"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain." -Revelation 21:4; "Él les enjugará toda lágrima de los ojos. Ya no habrá muerte, ni llanto, ni lamento ni dolor" -Apocalipsis 21:4
I remember sitting at orientation in Chicago before I came down to Mexico and listening to presentations about doing our best to come in without expectations into our year of service. I also remember them saying that we were going to have expectations no matter what we try to tell ourselves, and many of our expectations wouldn't be realized until they were either met or not met. I knew before I came to Mexico that I would be working with senior citizens, and one place would be a nursing home, but I can guarantee you that I was not expecting to deal with someone passing away while I was here.
How do you say goodbye to someone you only knew for 4 months and 11 days? How do you begin to grasp something that large-scale when your job description is to sit and talk to people and get to know them? I spend about 20 hours a week in Las Palomas, and really do my best to talk to everyone around the same amount of time. Yeah, there are people that I will talk to more than others or for longer periods of time, and one of them was Rosa.
Rosa was absolutely beautiful. She was one of the sweetest women in Las Palomas, never got in arguments, graciously accepted hugs and food and gifts from vistors, and humbled herself to ask for help multiple times a day when she needed to walk to the table to eat or go back to her room to sleep. Rosa lived in Las Palomas for a little less than 4 years and for the whole time she lived there, she was blind. I was told she used to walk around by herself with her walker and had the routes down of the house and knew where she was going, but about a year ago, she just couldn't do it alone anymore, and many residents and all the workers began to help her guide her walker so she could get where she wanted to go. I loved when I got to take her back to her room and we would slowly count the steps and she would fight through the pain just to get back to her bed so she could lay down and sleep. She always thanked me multiple times on our walks, knowing that we were walking slow, and I continuously told her how strong she was and how she could make it and we were almost there.
I remember my first conversation with Rosa. The workers told me that she was blind, so when I wanted to talk to her, I would just have to hold onto her hand and let her know I was there and let her know if I would ever walk away. We started chatting, and I asked her questions such as where she was from and if she had a family, and basic ideas such as that. She told me all about her days in Oaxaca and how she used to make clothes and was an excellent semestres. And, she also talked about how she owned a tienda (which is a small store here) and used to sell oil, eggs, flour, sugar, milk...the basics... but she was also very clear that she did not sell chocolate or coca-cola because she didn't think that was good to sell in tiendas. We talked about her husband, who she loved more than anyone else. I could see it in her eyes when she talked about him that she loved him with her whole heart. They used to go out at night in Oaxaca and dance the whole night away in many different places. Rosa told me that her husband died about 8 years ago, and that is why she moved to Cuernavaca. When I asked her how many children she had, she told me that she had 2 sons and 2 daughters, but 2 of them have passed away, and 2 of them never come to visit her. I could tell she had her mind about her, and remembered a lot of things, so I was pretty much lead to believe that it was the truth that her children did not come to visit her. She clearly was getting quite sad, and I just squeezed her hand and told her that I was here now and we could chat if she wanted. She then told me that I would be her daughter now, and from that day on I called her "mamita" and she called me her daughter, her "guerita hija" (which means white/blonde daughter, and I found that ironic that she knew I was not from Mexico even though she couldn't see me, guess I couldn't hide my accent from her, haha)
Every day with Rosa was another blessing. We would just chat about a lot of things, and I learned a lot about her town and where all the best places to eat were and all the best places to dance. She kept telling me that one day she would take me to Oaxaca (but we would have to leave at 8am and would not get there until 5pm) and we would go dancing together. When Christmas came around and we had a little party at Las Palomas and Santa came to give out gifts, I got to sit with Rosa and help my mamita open her gift from Santa. I told her what she got and watched her smile as if she could see the gift that was in her hands, and put it in her room for her. I always got to tell her what time it was, and soon enough, she knew my schedule well enough that just by me saying hello or goodbye to her, she knew what time it was in the day. She was so beautiful.
Rosa also had cancer. She was hit hard with breast cancer, and found out too late in life (around 80 years old) to do anything about it. She was a couple months shy of her 88th birthday, and lived every day with breast cancer, severe back pain, trouble walking, and being blind. She was fighter. Her strength is inspiring. And last Monday, January 16th, her fight on earth was done and now she is living freely with God.
