The human heart was—and remains—a mystery to me. But I’m learning. I have to. —Anthony Bourdain

Saying goodbye

Another month, another wake. This time though, I am not the one offering my condolences but one of the people being offered theirs, because our family lost our Nanay.

She wasn’t young at 89. She had already outlived all other grandparents by at least 5 years. It wasn’t a surprise, as she had been in the hospital for around a month, and we had known when they found a mass that it wasn’t going to be long. We couldn’t go for treatment because of her age and already existing health issues, and we had resigned to just making her feel comfortable. We say it’s a blessing to have her out of pain, off the strong prescribed painkillers that made her groggy and sleep often.

But knowing she was going and seeing her gone are two different things. She is looking beautiful in the beige blouse she had specifically asked for. She has a lovely necklace from Rome they dressed her in, the colors of the makeup are colors she would have used in life.

Every now and then I want to reach over that glass bubble and shake her awake, tell her to enjoy the party being thrown in her honor, the people that have come out to say goodbye. This is the first time in a really long time that her grandkids are all together, being busy with school, work, and all the other small things that life makes you busy with.

But she’s not waking up. She’s going to miss everything from now on, and the person I’m smiling at saying to wake up is not her anymore. It’s just a shell that held her spirit and all that made her the magnetic, feisty, warm woman we all gravitated towards.

Her room already feels empty, because they took out the hospital bed she was in at my last visit. People keep joking about not wanting to go home because they don’t want her tapping on their shoulder or lying next to them on the foam mats laid out for our family to sleep shifts on.

For once I am not afraid of a presence because hers always brought me comfort. From the beginning she was always a source of good things. Of food and fun and all the glorious things that came to coming home to family and being surrounded by people that loved you unconditionally. We’re not the most vocal or the most affectionate but we’re there for each other. Even if sometimes we’re not 100% behind each venture, we show up.

And that was mainly her. She considered food something never to skimp on, living through World War II. That diets made you stupid because you went with less nourishment that equipped your brain less. She set the tone for all celebrations for decades to come, long after she herself stopped cooking in the kitchen.

I never got to sit with her to write down her specific tricks to recipes. It was mostly sitting together, asking her where she got her lovely new blouse or where she went or was going with her friends. And I was happy with that. Just being in her presence. Now though what are we to do?

Our Nanay was a one in a billion kind of woman and it will be hard to lose that heart, and we’ll be spending the next few days really just hoping to get to to goodbye without too much pain.

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