My sister tells me her daughter cries at night because she misses grandma. "When is abuela coming back?" she asks between tears. My sister's heart breaks a little each time she has to explain that grandma won't be coming back at all. "But why?"
How do you explain death to a 5 year old? How do you break a child's heart by telling them the person they love and miss so much is not coming back? How do you explain that death is final?
My niece was my mother's best friend. Every day after coming home from work, mami would have a special treat for Natty. Maybe it was a toy or candy. Or something outrageous like a pink velvet cowgirl hat. Whatever it was, mami and Natty would giggle nonstop when they were together.
Natty really brought out the inner child in my mother. I honestly feel this helped her live longer. My mother was always sick, most times not feeling well enough to even get out of bed. But when Natty was around they would play together, laugh together and get into trouble together.
When my mother died, we told Natty that abuela had gone "with the angels." This seemed to suffice. Natty understood that angels lived in heaven. She even came up with her very own angel dance. When you asked where grandma was, Natty would flap her arms while twirling around the living room.
It's been two and a half years since mami left us. Natty was only 3 years old then. I knew that she remembered grandma but I was shocked to hear that she cries at night because she misses her. What did my sister tell her?
"When someone dies it means they are not coming back. It's ok, though. Because that person lives in our hearts." As my sister rattled on with her explanation, tears streamed down my face, neck and onto my lap. I could not stop crying. I wanted so much to be silent, to pretend everything was ok. I didn't want to hurt my sister. Miles away in Italy, there's not much I can do. I mean, I can't even hug my sister or niece. So, I not-so-quietly expressed my pain in sobs.
Yesterday, Natty turned six. I remembered the day she was born. When I arrived at the hospital, my mother was holding her. There was something different in her face, a look that was foreign to me. She stared at Natty with a serene, loving gaze. I did not quite understand it then but I recognize it in a heartbeat now. That look was sheer love radiating from my mother's face. I know that this love lives on, wherever she may be.
I'm sure mami is touched that Natty remembers her abuela so fondly and vividly. I hope she's sending hugs from above. Who knows? Maybe mami is doing her own angel dance.