I could tell that Rosa was getting worse for at least the week before she passed away. She was really struggling with walking, and eventually started taking a wheel chair back and forth from her room to the table to eat. She could barely stand up without being completely out of breath. And, although she still remembered who I was, she was not overly interesting in talking to too many people and wanted to spend most of the day sleeping. I arrived at Las Palomas on Monday afternoon and one of the residents flagged me down and had me sit with him. He told me he was really sad that day, and I asked why, and he told me that Rosa was really bad. He said he could see all her pain, and he told me to go over to her and talk to her because she would not be there in the morning. I was thrown back by this statement, and probably more in disbelief than anything. I did not know how Ruperto could say that she would not be there in the morning, but I was also knowing I should go see how she was. I went down and sat by my mamita and we talked a little and she told me she wanted to go lay down in bed. I went to get a worker and also another resident who helps take care of people when we need an extra hand, and it took the three of us to get her into the wheelchair and then put her in her bed. I let her rest for a while, talked with a few other people, and then went back to her room to say goodbye before I left. I was sitting on someone else's bed and we were talking when I saw Rosa shaking. A woman named Cecila went over to her and put an extra blanket on her and just started saying prayers over her. I was thrown back again for the second time of the day because Las Palomas is not a religious organization, but still a woman, a friend, stood up and took the time to say some prayers over her in this time of suffering. Another woman, Chela, went to go get Rosa a cup of water. Maria told Rosa that she should just walk toward the light and let her know that God is good, all the time. The way these women were grouping together to be there for their friend who they knew was clearly suffering and hurting was beyond beautiful. I said goodbye to my mamita and left for the evening.
I didn't want to go to work on Tuesday morning. I barely slept Monday night. My stomach hurt the whole 35 minute bus ride to Las Palomas and walking up the 4 minute pathway to Las Palomas felt completely miserable. I knew I was not going to see Rosa in her normal chair. I knew that when I looked into the house, the chair would be empty, and that my mamita would be gone. I kept trying to think positive, but I could just feel it. I walked in, her chair was empty. My heart sank low into my stomach. I went and said hi to the workers, Lupe and Laura, and I looked at my supervisor Angeles and she was shedding a few tears. I knew then and there that Rosa was gone. We didn't say much, and I just went out to be with my friends in Las Palomas. I saw Maria first, one of the people in Rosa's room. She looked at me, said hello, and told me how around 10 or 11 the night before, Rosa was gone. Tears started filling her eyes, and I was choking back my tears as well. I sat down with Maria and we talked about life, about death, about the process. I tried to be so strong for her, because Maria just wanted a friend to talk to for the moment, and we did our best to share our stories that we remembered about Rosa. We mentioned how wonderful it was that she didn't have to suffer the way she was the night before for too long, and how now she is with God and now she can see everything beautiful again. I then went and talked to Ruperto. He was not doing well either. He kept saying that Rosa was gone. We didn't really say more, but I once again just tried to be a good person to talk to if he needed anything. A couple others were sad, and the rest don't have their minds about them so they didn't even realize someone was gone from the Las Palomas family. Either way, Tuesday was the absolute hardest day of work for me.
I wanted to be so sad, I wanted to grieve, but more than anything, I wanted to be around my friends and my family of Las Palomas. I also agree with Maria, how wonderful it is that Rosa can see again now. She hated not being able to see, we talked about that a lot, and now she is pain free, can walk, and can see. Rosa left behind a ton of friends and family and her "guerita hija" here, but also people that love her so much and know this is best for her. Sometimes it is so hard to not be selfish when thinking about death. I want Rosa here, I still sometimes look over at her chair and hurt when I remember she isn't there anymore. But, I want Rosa happy, I want her healthy, and I now know that I just have another wonderful angel looking down on me, my mamita is always with me in my heart, and I will always be her "guerita hija."
I love you Rosa, mi mamita, Rest in Peace and Rest with God.
"So that should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." -1 Corinthians 12:25-26; "A fin de que no haya división en el cuerpo, sino que sus miembros se preocupen por igual unos por otros. Si uno de los miembros sufre, los demás comparten su sufrimiento; y si uno de ellos recibe honor, los demás se alegran con él." -1 Corintios 12:25-26.