Tag Archive | grief

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




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


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.



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.



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**



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

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.

Scan 91

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.







Of life and mortality

Throughout this National Blog Post Month challenge, I’ve attempted to stick to the script, as they say, and come up with imaginative ways to incorporate a topic into my writing. This evening, I’m going off script.white_rose_and_candle_posters-r8478b72a80b446e090c8716e7a3a9342_j8cg_8byvr_512

Call it a rough week at work, attribute it to emotional exhaustion, maybe we could even make it positive and say I’m conserving energy for a busy weekend ahead; wherever we choose to point the finger, the truth is that today has been a pensive day.

In the last couple of weeks I lost a beloved aunt, a co-worker, of many years, died in her sleep, and a cousin lost her brother. Sudden deaths hurt, they make you wonder if you will be ready when your name is called.  Death is a part of life. This we know but we don’t always acknowledge it. We read books on death and dying, and try to learn the proper way to grieve. The healthy way to grieve. Give that up. There is no proper way to grieve. There are personal ways to grieve, individualized to your needs and your talents. There is no clock on grieving.

This morning I read a Facebook status that reminded me of my grandmother’s illness and death. My grandmother was ready to go, but we were not ready to let her go. She told us, “Dejen me ir” (Let me go, for the Spanish-challenged). There was always someone taking care of her. Feeding her. Bathing her. And she slipped away as soon as our backs were turned.

We celebrated her life and we taught our children, her great-grandchildren, what being part of a family really meant.

When I got home from work today,  I found an envelope sent by my mother, with poems that were shared in her church on All Saint’s Day. So I leave you with what may seem cliched words, but tonight, they meant something to me.

It was beautiful as long as it lasted

The journey of my life

I have no regrets whatsoever

Save the pain I’ll leave behind

Those dear hearts who love and care

The strings pulling at the heart and soul

The strong arms that held me up

When my own strength let me down.

At every turning of my life I came across good friends

Friends who stood by me

Even when time raced me by

Farewell, farewell my friends

I smile and bid you goodbye

Shed no tears for I need them not

All I need is your smile