To Pop on his eightieth birthday

We were supposed to be together today! We. Were. Supposed. To. Be. Together. Today.

I could just picture it. Spending the Easter weekend together. Going to church together. Eating lasagna and flan together. Cutting a cake together. Maybe going to the beach together. Just like we did three years ago. How were we to know it would be your last earthly birthday.

I want to remember everything about you. Everything.

I remember that you were the one responding to our cries in the middle of the night. Back then we didn’t know that Mom slept like a rock, we only knew that you came to save us from childhood terrors. You were the one who saved me from drowning when I stood up at water’s edge and subsequently fell into Pelham Bay. We almost froze on the subway ride home that day. I imagine that we would’ve frozen if subways were air conditioned back then. I remember our first car. A beige Rambler we called Beachcomber, because it would take us to all the beaches, most especially  Orchard Beach and Ocean Grove.

And speaking of beaches, I remember all those beach vacations. Ocean Grove was our go-to place for three weeks every year. Breakfast was in our rented efficiency. Lunch was sandwiches and fruit on the beach. Dinner was at the Grand Atlantic cafeteria. We were on the beach all day and walked the boardwalk in Asbury Park all night. For church services we went to the Great Auditorium except for that one Sunday when we would drive to Atlantic City and hang on the Steel Pier all day. For one price we got to see movies, attend concerts, and of course, the diving horse show to end the night. We purposefully returned to Ocean Grove after midnight to elude the Sunday no car ban. You grew a goatee every summer and then returned to have all the viejitas in Haverstraw nag you until you shaved.

I remember the year we ditched going down the shore and got on a plane for another kind of shore, a beach of the warm, crystal clear variety. You always spoke about taking us to Puerto Rico but money was always tight, ministers and teachers made no money, something which hasn’t changed. We needed to go when we were old enough to remember the trip and yet young enough to qualify for children’s half fare on the airlines. New experiences were plentiful. We slept under mosquiteros, used letrinas, ate mangos and quenepas right off a tree. We walked next door to buy freshly baked bread and slathered butter and jelly on it before inhaling it. We body surfed at four different beaches and the car’s brakes failed as we were leaving El Yunque. There was no money for hotels, so we stayed with family in Peñuelas and Fajardo. Unfortunately, your family left Punta Santiago before we made it there, or else we definitely would’ve stayed there. We met family we didn’t know existed and got to see the land that the Rivera Melendez family owned back in the day.

Five years ago, we had a family trip to the island, just the four of us. It was a different experience. Dementia had a firm grip on your memories. You were having trouble with balance and used a cane to keep from falling. Your driver’s license had become just a form of identification. And yet, we still had a blast visiting family members and playing dominoes when it rained. We ate at Metropole, your favorite spot, and had mofongo at Raices, washing it down with a cold Medalla.

Despite having lived in Florida for ten years, circumstances brought you home, before you went on to paradise, surrounded by those who loved you the most. Your forward thinking and brilliant planning made the aftermath easier. Mom just had to follow the plan you’d laid out for her.

When your baby brother joined you in heaven, it left us bereft of the original Rivera Garcias. We came together as a family and returned to our old church in the Bronx. The United Church welcomed us all home as we paid honor to everything you all brought to our lives. Knowing that they are all with you, as you celebrate this milestone birthday, offers some comfort, even though we all wish you were here with us.

I remember you. I remember everything about you. Happy Birthday, Pop!

Love always, your Amapola

 

 

 

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Where have you been

You might’ve asked this question, maybe you never noticed, and that’s alright. I disappeared from the writing scene after my father’s passing. Don’t know why. It’s not like he was my editor or someone to bounce my ideas off of.

I ignored everything I ever learned in writing classes and workshops. “Write everyday.” “Write even when it’s shit.” “You do have something to say.”

It’s not like I was curled up in a fetal position. I’ve been functioning but I allowed painful experience to take over. Going from glass half full, to “hey, there’s no glass!” was a new point of view for me.

I started a ‘thankful’ journal, believing that if I at least wrote a couple of sentences everyday I might continue, and then ignored it. I bought fresh notebooks, believing they would inspire me, then I threw them in a drawer. Nothing clicked.

Finally, I just started writing. Just let the shit out so I could peel back the layers enough to let the words shine once again. So here I sit, in the reading nook in my bedroom, writing in a cute notebook. A marathon of The Walking Dead drones on in the background.

Occasionally I peek over the edge of the tray, I’m using as a desk, and note that the carpet needs to be vacuumed. And then my eyes return to my pen and paper.

Fuck the carpet. I’m in the mood to run out of ink. Not truly focused, but no longer at loose ends.

Day 366

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The battle cry this year has been, “Fuck 2016”. But for me, this year hasn’t been all bad. I started the year in the red and ended in the black. After difficulties and conflict at work, a new assignment allows me peace to be more innovative in working with a marginalized population. I found a new church home, after many years of ignoring religion. A new award, for my work, now sits on a shelf in my living room. The scale showed me numbers I haven’t seen in many years, and better health is returning in increments.

