The Drama of Old Women and Little Girls
I don’t remember a time when my grandmother didn’t tell me she was dying.
She would sit in her easy chair, close her eyes and say “Ay, me muero. Me voy a morir.”
Translation: I am dying. I am going to die.
I would kiss Mama goodbye, tell her I would see her tomorrow and she would say: “Si no me muero.”
Translation: If I don’t die first.
I would fly to Miami for a visit, kiss and hug her as I was leaving and she would say something like: “No te veo otra vez. Me voy a morir antes que regreses.”
Translation: I won’t see you again. I’ll die before you return.
On the last night Mama took a breath, my Tia kissed her 90-year-old mother and told her she’d see her in the morning.
“Me voy a morir.”
And she did.
At least she was right once.
The drama of my old Cuban grandmother did not scar me. If anything, it made me laugh at death. She never died on all those occasions, after all.
As an adult of faith and gratitude, my only fear of death is of leaving my daughter too soon. Beyond that, I see it as a natural part of living. I am grateful for the breath in my lungs, the joy of the daily experience. And one day, I’ll move on to somewhere else.
What I was unprepared for was my 5-year-old’s fear of death.
Maria, it seems, is either going through a natural stage of pre-school angst, or she has inherited my Mama’s drama.
For a few nights now, she has broken down in tears, telling me she doesn’t want to die.
You’re only 5, no way you’re going to die anytime soon, I told my baby. It is natural to be afraid of dying. It is sad when we don’t see people we love anymore. But, everything in the world dies and yes, it would be nice if it didn’t. The people we love always are in our hearts, no matter what, I said.
I looked at Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care. The doctor said no sugar-coating death and that these moments are an opportunity to talk about family beliefs about death.
I have decided not to talk to her about espiritus though. The relationship my band of Cubans has with death and spirits is colorful and exotic — too exotic for a girl being raised semi-gringa in Tennessee.
But Maria’s questions about death have reminded me a lot about my grandmother, her Santos, and the glass of water she used to leave by her bedside for the visiting night-time spirits.
My grandmother used to tell me that after she died, she would be back to pull my toes if I misbehaved. That did freak me out. And while I never have felt a pellizco, I’ll spare my daughter that story for a while.
And, I am going to hope she isn’t a lifelong Mini-Mama-with-the-Death-Drama.