Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Isidro Files, Volume 4

I know that my younger cousins would like to know what it would have been like to have known Abuelito. Since I saw him frequently either at his house or mine, I will endeavor to explain that a bit, though I was only five when he died and surely my older cousins and siblings can do a more accurate job than me, particularly Coral.

Abuelito as I knew him was always pretty relaxed except when he was working, which was frequently. I always remember him in a plaid shirt and jeans. He must have had many plaid shirts, and all of them that I recall long sleeved. He also frequently wore a brown leather belt. I particularly remember him often relaxed in a chair in his kitchen and he liked to hold me on his lap and tickle my ear with his mustache. He rough housed with the boys, which I am sure he likely enjoyed more than playing with granddaughters. But he was always very gentle and good natured with me, notwithstanding I had a habit of calling him “monkey face” and running away laughing. At that point I think he just mentally brushed me off as a silly little kid, which I undoubtedly was. He did speak a little English, more than Abuelita does now, but I do not remember him speaking in English to me. Usually my mom had to translate because I was too stubborn to want to learn Spanish at the time.

I do not remember much else, except that he was very generous with his labor and his time when it came to his family. I remember him helping my dad move furniture in my house, and he was always there when one of his kids needed him.

Here I come to the part of my childhood about which I think far more than any other part and which I recall with some mixed feelings of pain, honor, and love unfeigned. Allow me to set the stage of the months before we lowered his casket six feet into the ground. Pardon my emotional passion for the rest of the Isidro files, for I cannot reflect upon this time without much emotional upheaval.

It started with Alberto, actually. Abuelito was about 60 when Alberto was told that he might have cancer. His children were young, he himself was relatively young, and his family depended upon him entirely for their support in so many ways.

(Deep breath.) Abuelito by this time had become converted to the church, had been to the temple, been sealed and the like. He had had problems overcoming cigarette smoking but eventually was able to beat it. When he understood the trial that awaited his son and grandchildren, this extraordinary patriarch retired to his backyard and prayed. He told the Lord that he was old, that he had lived a full life, and that his children were comparably grown. He petitioned his God with all the fervor of his heart and faith of his soul that if someone had to die, to spare his son’s life and take his instead. If you ever wanted to know why God didn’t allow you to meet your grandfather, this is why. He lived for his family, he worked for them and he died for them.

Alberto survived and was healed.  A few months later my mom who was a registered nurse looked at Abuelito, noticing to him that his eyes were yellow, his skin was yellow and that he was very sick. Abuelito responded that he felt very sick. Not long thereafter he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most painful, lethal cancers existing, and generally speaking when you find you have it you are a dead man walking and will kick the bucket within three months or so. But there was some strength in this man, because he held on for nine.

He had been trying to find a way to heal or to live a little longer, always a little longer. For those of us who lived through this, it seemed as though a dark cloud fell upon the Duarte family, a realization that life had changed forever and that nothing in this world could halt the impending loneliness that was about to ensue, for he loved us and we loved him, even those of us who barely spoke a word of Spanish. I know my sisters agree with me on this. I think our grieving began with the diagnosis and continued to fester as we watched his get thinner and weaker and visited his bedroom which had hospital equipment by the bed and tubes coming and going from various areas of his body. It was a helpless feeling to watch him limp from his bed to the bathroom in a loose gown and watch the pain in his sweet face as the illness took over his body more and more.

I dressed up as a nurse that Halloween and went to his bedside to take his pulse. It must have been pretty weak because I could barely hear it through the stethoscope. Every party the family had, every reunion echoed with the understanding that this was the last time we would have it with him. Christmas, New Years, birthdays, everything was tainted with a helpless sense of depression.

Then one day my mom got a phone call.


I have never heard such wails of agony in my life as from that time. The ward to which we all belonged had planned a dinner that night. People were about to bless the food when the announcement was made that Gary and Letty’s little boy had been run over and killed and a ward wide fast was immediately instituted. The ward bawled as they cleaned off uneaten food with growling stomachs and heavy hearts.

I was in the car waiting outside the hospital that night. I had always seen Benny as Superman himself. I had never known anyone so strong, so fearless, and the perfect image of invincibility. Looking out the window into the relative darkness I heard before seeing Benny being wheeled out of the hospital in a wheelchair sobbing so uncontrollably and with such absolute anguish that he had not the strength to stand on his feet. What had been a time of hopeless darkness quickly spiraled downward into complete and utter hell.