Early last week I got the news that my grandmother on my father's side had fallen sick. This wasn't just any call - this was the call we have all been waiting for. The call I had been quietly putting money aside for for months, because I knew it would mean dropping everything in order to be with my family in Mexico.
It was that call, and so on Saturday morning, me and my sisters headed to the airport and a few hours later, landed in the blistering hot city of Manzanillo, Mexico. The area around us was lush and green, and I hadn't seen it in fourteen years. Cousins I haven't seen since that long greeted my sisters and mother warmly and me a little uncertainly - I was a stranger to them, of course, and then we piled into a truck and headed past army men (boys, really) with rifles and camouflage into what could have easily been Costa Rica - dense forest and so much green.
After an hour of curves and passing small little pueblos, we landed in Tequesquitlan, the small pueblo that my father grew up in. It looked exactly as I remembered it, with the stone, uneven roads, and the dogs panting and lounging in the heat. Horses trotted by and men with cowboy hats lounged in the plaza and watched with idle curiosity as we drove by. They stopped in front of a white house, and with my Paul Frank backpack in hand, I followed my family into the house to see both familiar faces and those I could barely remember.
This is my family - my father has about eight sisters, and with exception to one, they were all there, sitting in the kitchen with tired, red eyes. There was a little joy in the reunion, it had been years, after all, even for the ones who were there from Mexico, before my father (who had flown in two days before we did) asked if we wanted to see her.
When I remember my Grandma Rita, I remember a kind woman who spoke softly. She always looked tired, she had lived the hard life of the pueblo, raising ten children and losing her husband fairly early, but her sweetness was always so palpable, as was the kindness and love that shone in her eyes.
I remember soft skin and a raspy voice, and the utter patience to always be the friend, mother or grandmother someone needed.
It's how I remember her, so when I entered the room, and I saw my grandmother in a deep sleep - frail and tired and on death's door, the shock was overwhleming.
I cried, until my sister looked at me and reminded me that this wasn't the time for that. So I sat with them and said hello to my Grandma. Then began four days of waiting.
Decisions had to be made. None of them involved me. I was there to say goodbye to my grandmother, and in the process get to know family I hadn't seen or even met in the sixteen years since I had been to the small town.
Nothing had really changed, either. Breakfast was still beans and cheese with fresh tortillas, the milk still came from the cows, and the drink of choice will always be 'agua fresca' - drinks made with water and flavored with rice, or fruit. The avocados were so big I thought they were eggplants, and it was so hot that I took cold showers twice a day. Houses are open - and when we walked down the street, everyone knew that we were Antonio's girls, here from the States to visit Dona Rita.
Friends and family crowded my aunts tiny little house, sitting with my Grandma even as she slept. During that time I got the chance to sit beside her, and my Spanish wobbled, so I did the only thing I knew how - I sang her a song, one that my Dad used to sing and one I remembered by heart.
When my sisters, my mother and I left, my grandma was still sleeping, and it was only yesterday, a day after we had flown home, that we got the news that grandma passed on.
In away I'm glad for it. She lived a long, beautiful life, and she deserved the peace that came with leaving. When she did, her house was full with people who knew and loved her, and she'll always be with us. She'll always be a reminder to me that it's not really what we accomplished in life that matters, but how we touch the people that we leave behind.
And she touched me so very deeply. I'll miss you Grandma - you made me a better person and you never had to say a word to do it. You lived it by example, and my only wish is that when I leave this world, it will be with even half the legacy you left behind.