture frames we had brought back with us from your house, and covered you with the red prayer blanket you liked. Your dad printed a bunch of pictures of you as a kid, and taped them up behind your bed. We were all trying to make it less “hospice” and more “home-like” as weird as that probably sounds…

Sofia sat there drawing for a while, and I sat next to your bed holding your hand. Suddenly she jumped out of her chair and said: “Look daddy! I drew you this flower, blue, like your favorite color!” You looked up and smiled, “That’s nice baby. Thanks,” you replied softly before falling back to sleep.

22 Days Ago…

On Tuesday December 9th I had to make an appearance at the office, and I tried to get out of there early, but I ended up getting home late, just long enough to whip up a couple smoothies for Monica and your mom, before heading over to see you. It was a much quieter scene when I arrived that night. Your mom, dad, sister and Monica were there, along with a couple of your aunts. We talked more softly, the mood was gloomier, and everyone looked exhausted. Monica was still wearing the same clothes from the day before, and I had to wonder if she’d even eaten. I had to be a bit of a food nazi, when it came to making sure your parents and Monica were eating. I handed them smoothies and said: “here, drink this”, they complied and didn’t even ask me what was in there. It’s amazing how detached we become from ourselves when we are tasked with the care of others. Later I realized that I was so focused on making sure others ate, that I myself was forgetting to eat as well.

“Why didn’t you shower,” I asked Monica. “I ran out of clean clothes,” she tiredly replied. “Do you want me to go get you some?” I asked. “No I’ll just go tomorrow,” she said. I knew very well that she wouldn’t, she wasn’t going anywhere. I could barely get her to leave the room so she could eat, let alone go home for clean clothes. So I drove to Target and bought her some basics.

When I returned, it was late, so I kissed your cheek, told you I loved you for the 20th time that week and said I would see you later. “Ok” you replied barely waking. “That’s Maribel,” Monica said to you quietly. I think you smiled.

21 Days Ago…

The saddest day of my life would come on Wednesday December 10th. I arrived at the office that morning, early so I could get out of there soon. I was there for less than thirty minutes, talking to mom, when I received a call from Heather. She said she’d talked to Monica and thought I should check on her. Mom and I decided a phone call wouldn’t do, so I got in the car and drove back the way I came. When I arrived it seemed you were in a lot of pain. Monica was holding your hand, as was your aunt Angie.

Since the previous day, I had a nagging feeling that there was something I needed to tell you, but I couldn’t find the way. I didn’t want to say it out loud in front of people, I didn’t want them to think I was crazy. But there was something inside me so powerful, something that I cannot explain, pushing me to tell you not to be afraid. That your pain would soon pass, and that everything would be ok. When Monica and your aunt stepped outside, I grabbed your hand and the words came rushing out of me faster than I could think. I didn’t know how, but I felt so sure that you would be ok, in that moment. I just didn’t want you to be in pain anymore, I wanted you to know that everything would be ok.

By 10 a.m. your breathing was getting heavier, and you were no longer responsive. Around 1:30 Monica asked me to go pick up the kids from school and bring them back to the waiting room. I didn’t feel bad about leaving because you were surrounded by family, and I figured I wouldn’t be gone that long. But as I was walking out, the nurses stopped me to tell me you were changing. I knew what that meant, but I had to go get Alex and Sofia. So I ran to my car, and as I pulled out of the parking lot and stopped at the red light, on Canon, before getting on the bridge to 315, my phone rang. It was your dad “Hey Maribel, Eddy passed,” he said “I’m sorry to tell you over the phone.” “It’s ok, it’s ok,” was all I could say back to him.

I drove on. The knot in my throat getting tighter, I desperately wanted to fall apart, but I couldn’t, because I was tasked with picking up Alex and Sofia from school, and I couldn’t let them see me fall apart. I kept thinking: “what am I gonna say when they ask me why they have to leave early?” I prayed to God for the strength to not break down in front of them. As I arrived at school they both seemed calm and genuinely happy to see me. I don’t know how but I felt like you had come to my rescue once again. Then as we were driving back to the hospital, Alex and Sofia were playing with a toy in the back seat, and I heard them struggling to put it together. Suddenly, Alex said to Sofia: “That’s the wrong end!” Immediately I cracked up inside knowing your response would’ve been: “That’s what she said!”

