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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

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

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.

To Debbie on her fiftieth birthday

Instead of celebrating your milestone birthday and welcoming you into our chapter of the AARP club, we your loving family, are left with memories of great times spent together. Pictures documenting our childhoods and those of our children. I can’t help but smile. Although I’m really sad that I can’t teach you the super secret AARP handshake or laugh when you get your card in the mail.

The Santos cousins

The Santos cousins

You were such a bratty kid, seriously did you have to be such a tattle tale?! We schemed how to do our dirt without you finding out. And then what happened, you grew up to be the bossiest of all of us. That’s saying a lot because we’re all a bit bossy, but you put on the mantle left by our grandparents and made it into an art form. And yet, you had the biggest heart (I guess it went with the big mouth). There wasn’t anything you wouldn’t do for us and we loved you right back.

So many memories swirl through my mind. As a kid you refused to give up your bobo. When someone would take one out of your mouth and hid it, you reached into your pocket and pulled out a backup. I remember laughing until I got smacked  for encouraging your behavior.

When you bought your first decent car, you came straight to my house, so we packed up my kids and drove out to Sesame Place. You were always up for a road trip. We ended the night at a Procol Harem concert when we returned home to learn that I’d won tickets. So there we stood, swaying and singing ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’.  I can’t hear that song without thinking of that night, or you.

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Debbie’s 30th birthday

And then there was the night you had a run in with some unfriendly Jersey cops, while on your way home from my house. The late night phone call started with, “I’m ok, but I need you to come get me from the police station.” I’m not sure if you learned your lesson about paying your tickets when they impounded your car, but I remember driving you home to Queens. You made me walk you inside telling me that Kentucky wouldn’t yell too much if I was there. I’m sure you got the lecture once I left, but he was supportive and got your car back for you the next day.

I felt honored when you asked me to stand up for you when you married your Kentucky. I also remember the tongue lashing you gave me when I cut my hair short just a couple of months before the wedding. You really should’ve told me that you had a hairstyle you wanted us all to have for your special day. Yikes. I got through the scripture reading without tripping over the words and we all had a great time cruising the New York harbor. Seriously, how cool was that.

With her Kentucky

With her Kentucky

You put off having kids right away and would borrow mine for the weekend. You learned the hard way that the little one was a pain in the ass when she refused to take a bath because I forgot to pack Q-tips.

Once you became a mother you changed. We saw a patience that none of us knew you had in you. First your blonde mini-me, with highlights women pay hundreds of dollars to have. Then your little boy who gave us hours of laughter, as he channeled the spirit of a younger Tommy, with his commercial singing and story telling. I won’t get maudlin now, but they are great kids and your Kentucky has been doing a great job as father and mother to them. You would be proud of all three of them.

Naturally, life isn’t a rose garden and our family has seen its share of pain and loss over the years. We knew you were working the morgue at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11. We thought nothing of it, you were doing your job. Your phone calls now included the things you saw while there once you gave me an update on your life and the kids.

And then you got sick.

We had so much hope that you would beat the odds. Hope that the cancer wouldn’t spread. Hope that the doctors at Sloan Kettering would save you.

And then I got the phone call on a Friday evening. I guess Tommy drew the short straw. “They’re transferring Debbie to Calvary on Monday.” I already knew what that meant, after all didn’t we spend time there in the recent past. “Aw Tommy, why are you telling me this,” was my response. I saved my tears to spare him from further distress.

When my sister called to check up on me, I knew I had to get out of my house. So, after alerting my vacationing kids in San Diego,  we went to see a comedy show at the Apollo Theater. Yup, we did. We ate chuletas at a soul food restaurant on the corner and then laughed, to hide our tears. Many years later, I met the writer/actress of the show and let her know that her show that night saved me from myself. You would’ve loved her, she is as funny and irreverent as you were. (Thanks again, Rhina) Afterwards I went home and drank until I fell asleep, similar to when Danny died. Not my proudest moment. My cowardice took over and I could find no dutch courage at the bottom of the bottle.

By Wednesday you were gone and those left behind had to deal with the loss.

Scan 97The FDNY opened up their purse strings to give you a proper sendoff. Paramedics and EMTs from everywhere came to pay their respects. There was even a group from Ireland, who were in town for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and asked if they could give you their salute. Bobby and Noreen worked on the services and the music while my Pop and Victor worked on their messages. The Damas from San Andres kept us fed and caffeinated.

I admit to dragging Val down the aisle of the church to stand before your coffin, basically because I was scared to do it alone. As long as someone was with me I could tamp down my grief. Keep it all under control. And what was the first thing out of my mouth? “Debbie would never wear that shade of lipstick.”

You’ve been gone eight years now and I still feel the loss. There is a void in my life that wasn’t there before. Your loss made us a stronger family. We make it a point to schedule family gatherings to ensure everyone could be there. We celebrate your life every year and maintain strong ties with the Rodriguez Family, almost as if you left your mother’s side of the family to us in your will. We tell each other “I love you” regularly and we mean it.

And then there were nine

And then there were nine

When it’s my turn to join you in paradise, remind me to teach you the super secret AARP handshake, after all you’re fifty now even if we can’t have a party, we will celebrate you always.

I miss your smile, Prima.

