What was lost, is found

Easter time and my Pop are indelibly connected. Not only was his birthday during this time of year, but as a minister it was the busy season for him, and for his family. As he wrote out his sermons in long hand, pencil first, pen for the final product, Mom typed out the church bulletins while my sister and I folded the freshly mimeographed bulletins, carefully and precisely.pop

Countless pancake suppers on Fat Tuesday, countless sunrise services on Easter Sunday followed by breakfast and another service. Good Friday meant three hour services starting at noon, ending at three pm. Seven ministers bringing us the the seven last words. Cranky, fidgety kids in the pews, earning Mom’s evil eye from the choir stall. Waking up super early on Easter Sunday, clomping around the apartment wearing pajamas and our new shoes, because, hey, new shoes.

And yet we survived those days and went on to subject our children to the same.

When Pop left the local church to work with the national church administration I was almost an adult. Within three years I established a home of my own with a husband and a child. And there began the search for a church home, a place were I would be nurtured, comforted, and feel safe in the knowledge that my faith would be valued.

Running into ministers with human frailties should be expected, but in my mind I thought, “If you can’t live the gospel, you shouldn’t preach the gospel”. And I moved on. Eventually, I stopped going to church all together. Something that I knew hurt my parents but I was actually more comfortable not going to church. My faith was still there but I’d lost my religion.

And then last week I made a wrong turn that turned out to be very right. I passed an old church building with a bell tower. The sign out front said it was Park United Methodist Church, only two miles from home. I looked them up on Facebook, of all places, and found pictures of a congregation living their faith. A soup kitchen, a child care center and after school program, a community food bank are listed as some of the many programs and services at the church.

I showed up at the Maundy Thursday service in jeans because I’d been running errands after work, and walked into a room of people all wearing jeans. The service was an interactive experience. The crown of thorns we held pricked our palms. We cringed as we held an old nail in our hands and struck it into a cross, with a hammer. We rolled dice, as the soldiers did, wagering to win the condemned man’s clothing. We lit a candles at the altar helping to banish the gloom. The taste of bitter vinegar reminded us that when Jesus was thirsty he was given vinegar. I took communion for the first time in many years and went home feeling peaceful.

Good Friday’s Tenebrae service found the altar covered in black cloth, the sanctuary dimly lit with dozens of candles. With scripture readings and musical selections from Jesus Christ Superstar, the light gradually disappeared leaving us in reverent darkness. We went home in silence.

Sunday’s Resurrection Celebration pulled out all the stops. A bell choir, children’s choir, youth choir, and Chancel choir brought musical selections. Seated in packed pews, we enjoyed music from the organ, piano, and several orchestral instruments. Dancers brought the word to life in movement. We laughed, we sang, we felt joyful.

If you’ve read any of my previous work, you know this isn’t one of my usual pieces. Just wanted to share my weekend with you.

I didn’t go to church because it was Easter. I didn’t go to church to protect my father’s legacy. I went back to church for me. We all yearn to be an integral part of a community and I really feel like I found a new church home. A wrong turn that turned out to be very right. Was Pop my co-pilot that day? Maybe. I’d like to think so, it’s something he would do.

 

 

The other side of the scrub line

I’ve been a hospital staff nurse for ten years, taking care of the acutely ill. But when it’s your grandmother asking, “what should I do to help him?!”, it’s completely different. My answer as a nurse would be, “These are the options the doctor has given you, (explain again x, y, z)”. My answer as a granddaughter, is very different.

My grandfather, Eli Samuel, was one of the two prominent male figures in my life while growing up. Living in a two family home, with my grandparents living down stairs for fifteen years, it was inevitable. As a minister for the United Methodist Church, he preached the word of God and did His work by helping areas, foreign and domestic, building new churches. But to me, he was grandpa.

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I use past tense there, because for the last few years he and my grandmother had been dealing with his worsening dementia. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in March 2015.

Memorial Day weekend, my grandfather was admitted to a Philadelphia area hospital after he was found unresponsive in their hotel room. Three weeks later he passed away in arms of his wife of 57 years, holding his eldest granddaughter’s hand, the day after my birthday.

One in 9 older Americans

25 million globally

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The Alzheimer’s website (alz.org) tells the world these staggering statistics.

My college pathology books tells me the signs and symptoms, etiologies, management, and nursing considerations when caring for these patients.

When your family member is affected, it all becomes too real. Every worse case scenario screams in your head. Every bad code, every horrible prognosis, every complication plagues your thoughts, and your dreams.

 

 

 

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That’s us, on my first birthday. Now, I don’t remember that day, but it’s the one I’m gonna remember. Me with a crazy giggle, I’m sure, and him looking down on me with love, and a whole lot of patience.

