Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eulogy for Mary Castro

I wrote this to be read at my grandma's funeral. As it says, I've accepted it and feel ready to move on and mourn when I need to. She was a good lady.


Although it's been hard for me to remember, since I've been away from home for so long, I spent most of my life close to Grandma Castro. When I was little, I'd play at her house, in the backyard with her cats and the neighbor kid, eat snacks she made, watch cartoons, see Papa Castro when he was still around. We'd see the family for the holidays and eat her traditional Christmas cookies. My favorite was the mantecados.

Every weekend, for a long time, we went to garage sales early Saturday mornings with my mom, and maybe got McDonald's after. Or we'd have yard sales of our own at her house or ours.

During the week, we'd go to thrift stores so often that they knew us all by name. I'd play by the toys and books shyly while they looked for collectibles. As I got older, I'd look at the clothes, records, and old electronics. I got more and more irritated going because I'd be bored and shy when they wanted me to talk with their antique-hunting friends and the staff. I skipped the yard sale morning trips more often. Then, after a while, Mom and I would go on our own more often than with her.

I saw Grandma's mind fade, though her body stayed damn healthy through it all. Mom and I came over more frequently. I got used to her forgetting things and mixing up names and telling us the same things. And to be honest, it never bothered me. What was the use in correcting her? It would only frustrate her trying to remember things that she couldn't. So when we spoke, I generally went along with what she'd say while we watched TV and I sat next to her while she crocheted, trying to do the same or drawing.

Every time she came to our house, she would try to clean the kitchen – even though Mom told her not to. She would make tortilla espaƱola and thought it was the first time she'd made it for me. She'd tell the same old stories and sing the same old songs and use the same old phrases - “bebe que no llora no mama”. But I never got sick of it. I loved it. And now I can sing the songs and cook the tortilla.

When she got worse, we found her a live-in caregiver, and mom and I still visited regularly. I'd buy her groceries, tidy up, get her medicine, do yard-work, talk with her, walk with her when she used the wheelchair. Different caretakers came in, especially Belen Ramos, who quickly became part of our family because of how much care she took with Grandma, how much love she truly had for her. Joyce came to take care of her for a while, too. Mom and I would help with medical things sometimes. It put a lot of stress on Mom, and I got frustrated from time to time as well, but we kept going. We knew how important it was to her to stay in her home.

When it was time for her to leave, I was already in college across the country. Mom and I and I think everyone were reluctant; it was hard to accept, but we did. And after how much the Little Sisters had done for our loved ones, and helped them pass on, there was no other option. And they did make the last years and days of her life as calm as loving as they could be.

Having been present for the duration of Grandma's decline, I didn't find it as hard or shocking to know it was time for her to go. I had been expecting it and preparing emotionally for years, and then months, and then days. I saw her a few times at the home and knew she'd be alright. Even now, I feel okay knowing she's gone, and okay being here instead of there. It's more important for me to move on in my own life, the life she helped make possible, because I'm ready and because I know that my mother and the family I love are all in good hands.

Mary Castro will of course live on. She has scores of family, close and distant, who bear her impression and memory. That's the truest kind of immortality I can imagine. For some of us, including myself, that impression goes deep, and for that I will always be grateful. Her life, the part I witnessed and the part I learned about, was one full of love, compassion, strength, endurance, and hope. I've tried to live up to that example – her example and that of the children she helped foster into the beautiful adults they've become.

I think my mom is correct in saying that we'll never see one quite like her again.

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