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My personal Guerrera

Anyone who was blessed to have a grandmother in their lives, knows the special love you only receive from your grandmother. I was super lucky because I had three grandmothers until I was an adult. With two grandmothers and a great-grandmother, keeping me in their daily prayers, I had a strong force field protecting me from life’s daily woes.That was then 056

Every kid eventually realizes that their elders have names other than Abuela, Mamá, Mami or Titi. Maria Santos answered to many names; Doña Maria, Mami, Titi, and her favorite, Mamá. As her first grandchild, it was my honor to present her with her first great-grandchild. Mamá was in Puerto Rico when my daughter was born. The day after she returned, I loaded up my newborn, and all of her equipment, and trekked out to the Bronx. There stood my grandmother, baby cradled in one arm, cooking with the other, all the while barking out orders like the general that she was. Someone in the room asked her to lower her voice because the baby was sleeping; you all know her response to that one, “Que se acostumbre”. And you know what? My daughter slept right through it.

The mother of seven, five of whom grew to adulthood, Doña Maria was the grandmother of ten and the great-grandmother of fourteen, all of whom she met before joining her husband in heaven.

That was then 003Mamá’s strength and resiliency was an example to all who met her. Before the end of her life, she had lost two sons to violence and her husband, after a stroke. When her oldest and youngest died, she was brought to the church, both times, from her hospital bed. Every loss took a piece of her heart, and yet her heart was so big that she lived on and showed us all how to hold our heads up although our hearts were breaking. She was the rock who fortified my sister, after the death of her infant son. I remember my sister describing her heartache and not understanding how Mamá didn’t fall into despair with her personal losses. The answer was faith and the grace of God.

Doña Maria was a little pillow of a woman. With a bosom that put babies to sleep within seconds and a home perfumed with the aromas of her cooking. With a bible in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other she ruled over her family just like the queen that she was.

A benevolent ruler, who was many things to many people, but most beloved by her descendants who strive daily to grow up to be her. Maria Maria Martinez de Santos best known as Mamá.That was then 361

 

The heart of the family

We all acknowledge that the mother is the heart of every family. But what do you do when the heart of your family is getting smacked with everything life can throw at her? Well, you learn to persevere. You get in the cab of the bulldozer and you learn to drive that puppy over everything in your path.

Nereida’s story is not the one you can find in a book of fairy tales. While I don’t know what the early part of her life was like, I was anThat was then 031 eyewitness to her adult life.  A young wife, who was bullied into finishing high school by her sisters-in-law, she learned to bully back and they became sisters, without the in-law part. The conversion of Nereida Diaz into Nereida Santos had begun.

She went on to have three children with Guillo and a successful career at Prospect Hospital, the personal ER for the Santos grandchildren. She cracked the whip over all of our heads. When Titi Nereida said something, you did it. As kids we knew who to go to for nurturing, although it was a close call between Mama and Titi Ana. They became our protectors against whatever storm was brewing. We all knew that Titi Nereida and Titi Luisa (my mother) were the ones to hide from.

Guillo’s sudden death hit us all hard, none harder than Nereida who now had three children to raise by herself. Oops, did I say by herself? My mistake, you see this is the Santos Family and here you don’t have to do anything by yourself. You need help, there will be a Santos to the rescue. Wrinkled cape and all.

I’m not going to say the Santos Family is resilient in the face of tragedy, only because I don’t have to say it. I remember Mama telling Debbie to stop crying in the aftermath of Guillo’s death. This woman who had just lost another child was in the kitchen cooking. Yes, cooking. I remember Tommy headbutting my boyfriend because my lap was his, and only his. Gil, known as Kookie in those days, was concerned about the collateral damage. A true sign of the man he would become.

That was then 128I slept with Debbie in the days leading up to her Daddy’s funeral and let me tell you now, Nereida’s strength of character was etched into that kid from a young age. #Ballbuster

When my parents had to go out of town, I stayed at Titi Nereida’s apartment in the Santos compound. After all, we were the South Bronx’s version of the Kennedys (ok, maybe just Beck Street’s version). Just like Titi Flora, we spent part of the day hanging in the window looking out onto Beck Street to see what everyone was up to. During one of our window sessions, Titi asked me if I had my friend yet. Not getting her meaning, and thinking that she meant to ask if I had a boyfriend, I told her that I did in fact have a boyfriend (although he may not have known it). She laughed and asked me flat out if I had my period yet. Red in the face, I admitted that no, the momentous occasion had not yet happened.

Yes, Titi could be embarrassing even without witnesses.

Again, as an eyewitness, I must admit that there were two pivotal events in Nereida’s life. One was a return to the church. She was always a woman of faith, but not always a church-goer. Upon her return, she jumped in with two feet and never looked back. She wanted me to take my comadre, for whom she had much affection, to a healing service following her MS diagnosis. Her invitation brought tears to my comadre’s eyes.

The other event was becoming a grandmother. I’ve never seen a woman take to being a grandmother faster than Titi. All of a sudden the nurturing side of her was out and in full display, and those of us who lived under her whip, found ourselves just the slightest bit jealous.  Billy, as the first, was the recipient of a lot of coddling and spoiling. So much so, that we begged her to stop when he started using those eyebrows against us.

I thank God for Gil, Debbie, and Tommy. I thank God for Billy, Alexandra, Victoria, Saadia, Ariana, Elizabeth, Antonio, and Mark. I thank God for Mitzi, Joanne, Teresa, and David.

I thank God that when her illness hit hard, she was good with Him. I thank God that she was able to see and interact with all her grandchildren. I thank God that she was not cognizant of Debbie’s illness and death, because it may have broken her. I thank God for every minute of her life. The good and the bad. Her illness took her from us way before we were ready to lose her.

She is now in the arms of our heavenly Father and restored such that we will recognize her when we enter our heavenly reward, as God has promised.IMG_5886

Rest in Glory, Titi.