I know my life will be different without him. Yet the faith that was exemplified by Rev. Eli Samuel Rivera, that, as Grandpa, he nurtured in his “kiddies” will help me and my family through another holiday without  his presence.

My career has taught me to separate my personal opinions and feelings, and yet use them to provide compassionate care to those healing, or dying, while  in my charge. It isn’t always easy. Patients I’ve treated since my grandfather’s passing, have brought me back to the decisions we made for him, versus the ones I see being made for those living with Alzheimer’s.

In the end, I’ve learned, yet again, that although life can suck sometimes, people can make decisions you disagree with and people can say things that you find appalling, but as my mother said in a previous post, “It’s  been a good year. Every year is a good year when you get right down to it. If you are reading this post, you have been a part of my joy. I have prayed for you, I have laughed with you, you have been a part of my life no matter what. And I thank you.”

So, thank you Grandpa, I will probably cry hearing Jose Felicano’s Felix Navidad this year because every time I hear it, I think of you. I’m grateful you were in my life and I’ll think of you teaching Jesus that shuffle you called dancing. Ill be sure to do your shuffle while caring for my patients while I work this Christmas.

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Jillian de la Hoz, RN, BSN, Mariposa Social Guest Contributor
aka Eli Samuel’s granddaughter

The Power of One

the power of oneWe are living in troubled times. Terror attacks in Paris. Domestic terror attack in California. Donald Trump spewing hatred and climbing higher in the polls. Justice Scalia claiming that African-Americans should stick to “slower” Universities. The threat of mass deportation. Where does it end? How can an average person fight back? Do we all need to buy a super hero cape and go out to fight the perils or do we just sit at our computers and be digital activists? I actually have an answer for you.

A few years ago, I attended a juvenile justice conference titled The Power of One. While the conference focused on how the power of one arrest, one call to Court Intake, and one decision to detain a juvenile can make a difference in one juvenile’s life, I came away with a larger perspective. What if we actually gave a shit and decided to take care of our little corner of the world. What if we picked up a piece of trash and threw it into a garbage can. What if we helped a little old lady cross the street. What if we told a neighbor that their car’s headlights were on. Simple shit.

We, on our own, cannot take on the world’s woes. We, well those of us who actually vote, rely on the people who we place in positions of power to take on the woes of our country. The rest of us are left to make a difference in our own communities. Can you mentor? Do it. Can you become a foster parent? Do it. Can you stop your car at a stop sign? Do it. It’s that fucking simple. The traffic light is red. Stop. Are you going to turn the corner with your car? Yield to pedestrians. Must I go on?

The power of one. One decision to enrich your corner of the world. One decision to aid a writer hoping to attend VONA. One decision to assist a playwright to get their work to a larger audience. One phone call to a friend in need. Do it.

Be a Father. Be a Mother. Be a friend. Do it.

Recycle. Reuse. Do it.

Register to vote. Be careful with your vote. Help a senior citizen get to the voting location. Do it.

Just do it. You have the power of One. One of 319 million in the USA. If you are Latino, one of 54 million (65 million, if we count the undocumented) in the USA. Just imagine if we ALL used the power of One for good. Just imagine.

The power of One.

 

Well done good and faithful servant

popSeeing as how my father was a United Methodist minister, it’s obvious that I’m not Jewish, but I read Sheryl Sandberg‘s essay while my father was in hospice care and her words resonated for me. Having said that, we didn’t sit shiva, but I did observe sheloshim, the first thirty days of mourning. I backed off any activities that were optional. I backed off social media. I attempted to be gentle with myself and not force things. Today marks the thirtieth day.

“Live your life so there’s standing room only at your funeral.” I don’t remember where I saw this but it was true for my father. It was a standing room only crowd. Family who loved him. Colleagues who respected him. Friends of the family showing their respect.

In the brief time between his hospitalization and his passing, family members came to share time with him. They were saying their goodbyes, they may or may not have known it, but we did. With his wife always at his side, he laughed, he sang, and he showed his mischievous side. He applauded prayers. Always encouraging family members in the ministry. That was the way he was. Always.

11406495_10204626303563186_7717616632215498319_nIn the brief time between his hospitalization and his passing, I shared many pictures. Pictures that showed him as a young man in love, a young father, a grandfather, a man who loved where life had taken him. This was a man who could have climbed high in the church’s hierarchy, but turned down opportunities for advancement by saying, “I am where I need to be”.

He loved what he did. As the head of church development he travelled to areas in the United States where Latinos were moving into and he helped establish ministries that would meet their needs. He taught fledgling ministers how to minister to congregations from various Latin American nations. He taught them that you didn’t minister to a Puerto Rican congregation the same way you would minister to a Mexican congregation. At a memorial service, we heard a minister say that she wished they had adhered to the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, a plan he wrote. She said that the way was written for them, all they had to do was to follow it; and they didn’t. Hindsight is always 20/20.

