I thought that by this point in my life the hardest thing I had ever faced and the worst my heart would ever be broken was going through my break up over a year ago. I was wrong. Last Saturday morning my grandmother passed away. She had been in the hospital since the beginning of March while I was away on a missions trip. She was released a few weeks later, but after a couple of days being home she went right back in. I was able to speak to her and pray for her over the phone a few times and each time I could hear the strength in her voice, so when she passed I was completely unprepared. My brother called me and broke the news. The conversation only lasted two minutes. When we hung up, I felt like Goliath had just punched me in the gut. I fell straight to the floor of my bedroom and cried. I did the only thing I knew how to do in that moment, which was pray. When I regained some semblance of composure, I called my mother and the first thing I could think to say was “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”. I was sorry that she lost her mother. Sorry that she was hurting. Sorry that I wasn’t there to hug her. She had been in Connecticut as soon as my grandmother was admitted into the hospital and stayed for every painful, heart wrenching moment. Grief stricken, I could barely understand the words coming out of her mouth as she tried to utter syllables through her sobbing. Hearing her so sad and so hurt broke my heart in a way that I don’t think I could ever handle again. Once more, I lost it. Tears rushing down my face crashing into a puddle on the tile floor. I told her that I was coming, that I would be there soon.
Sunday morning came and I immediately got up to pack my bag and head to the airport. My father wasted no time booking a flight. We spent most of that day traveling. Catching a quick flight to Detroit with a two hour layover, then a connecting one to New York, and then we had the hour drive home to look forward to. With no clue how we would get to Connecticut from New York, we set out anyway. It was surreal that I was in a rush to say goodbye to grandmother one last time. The entire time we were travelling a flood of thoughts poured into my head. I started to think about the things I never said. The things she never knew. What hurt the worst were the things she was never going to see. She would never see me get married, or meet my children. I tried to make sense of it. All the while, I could feel a weight in my spirit. I had felt it the moment I heard the news, but it had grown in to something different. I just couldn’t tell what it was. Every second that passed while we made our way there I was running through marathon of thoughts and feelings.
The next two days family began to filter in one by one until almost all of us were there. Her house was full of her children and siblings. Aunts and uncles I hadn’t seen since I was small came with their kids that I had never met. In any other circumstances, it would’ve been a great time for me. But, the reality brooded over all of us. We were there to say goodbye. Tuesday evening was the viewing and the entire day I couldn’t help but think about the overwhelming fact that this was the last time I was going to see her face. The night was intimidating. I sat in the room where her casket was and watched as family members knelt beside her kissing her forehead and stroking her hands. I was a complete mess. My eyes were swollen and clouded with tears. My knees were weak and I felt like I was going to vomit. I mustered all the strength I could and made my way over to her. I knelt, looked at her face, and couldn’t believe it was real. I leaned over her and everything I wanted to say just vanished. There were no words. I stayed there for a while, trying to talk to God, to help me find words, but nothing came. Nothing seemed good enough. I sat there studying her face. Memorizing every curve and line. Then I reached out, touched her ice-cold hands, and said, “Thank you”. A thank you that embodied all the gratefulness I could ever give to another human being. Thank you for my life. Thank you for my mother and the way you raised her. Thank you for who you were. Thank you for being the strength of our family. Thank you for always praying for me. Thank you for more than I could ever really say. When I stepped away, I sat next to my mother as non-family members began to come in and pay their respects. The night went on, some people sang. My grandmother’s pastors and some other people spoke about her and her life. But, as I sat there holding my mothers hand and looking at my family that weight in my spirit got heavier and heavier. I could feel things inside of me shifting. Like the air I was breathing was different now. I felt older, as if I had just aged ten years. Something happened in me that changed me in a way I’m not sure I could clearly explain. I just knew something was different.
The next morning was the service and burial. I walked into the old church that my grandmother took me to as a boy, and it looked the same as I remembered. Once again her casket was at the very front and center of the room at the altar. Our family sat in the front row as the service began. People sang and read poems. The Pastor of the church spoke then he opened the floor for anyone else to say something. I knew that my family wanted me to speak, but I had no clue what to say. I was completely unprepared and was willing to let the moment pass. But, when he opened the floor, I felt something in me pressing me to get up there. Before I knew it, I was standing next to my grandmother’s casket with the microphone in my hand. Thinking back, other than cracking a joke about Google, I don’t remember most of what I said but I do remember looking down at my family at one point and seeing all of them, even the men, completely in tears. I spoke for what had to be ten minutes and when I was done, I gave the microphone back to the pastor and turned into a barrage of tear filled hugs and kisses from each one of the men in my family. All of their broken voices thanking me for my words. The last one being my dad who held my face, looked me in my eyes and told me that he was so proud of me. It was in that moment I felt it click. My eyes were thrown open and I had become completely aware of my calling and I knew the weight that I had felt was the burden my grandmother carried most of her life for our family. In that moment, I felt the mantle being passed to me. For the first time in my life, I was in total acceptance of what God was calling me to do. Strangely, it was in that moment that I stopped being the son, nephew, grandson, little brother, and I was now the man of God I know my grandma prayed for me to be. That single act changed my status in our family and I had been promoted into a new spiritual authority. I was now the Godly representative for the Del Valle, Quiles, and Velez families. With her passing, it was now my turn to fight the battle for my family’s spiritual well-being, and I know that she wouldn’t have left unless God told her I was ready. I walked away from this time in my life still in so much pain, but with a new purpose. Though my heart still aches from loss I have been blessed enough to feel the comfort I have longed for. The peace that surpasses understanding.
Rest In Peace Grandma,