 

Refocus

Celebrity deaths have taken over the news and face book feeds. The cult of personality is alive and well. That’s okay, they enliven our lives by entertaining us, many putting into words the turmoil or joy of the day. At the same time that we were mourning people who were only thankful for the money we put in their pockets, there are people being bombed out of their homes, people who placed themselves in harm’s way to keep our nation free who have no place to rest their heads, people who don’t have clean water to drink, and a nasty election cycle that brought out the monsters who have been sleeping under our beds. As I’ve said before, we all have the power to clean up our corner of the world and it’s time we stepped up to the plate.

 

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Putting words into action is difficult for many, but it’s time to shit or get off the pot. Write yourself a check and find a way to cash it. Improve your life and then go out and improve someone else’s. Find someone to mentor. Find someone to be your mentor. Support with your presence not just a donation. Show your loved ones that they are indeed loved. Turn your online activism into action. March in a protest. Call your legislator. Become a legislator. **insert your own positive note here**

 

Reengagement

Just because some doors have been closed this year doesn’t mean that there isn’t something waiting for you. I’ve had a couple of big doors closed in my face this year. One was slammed without warning, the other was gentle, with me actually handing over the keys. Boo hoo? Hell no! I don’t believe in reinvention for myself. However I do believe in tweaking things that haven’t been working smoothly. When I recently submitted my vacation request for the coming year, I had my family calendar at my side. Much of next year’s vacation time has been taken over by family events, and I say that joyfully. I signed up for a writing class because I’ve been unfocused for much too long and need a kick in the butt. Brunch, lunch, and dinner dates are already in the works. Looking forward to more face time with friends and family. I’ve been gentle with myself, even though I still ask myself, “What would Pop say?”. But it’s time to put myself back out there.

 

As always, loyal readers and friends, may God’s grace be apparent to you, because it’s always there even when you don’t notice. You have been loved. We’ll get through this together.14191951_10207320815844309_1830921798756828375_n

 

 

 

 

Remembering Tio Samuel

Today marks my father’s first anniversary in heaven.

Today’s guest contributor is his niece, Rosie, daughter of Pop’s baby brother. As we were planning a memorial service, we invited those who could not attend, to share a memory. Rosie’s was so eloquent that I felt the need to share it with you. This will be read at this afternoon’s gathering.

Hello. Its me, Rosie Rivera (not Adele)

Familia and friends!

I was going to skype but that meant I was going to have to fix my hair and do my makeup.IMG_4049

I am sorry I could not be present for this Celebration of Life for Tio Eli Samuel.  When Eileen mentioned that we can email a remembrance I decided ok, I wont be there, but I’ll be there in a way if I send something in.

 ….I will communicate in  Spanglish and go between both my idiomas, English y “Espanish”.

Remembering my Tio Eli Samuel brings both a tear and a smile. A lagrima because he is no longer with us and a sonrisa because I can hear his laughter. When growing up, I respected him. Lots of us, lo respetabamos even with a little fear. He was the only person, besides his mother, that my dad, Raul, respected. If my Tio was around, the cigarillos/cervezas were hidden. If you know my dad you know that was RESPETO.

I was raised by his “mama”. Therefore, I always heard los cuentos of their upbringing. She would always say how she thought while pregnant that he was going to be a girl; she said that when he was born  “he was mas lindo than a girl with his curly blond hair and his beautiful ojos azules.” Every time she mentioned him I could see how orgullosa she was of her son. She added his title when she would speak to anyone about him. “Mi hijo Reverendo Eli Samuel Rivera, ejecutivo de la Iglesia Metodista.” As a mujer cristiana she was proud that one of her kids had become a Reverend. 

After my grandmother passed away, our family stayed in contact and we would always meet up at my dad’s or my grandfather’s apartmento. That is where I really got to interact with my Tio. We would sit around my Abuelito and start to tell stories from the good old days. At the beginning I would watch what I said or if I was going to tell a chiste/joke. I would make sure it was a clean joke. Until that one day, I said Tio I heard this really funny chiste but it a little colorao, he laughed and said…cuenta, cuenta. OMG, I was given “la luz verde” and from that day on, every time we were together we would laugh so much. Note: the jokes were pink not completely red. I did remember I was still joking with my Reverend Tio.

We celebrated his 77th birthday down here in Florida and he sang “Estas son las mañanitas…” with that beautiful Baritone voice of his and with his little famous chuckle. Who was to know that it would be his last cumpleaños on earth.

Puedo “go on and on.., but I’m just going to sum it up. During the services given last year, I learned how many people he had impacted. How many peoples’ lives he had touched and helped. I was like “WOW” I looked up and said “Abuelita, you definitely had a beautiful son”. I know they must be singing all together in heaven. Please stand a second, lets put our hands together and celebrate his life. Celebremos su vida. Let it be heard in heaven…..

If you are a son, be like my Tio, if you are a brother, be like my Tio; if you are a father, be like my Tio.

Bendicion Tio, viviras por siempre in our hearts!

We treasure the past,
with memories that will always last.

Love you all! God bless!

Orlando 2008 079

Guest Contributor, Rosie Rivera Marmolejos

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

alz

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.