11042684_10204626200960621_6664353787634400362_nIn the brief time between his hospitalization and his passing, we heard from people who remembered him from his ministry in Haverstraw. Kids who enjoyed Sunday School and Vacation Bible School while he was the minister there. We heard from people who enjoyed their time as campers at Aldersgate, a United Methodist camp in Swartswood, NJ. We heard from people who entered the ministry because of the example he gave them, as a man of God. And we took all those memories and treasured them in our hearts.

I of course, remember him as my father. The father who checked the weather here while he was living in Florida. He was always worried about us when it snowed. The father who showed up when we called out in the middle of the night. The father who understood when I decided to leave my husband. The father who backed my sister in her contentious divorce. The man who gave his grandchildren the man that they all needed. The man who played with his great-grandchildren.

I would put my head on a plate for him. I would jump in front of a train for him. Or so says Bruno Mars. I definitely would. But my father wouldn’t have tossed it in the trash like the woman he referred to in ‘Grenade’.

 

It’s been an emotional day, so I leave you with the words I wrote for his funeral service:

Well done good and faithful servant. Now rest in my arms. 

So said the Lord to our father.

Here lies the earthly remains of one of God’s most faithful servants. What remains is the vessel that held our father’s soul. His was an old soul. We constantly teased him about his never owning a pair of jeans. After retirement, he bought a pair of jean shorts and made sure to send us a picture of him wearing them.

His name was the one we called out in the middle of the nights when the Cuco paid a visit. Daddy, Daddy!! 

He was the one who fished me out of the cold waters of Pelham Bay when I slipped into a hole no one knew was there. We both shivered on the subway ride home.

He became Pop, instead of Daddy, when we were teenagers. And just so you all know, I’m only responsible for 50% of his white hair. We sucked our teeth and rolled our eyes, as teenagers are prone to do. One look out of those cat eyes of his was enough to quell our rebellion. As adults, and parents ourselves, we understood that he was only trying to keep us from harm, but at the time…

Despite a grueling travel calendar, he was there for every graduation, every wedding, every holiday. Family was everything to him. He became a grandfather at a young age and he took to it like white on rice, or beans on rice if you want to be culturally correct. Many was the time that we caught him fomenting rebellion in his grandchildren. He was both grandfather and godfather to my older daughter, and he acquitted himself in both roles.

He is much beloved and much respected by family and friends alike. Our parents traveled to Philadelphia on May 22nd, for what was to be a four day visit for a family gathering. But God flipped the script on us. 

On May 25th he was admitted to Aria Hospital Torresdale Campus in Philadelphia, and our final journey began. By May 27th we knew that the end was in sight and despite our grief, we thanked God for his grace and mercy for having him within reach. Our family members were able to spend some time with him, pray with him, and say their farewells. Many times he applauded the prayers.

On June 2nd he was transported to my sister’s home and began to receive hospice care. He was surrounded by comfort and love. By June 9th, we knew the end was near and hoped that he would not be called home on June 10th, his granddaughter’s birthday.

On June 11th, his loving wife and lifetime partner told him how much she loved him and to grab God’s hand when it came. A few minutes later he took his final breath in her arms. The same arms that surrounded him with love during 57 years of marriage.

God has shown his mercy and grace towards our family again and again over the years. We praise His name.

We give thanks for all of the communications we have received in the last three weeks. We’ve heard from people who have been mentored by our father. People who entered the ministry because of him. People who have been inspired by his work. We are aware that there are thousands of people who worship in UMC because of his work, and they will never know it. We’ve been told of the donations to MARCHA in our father’s name, and we truly appreciate the fact that our father’s ministry will continue.

We, his wife, his daughters, his grandchildren, his brother, his nieces and nephews, great grandchildren, cousins, uncles, and family members will miss him forever. There will be a void in our lives that no one will fill.

We thank God for the time we spent with him. And again, we thank God for His mercy and grace. My sister and I hit the lottery when it comes to fathers. We sorta knew it then. We definitely know it now.

11091466_10204646422026135_1706504453617460368_nVictoria said it best when she wrote, “it is now your turn to rest your voice and let your family tell your favorite stories.”

I was a child Spoken Word Artist

That was then 122Mother’s Day at the United Church, on Prospect Place in the south Bronx, meant that all the kids memorized poems to be recited at the service on Mother’s Day. We practiced not only our poems, but the choreography that went along with them. Arm motions, vocal inflections, and sometimes even some fancy footwork.

We dressed carefully putting on our Sunday panties, our Sunday socks, and our Sunday dresses before our mother pulled and yanked our hair into place.

