Today, October 20, 2016, marks the 11-year anniversary of the passing of my maternal grandmother: Julieta Barral. My brother and I affectionately referred to her as “Abuelita”. I remember the events leading up to the day my mother, my brother and I collectively decided to take my grandmother off of life support. I remember my mom verbally decimated the cardiologist and neurologist for having to wait until the evening to hear from them on the status of her mother. The doctor’s sat slouched in chairs too small for their slender frame, in the playpen of the visitor lounge. They looked like sorry kids being punished in school for neglecting the pleas of their teacher. I remember the frantic call from my mother in the wee hours of the night when my grandmother went into cardiac arrest. I had to be there for my mom knowing things were very busy with multiple complex projects underway at work. Moments later I was drafting an email to my team and to my supervisor outlining the coverage and priorities for the next few days while I would be out of the office.
Five months earlier, our family had celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday. She was in relatively good health, considering her age. But it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to walk. Her orthopedist recommended getting a knee replacement, one leg at a time.
Eight years earlier in late October 1997, my grandmother joined me and my mother on a trip to Washington DC where I had completed my second marathon. The Marine Corps. Marathon was very special because I knew it would be the only time my grandmother could keep up with my mom to watch the race and cheer me on–her troubling knees were not getting any better.
With heavy hearts, my mom, brother and I coordinated the wake and funeral arrangements following Abuelita’s passing. We also had to pack, decimate and donate my grandmother’s possessions. I wanted no part of what belong to my grandmother because the wounds of her absence were too fresh. The hardest part, it turns out, was writing her eulogy. With so much going on, the mass was coming up in a couple of days. Eventually, I converted the tears into memories. The following eulogy, titled “Mi Abuelita linda – The Perfect Grandmother“, was shared among family and dear friends who attended the mass on October 25, 2005.
I sat down the other day for a while thinking about my grandmother, Abuelita. I thought about how special she was, and came to the realization: Abuelita was the perfect grandmother. I tried to write down some words, but my mind was inundated with images—scanning through the microfilm of cataloged memories.
So instead of writing I reminisced. I thought about how extraordinarily proud Abuelita was of her family, especially her grandsons. She spoke with such exuberance regarding her loved ones and her closest friends. In moments of her spirited exultations she would extend the truth.
On one occasion – well I confess it was more than one occasion – Abuelita told me, and a few of her friends, that I spoke beautifully in Spanish. This was not so, but it was one of the many ways my grandmother expressed her familial pride. Abuelita would seize the opportunity to openly praise her family as if she were the Queen of England making a public announcement at Buckingham Palace to all the royalty and citizens of her country.
I cannot adequately explain how fond Abuelita was of those she embraced. She opened her heart and accepted people who she would meet for the first time as if they were family members. My grandmother enjoyed inviting people to her home. Abuelita would welcome guests with the grandeur and amenities of an upscale hotel and the culinary refinement of a five-star restaurant; from the moment she would greet you at the door through the end of the evening when she would thank you for coming. You would leave her apartment feeling enriched and relaxed.
Abuelita’s presence was imbued with warmth, charm, and confidence—it was a gift she exuded and shared with others. It is no wonder why my grandmother had such an extensive network of friends from people in her neighborhood to people she met on the long excursions with her beloved husband, Cuqui. It also comes as no surprise that so many of Abuelita’s friends called and visited her every day. Her friends and family were always there for her, especially when she needed them.
Often, while on the phone with Abuelita, we would be interrupted with an incoming call or the ringing doorbell. “Esperate, esperate…” (“Wait, Wait…”) she would say to me. Other times when I called Abuelita, she would be tending to guests. I would jokingly suggest an appointment might be necessary in order to speak with her.
In the years I knew Abuelita, she was committed to her husband, her daughter, Julietica, and her two grandsons, Cuquito y Ravojito. For those of you who are not aware, Abuelita lovingly referred to my brother, Steven, as Cuquito. Ravojito was my affectionate pseudonym. My grandmother had a sage and balanced way of answering me as a child when I asked her, “Who is your favorite grandson?” She would tell me, “Yo te quiero mas porque tu eres el mas joven. Yo quiero mas a tu hermano porque el es el mayor.” (“I love you the most because you’re the youngest. I love your brother the most because he’s the oldest”.)
Abuelita lived a fulfilling life. She devoted time to her family; she broadened her knowledge and diversified her culture through reading and traveling, yet she still managed to watch her novellas. She flapped her colorful wings with the gregarious disposition of a social butterfly.
I had a uniquely open relationship with Abuelita. My Spanish is poor at best, and my grandmother’s English was limited. As you can imagine, our conversation lacked continuity. However, our communication extended beyond the exchange of words.
We enjoyed each other’s company as much through unspoken words—smiling, laughing, hugs and kisses—as we did through dialogue. Abuelita knew more about my personal life than anyone else in my family other than my mother. She always wanted to know how I was doing and who I was dating. And I always let her know. We laughed so much together. Our conversations were honest and revealing. Abuelita was compassionate and religious. She was also as hip as any woman I know.
Some of my friends and girlfriends had the privilege of meeting my grandmother. She wanted to meet all of my female friends, and I wanted them to meet her. Anyone who has met Abuelita and has been invited to her apartment has enjoyed her hospitality, her class, her intelligence, her grace, her warmth, her culinary skill, and her overall engaging and impressionable presence.
But it was not just about sharing time with Abuelita or about her meeting my friends. She spent considerable time living with me when Cuqui was in the hospital. I recall Abuelita’s bedtime regimen: It ended with her prayers, the Rosary and at least two Hail Marys. She would not go anywhere without her rosary beads. I can still hear the murmurs of her prayers.
It did not take much to impress Abuelita. I remember the first time making her oatmeal: I mixed in a diced apple, sprinkled cinnamon and cardamom, added a bit of Frangelico liqueur and some sweetened condensed milk. She was so impressed! One morning before I went to work, I gave Abuelita a cup of herbal tea with grated ginger, lemon and honey, along with a side of toast and jam. Within minutes, she was on the phone boasting to her friends, dusting the comforter and vacuuming my apartment. Abuelita was so meticulously neat and clean. My apartment was immaculate because of her.
One of the most memorable times I spent with Abuelita was during a road trip to Washington DC for my second marathon with my mother in October of 1997. The day of the race was chilly and wet. I remember seeing my mom and grandmother for the first time early in the race by one of the monuments. My mother, as expected, was cheering me on and shouting my name. My grandmother was standing alongside her and crying, tears of pride.
Abuelita was overwhelmed with emotions being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of spectators and runners, including the Marines in their camouflage uniforms. I was so moved seeing my grandmother with my mom; it took me a few minutes to regain my focus. I was proud to finish the marathon in less than three hours, and thrilled to share that experience with my mother and grandmother. It meant a lot to me that Abuelita was there because I knew it would be the only marathon she could attend. Her worn knees would eventually take a toll on her.
We had a great time in the nation’s capital and had a lot of fun driving to and from DC. We enjoyed walking the mall, having dinner the night before the race, and celebrating after the race. Abuelita did not just want to know what was going on in my life; she wanted to stay close and share important events and experiences with me…and she always will.
There are so many fond memories in which I will always remember Abuelita. She had a myriad of wonderful traits, but it was her silent elegance which reflected the light of her aura like a multifaceted diamond. I would define my grandmother by a higher standard of the “four C’s”: her care, her commitment, her class, and her charm. This is why she gleamed like a perfect diamond. This is why Abuelita was the perfect grandmother.