When we got back to the hospital, the kids stayed with your sister, dad and Ergun, while I followed Claudia into your room. Monica was still standing next to your bed, I don’t know why I felt compelled to but I kissed your forehead, and I remember it was still warm and smelled like a baby. I hugged Monica tight and together we went to tell the kids. I was so impressed with how she handled it. She was so gentle, but honest with them. She didn’t make any promises that she couldn’t keep, she didn’t create a “prettier picture”. They cried, and we were there to hold them.

We were informed that the funeral home would be coming to pick up your body, so we packed up the room and as we were walking out I felt so wrong for leaving. I felt like we shouldn’t leave you. “He’s not in there anymore,” the hospice nurse reminded me gently. She was right…

Monica, the kids, dad, and I drove back to the office, where mom, and the rest were waiting for us. The kids immediately went into your office, and sat there playing. A little while later we were summoned to eat, and we all sat around the table quietly. I couldn’t hold it in anymore, I laid my head on the table and sobbed. “Siento como si me hubieran arrancado el corazón,” I said between sobs. It’s the only way I can describe the feeling of losing you, like someone reached inside me and ripped out my heart through my mouth. My heart has literally ached since the day you passed. Sometimes it hurts like a sharp pain, and sometimes it just feels heavy and sore. No heartbreak in my life compares to this one.

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The Days After…

In the days that passed we kept busy planning a proper way to honor your memory. We received countless messages of encouragement from friends and family, near and far. Our family in Mexico was devastated, grieving alongside us. My cousin Maricarmen called me in tears, saying: “Se nos ha quitado hasta el hambre,” and that’s exactly how we felt too.

You were such a powerful presence in not just my life, or Monica’s or the kids’, but in everyone’s life who knew you. You had a way with people, I always admired your ability to empathize and make us feel better when times were tough. Times like these are what you were so good at, you would comfort us and always know the right things to say. Many times, you would say the wrong things too, in order to make light. Often with brilliant inappropriate comments, as you were known for, but always with good intentions.

There were so many details to iron out, pick the casket, pick the clothes, pick the prayer cards, the pictures, the music, the list went on and on. I could tell Monica couldn’t decide what to pick because she didn’t think anything would be good enough to celebrate your memory. She wanted to make sure you were properly honored, but nothing seemed to be right, she was paralyzed by grief.

When the funeral home asked if she wanted the casket to be open or closed, she said she didn’t know. “We didn’t discuss that,” she replied anxiously. I put my hand on her shoulder, and she suddenly blurted out: “If we had, he probably would have told me to pose him like this,” she said smiling as she gestured with two finger guns. We totally lost it.

Your mom and dad joined us at the funeral home, which helped Monica make decisions. We decided the wood casket with chrome handles was much more your style, seamless, natural, smooth. Not showy or glitzy. We enlarged your headshot and debated about whether or not to use your other picture, but we decided that it was literally what you wanted. So we enlarged the picture you photoshopped of yourself as a Centaur and placed it at the foot of the casket with the words you wrote on facebook as the tagline:

“When I die, this is how I want to be remembered.” – Eddy.

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Monica put together a lovely slideshow, with pictures that your parents shared. Your sister worked arduously to put collages together, Heather designed the prayer cards, and your Wellington friends framed pictures, all while your mom and aunts arranged the funeral mass. At the request of many, your mom also had your swimming, track and dance videos digitized, which was an amazing gift of laughter to us all by the way 😉 Thank you! I can’t believe I never saw you dance like that, MC Hammer had NOTHING on yo’ moves bro!

On Sunday December 14 we held visiting hours. The rooms were packed. I stood next to Monica for a while, then walked around to avoid people. It seems odd, but I couldn’t take any more “I’m sorrys” and “How are you holding ups”. I felt guilty for not crying, but I couldn’t cry anymore, and definitely not in front of so many strangers. My eyes were dry.

