Dear God,

You know I don’t pray much. I am just fine leaving prayer to my mother and a few others.

But yesterday, God, the whole day was a prayer.

On Saturday, we gathered in a common space intended to comfort, teach and protect. St. Anne’s is an old church in Detroit. Founded in 1701, it is the second oldest continuously operating Roman Catholic parish in the United States.

Its roof is crumbling on the east side, but its interior is spectacular. Stunning stain glass mirrors edge the walls on all sides. The light is rich and gentle and the pews are worn. The central altar is complex and formidable. I believe this cathedral style church was built in the late 1800’s. Today’s parish is largely Hispanic.

We were there to remember one of my great-aunts, and the morning was filled with more laughter than tears. I gazed at the Guadalupe candles lit before us for a moment too long, and then I looked somewhere else to avoid the memories of my sister’s memorial service.

As the priest talked about my great-aunt, it was impossible not to think about how her big brother, my grandfather, lay dying in a hospital not far away.

Later that same day we went to see him. Surrounding his sanitized bedside, we hoped for and received a smile or two. But as I stood in the room I grew increasingly aware that I was present as a human being prepared to take his final breath.

There are too many words to describe the tremendous life force that was my grandfather, and few words to acknowledge the painful reconciliation of knowing he was ready to go. It was a privilege to be at his side this weekend.

I didn’t have the opportunity to say good bye to my sister, and I struggle deciding whether it would have made things easier after she died had I done so. Probably not. At one point during the weekend I expected to cry for my sister, because she always comes to mind during times of intense emotion, but I realized my tears weren’t for her. Every single tear was for my grandfather, because he had a way of looking at you (me) and saying “you are so beautiful” and you believe him.

I should also note that my grandmother is a gift. She is my grandma 2.0. My first grandmother died when I was ten years old, and I remember her gentle, busy spirit as she bustled around children and grandchildren. My second grandmother, widowed like my grandfather, gave him a second season of love. I was fine until she started crying yesterday. Experiencing heartbreak right in front of you isn’t easy.

I got to hold my grandfather’s hand the day before he passed. I kissed him, and he kissed me back. Two days ago he commented that I was wearing “a very heavy sweater”. What a thing to notice. He asked for cream in his coffee, and one of the purest, most powerful things I’ve ever witnessed was watching my father feed his father with a spoon, nourishing him patiently and simply until he shook his head, he wasn’t hungry anymore.

The next day was different. The air in the room seemed changed.

I had to go home about 12 hours after I said good bye. Surrounded by family, he took his last breath.

After I told my husband that my grandfather had passed, he had to leave to pick up our dog at the boarding place. He hugged me close, and I went inside, sat on the steps and sobbed. I was alone, and yet not alone. My boys were waiting upstairs for a story and a song. The youngest, super-tired due to a nap-free weekend, was asleep before I left the room.

The oldest asked to play with Legos upstairs with me while I did some writing, and I said yes. It felt so normal. It’s a good feeling to have one’s children at home with you and know they are okay. A few minutes ago he reminded me that we “forgot to do our gratitudes” before dinner and suggested we do them tomorrow twice – at breakfast and at dinner.  It’s a plan.

I am heartbroken and heart-filled. There is so much love in our family. The love grows stronger than one even thinks possible. Cousins meet after decades apart and are immediately friends. Children mix it up and babies keep being born. We’ve got kids ages 1 – nearly 90 in the family now. There are personalities and relationships that flow like a current in the river, over rocks and tumbling logs, around tidal pools and across smooth stretches of clear water to where you can almost see the bottom. We swim, float, and struggle to make sense of the rising water and the power of the river. I’m trying to say — we fight, we cry, we make up, we love. We may not forget, but we try to forgive. We are a family.

The patriarch of this family was my grandfather.

Love you, Grandpa Padilla. I sure am missing you tonight.

grandpa and sara

The blessings of our elders

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21 thoughts on “The blessings of our elders

  1. I was holding my grandmothers hand as her two children (one being my father) and her oldest grandchildren (I was her first grandchild) surrounded her telling her funny stories and making her laugh as we laughed…as she took her last breaths in a hospital bed in Middletown, NY three weeks before her 86th birthday.

  2. Susan Housholder says:

    Beautiful, Sara. There are just not enough words to describe. Thinking of you.

  3. Kate Swanson says:

    Your words brought me to tears, Sara. My own Mother died this year on my birthday and it was an honor to be with her. Love and loss are so very powerful! thank you for sharing.

  4. Tricia Bedi says:

    A beautiful tribute to your grandfather and your family

  5. Clarita Estrada says:

    Sara: Que lindo haber tenido tu abuelito hasta ahora! Thinking about you and the family.
    Clarita Estrada (David’s friend and colleague at the OAS)

  6. Sally burris says:

    Sara,
    Many thanks for sharing your beautifully crafted words but most of all feelings. I feel so privileged to have known and been a tiny piece of this wonderful family and friends. In many ways, it began with your Grandfather. I was blessed to meet him and know his offspring well.
    Our thoughts and prayers are with you and yours.
    Sally

  7. Mary LaBounty says:

    What a wonderful tribute, Sara. My heart goes out to you and your family–you are always in my thoughts.
    Love, Aunt Mary

  8. Eddie Villacorta says:

    Sara,
    Thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. While I only met your grandfather a handful of times I do remember he had a warm heart and a great spirit.

    Deepest Sympathy
    Eddie

  9. Ray Thibeault says:

    Hello, Sara,

    I doubt you remember me. I’m a friend of your mom and dad, and they always welcomed me into your home during the brief time I lived in D.C. when you were in elementary school. Another friend–of mine and your parents, Tom Romig–alerted me to what you had written about your grandfather and family life. I’m glad he did. What you wrote is heart-felt and touching.

    I am sorry for your loss.

    Ray Thibeault

    • skpadilla says:

      I remember Shelley! Thank you so much for writing. It was a wonderful, powerful experience to be with my parents, grandparents and many other family members during the past month.

  10. deerayson says:

    This is a lovely tribute, Sarah. I can feel your bond to your family and that never dies. I’m sure your grandfather would be very proud of you.

  11. Heidi says:

    What a very beautiful tribute to your family and to your strength. My thoughts are with you.

  12. […] a few hours after my grandfather died last year, I wrote this post. His death, while tremendously sad, made sense to me, and the words came easy. On the other hand, […]

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