All the women received their corsage at the door; a red carnation if their mother was still alive or a white carnation if their mother was an angel. All the kids sat a pew with their Sunday school class and fidgeted until it was time to hit the stage, excuse me, the altar.

With a minimum of nerves, I walked up, and before a full church recited a poem I remember to this day.

Madre mia, Madre mia. Besame, besame todos los dias.

I didn’t get a standing ovation, after all there was a line of kids waiting for their shot at stardom, but my mother and grandmothers all beamed with pride.

And then it was the adults’ turn. I remember sitting there watching poet after poet, some with poems they’d written. They exemplified the rich tradition of poetry, the oral telling of stories, that our ancestors passed down over the ages. Some performed their poems with dance and others with tears streaming down their cheeks. As a child, I was mesmerized at the emotions words could elicit. Now fifty years later, my appreciation of the spoken word has not subsided and in fact has only grown.

After the benediction, all the mothers went up the altar for a blessing and a group picture. The oldest and youngest mothers were acknowledged. And then we all went outside to take family photos. Because cameras and film were still expensive, special Sundays were always photo opportunities. Many of my most treasured photos are black and white and taken on the sidewalk outside of the United Church, the spiritual home of the Rivera and Santos families.

I still wear a red carnation and thank God for the years he has granted to Marie Rivera. I also give thanks for my angels: Crispina Lugo, Belen Melendez, Maria Santos, Ernestina Rivera, Ana Santos, Nereida Santos, Indiana Rivera, and Deborah Reeve.

Day 365

It’s been an interesting year.2014-2015

Facebook offered me a year in review, but it didn’t encompass what this past year really gave me.

Winter weather, with its relentless snowstorms, found me housebound. No way out, even if I wanted to go out. Valentine’s Day weekend found me at a wedding one day, and a funeral the next. Unfortunately, immediately following the funeral I fractured my fibula, in an icy fall.

I sat on my ass for the next three months, with outings only for doctor’s appointments and a lot of time for depression and reflection, in equal measure. I wish I could say that reflection won out, but I don’t think it did. I talked to myself way too much, watched On Demand, and read a book a day. I learned to be lazy. And I learned that’s not a bad thing.

Weddings were the big thing. 2014 found me attending five weddings. What a blessing it was to witness young people pledge their love and vow to stay together always. One special wedding was originally scheduled as a commitment ceremony, but when New Jersey’s ban against same sex marriage changed, it became a true wedding. So many happy tears were shed at that wedding that we almost drowned in love. Congrats to the Dullavins, the Weisses, the Bodes, and the Sklavonouses. Yes, I said five weddings. The Dullavins were married twice this year.

I’m looking forward to baby showers in the next couple of years. And speaking of babies, holy cow, I have been blessed with new babies this year. Welcome to the world Vanessa, Madelyn, Shawn, Auset, and Hudson.

Turmoil at the workplace had me considering retirement with a nice “Fuck you” letter. Unfortunately, there is no one to step into my shoes, as my previous sick time proved, so I stay where I am and continue to prevent children from spending too much time in juvenile detention centers.

June granted me the privilege to become a member of my state’s Disciplinary Review Board. What does that mean? It means that I am able to keep unethical attorneys from victimizing their clients. And that’s pretty much all I can say. #TopSecretShit

August offered me a new home, which meant planning, packing, and purging. Whoa.

September found me moving, with real movers this time. Way different from my last move eleven years ago. Furniture, clothing, books, clothing, and all. With limited vacation time, thanks to a shitty winter, I had little time to get my new place set up before I had to return to work. Never doubt the power of a woman on a mission. Within a month my new apartment became a home. A home that I absolutely love.

By November I was hosting my parents for Thanksgiving, and I was witness to the daily struggle my mother goes through with my father. You see, my pops is living with dementia. A man who once oversaw a multi-million dollar budget for the United Methodist Church, as the head of church development, can no longer remember his nieces and nephews. He cannot remember how he broke out his granddaughter’s college graduating class by ethnicity, just so he could predict the future of nursing in the tri-state area. In 2013, he started the coffee and brought a cup to me. In 2014, he didn’t know how to start the coffee pot. He finds comfort in familiar food, familiar places, and familiar people. When I am no longer a familiar person I think I will cry.

On Christmas Day, we had our traditional toast. A coquito and alcapurria toast. A toast to everything, and everyone, that came before us, and everything still ahead of us. A missing member sykped in for the blessing and we moved on to the meal. Next year brings us three boys headed for college and another cousin ready for AARP. Those of us who were “the kids” are now “the elders” and it’s been a heavy mantle to bear.

Now it is the eve of a new year. A promise of new things. New beginnings. An older me, if God so blesses me. Perhaps I will decide to do something else, and retire. Perhaps I will take my doctor’s advice, and live longer. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

One thing is certain, I will love, I will be loved…is there anything more important.