Monday night December 15th was the second time slot for visiting hours. Marco, Heather and family finally arrived. Maya was visibly sad, and the twins just looked confused. They were also full of questions. “If he’s in a casket, can he breathe?” “That’s just his body,” Heather would explain. “So you mean we’ll never see uncle Eddy again?” Elliot asked tearfully. We tried to comfort them, and explain all their questions. And my personal favorite by Zoe:

“Did they cut off his legs?” Pointing to the unopened part of the casket. I think you and I could have written a book called: “Hilarious things 5-year-olds say at funerals”, illustrated by you of course. 

I wish you could have seen Alex at the prayer service, when the Deacon asked if anyone wanted to share a story about you and he got up in front of everyone to share his. I couldn’t tell you what the story he told was about, because I was so in awe of his courage and spirit in that moment. I wished so hard that you could see your 10-year-old son, you would have been so proud.

We held the funeral mass on Wednesday December 17th at 10 a.m. It all seemed like a dream, we sat in the front row and listened as father Dennis delivered a beautiful Homily. It was only fourteen years before when he had married you and Monica. Your aunt Victoria sang beautifully, and your aunt Susie, best friend Ergun and your dad, delivered bittersweet eulogies that honored your memory perfectly. We laid your body down to rest that afternoon, as the Wednesday 12 p.m. sirens went off nearby. It was frigid cold, and we drew close to each other as father Dennis prayed over the casket.

The Days Ahead…

The days since then have been quiet. We work, we eat, we sleep. We spend a lot of time together. Sometimes I come home and all I want to do is crawl under a blanket and cry myself to sleep. Yes, I know how cliché that sounds, but now I truly understand where the phrase comes from. The sadness comes in waves. Sometimes I cry in the shower, or in the middle of breakfast. I keep thinking I might see you round the corner in your red car, or walking out of your office carrying  your leather briefcase around your shoulder. Death, grieving, it’s all so weird and both completely out of our control.

We spent Christmas eve and Day at your house. It was quiet, and I could tell we were all holding tears back the entire time. None of us wanting to break down in front of the other. But the truth is we’re falling apart over here, not literally, figuratively. Inside we’re all broken, we’re angry, sad, desperate for answers.

For my part, I spend my days wondering how I could have been a better sister, a better friend. Wondering if I could have done more. Wondering if you can see us, if you can hear us. Hoping that you’re in a better place. Trying to hold on to every single memory I have with you because I’m afraid I’ll forget.

But I do want to thank you, for this experience has brought me closer to my sister and the kids. I’ve never been so attached to them as I am now. My heart hurt when they left to go visit family in Mexico the other night. Not because I wanted to go, well, I did want to go, but because they are the reason I hold myself together. Alex and Sofia are now the reason I make myself get up in the morning and the greatest gift you ever gave me. Thank you, for that and everything else you shared with me!

Sorry for the extra long letter, I hope you’re somewhere reading it, maybe while you throw back some sweet tea. I love you, and I miss you every day… ♥

~ M

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  One thought on “The Worst Kind of Heartbreak

  1. Jillian Sprenger
    January 1, 2015 at 8:58 am

    This is such a beautiful letter, thank you for sharing…I am still crying after reading through this, wishing that it was all a dream. I have to admit I laughed at quite a few things you talked about, as I am sure Eddy would have wanted us to😊. My heart breaks for you, Monica, the kids and everyone else that knew Eddy, but knowing he is not in pain anymore brings me some comfort. I picture him smiling while watching over all of us.

    Like

    • January 2, 2015 at 2:37 am

      Thank you Jill. The hardest part is getting used to the fact that I will never see him again.

      Like

  2. January 28, 2015 at 1:00 am

    Gracias por compartir todos estos sentimientos. Justo es decir que pediré en mis oraciones por tu tranquilidad y la de tu familia; para Eddy, oraré -porque siga su deseo-…recordarlo cual Centauro.

    Like

    • January 29, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      Hola Fercho! Muchas gracias por tu mensaje y tus oraciones. Deberas te lo agradesco de corazón. ~ Maribel

      Like

  3. February 2, 2015 at 1:32 am

    Hey….I just saw your post. I’m sorry to hear about your loss. It’s always hard but it’s harder when they’re so young. In moments like these we need to reflect on life and appreciate the wonderful people in our lives. I’ll say a prayer for you and your family.

    Like

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