Alfonsina Valencia aka Abuelita Alfonsina, was my grandmother and she passed away on December 19, 2012. Just like at my grandfather’s funeral last year, I was a pallbearer and witnessed her casket go into the furnace before her body was cremated. And just like last year, I thought to myself, “After all that, they put you in a box, set you on fire, and that’s that.”
You would think that after my brooding goth teenage phase that I would have understood this by now. I still don’t. In fact, I have thought about death more often than not these past few weeks; not in any self-harming way, mind you, but rather in the philosophical ”woe is me” sort of way.
My abuelos when they were young.
Alfonsina Valencia was born on August 29, 1929 in Colombia. At a very young age, she had to take on the care of her family, by acting as a second mother to her siblings. Around seven years old, a six year old boy by the name of Alvaro, became good friends with her. He would often visit as a friend of the family. They practically grew up together and their love for each grew as well. One day Alvaro asked for Alfonsina’s hand in marriage. They had four beautiful children, two girls and two boys, one of them being my father, Alvaro Junior.
This is my dad:
My grandparents never left each other’s side. While my grandfather was a quiet man who was always on the go, my grandmother was a keen listener and always the first to burst into laughter. Both of them did their best to keep their lives simple and became an example to their children of how to find happiness in the simplest of things.
My uncle Alberto, my aunt Luz, and my dad.:
My dad, abuelita, and my uncle Alberto.
When I was in high school, I would go over to my grandparents’ place for lunch. My abuelita would serve me some hot soup or beans, rice and carne en polbo. Her comfort food was the best and I looked forward to visiting her. My favorite times to visit were in the winter because in the desolate expanse of Downsview covered in cold snow, a warm meal and her smile were a welcome respite. She would ask me about school and would advise me on how to be a good young lady. Although she was very religious, she would always listen to me, even when I questioned it all. We spent a lot of time together back when I was a teen because I lived close by. I would help her out when she needed a translator or if she needed me to run an errand. I was lucky to have known her. Looking back, I am fortunate that she was alive to be at my wedding and to have had her meet my kids, her great grandchildren. Abuelita Alfonsina was a wonderful woman who loved her children, grand children, and great grandchildren deeply. She gave what she could of herself to see them all be happy. My father valued her opinion greatly and much of who my father is emotionally grew out of her love for him.
Honestly, I mourn more for my father’s loss of her than I do for her. Seeing my father lose both his parents (and they both suffered long before they died), has been a heart wrenching experience. I cannot imagine, nor do I want to fathom what it is like to lose the two people who brought you into this world and helped guide you into the person you are now. I remember thinking as a kid that my parents were immortal. They were unbreakable people who would always be there. After witnessing my dad say goodbye to his parents, that immutable illusion has faded. I never want to say goodbye to my parents, and in turn, I do not want my kids to have go through that either. But one day I will and they will too. I think this is what depresses me more: that selfish idea that I won’t be around for my children, as if they couldn’t survive without me. Silly, huh? The thought that my own kids will have to relive what my dad is going through now. Who wishes that? It makes me miss my grandparents that much more.
These are all depressing thoughts and many have told me not to think like this. I should think of the now, and to be grateful of the good things around me. My problems are little in comparison to what others go through, hence I try and see the beauty here in mortality: I should break all that holds me back and do what I want now because I won’t get a second chance. One day I will be put into a box and I will leave it all behind as if it never happened.
It makes me want to do all the things. Can I raise my children to be two fully functioning independent beings? Can I be who I want to be? I guess I should try, but admittedly, when I think of the finite time I have, the possible failure in my efforts (the heartbreak of failure), I just want to vegetate and wait until my time is done. I can’t do that though. My grandparents didn’t. They wouldn’t want me to give up. They lived their lives. They would want me to exceed my own expectations and be an example to my children.
The last time I saw my grandmother, she held back pain, smiled at me from her hospital bed, said my name and gave me la bendicion. I give myself some comfort knowing she is no longer in pain. She’s resting as my grandfather is resting. A lot of people are missing the both of them.
It’s winter, my kids have gone back to school. I have to work on some projects and I wish I had abuelita Alfonsina’s chicken soup recipe.