July 14

Out of all the days in the year, this day is always a little more difficult to digest. On this day 13 years ago, my grandfather died as I napped in the room down the hall. It was a sunny summer Sunday. My family had gone to church, and I had gone to a birthday party. I arrived back home to find the family eating dinner at my grandparent’s home (they live on our property), and my grandfather was watching the Cubs — his favorite team — play the Marlins. I said my hello’s and gave my kisses, but I was far too exhausted to stay awake, so I went to the guest room to nap. My little cousin and sister went swimming in our pool, my grandmother stayed in the kitchen to clean and my grandfather went to his room to finish watching the game (the Cubs won by the way). But that was the last time my grandfather would be seen alive. That was the last kiss and hug I would receive. That was the last time I’d ever hear him call me by my special Mexican nickname.

The experience of being woken up to learn that a person you had hugged and talked with merely a few hours earlier was dead is miserable. I was jolted awake by my sister repeating the words “Belo’s dead” over and over. I thought it was a joke, but when my mother pushed her way into the room, I knew it wasn’t. I sprung from the bed and ran the few feet down the hall to find him on the bed and my dad holding my grandmother’s hand. That was the first day I ever saw my dad cry. I reached out and touched Belo’s cold hand and immediately pulled away. I was nine, and this was my first loss. I believed God had let me down by taking my hero from me. I ran from the room, left the house and made my way to my grandfather’s favorite tree, a weeping willow that stood near his garden. I collapsed in a fit of sobs, and my father ran after me to wrap me in his arms.

When the EMT arrived to take him away, I sat on the couch and watched with tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t eat or sleep much for three days. I didn’t know how to deal with it. All of the people trying to comfort me just seemed to make it worse. I knew death was a thing I’d have to endure at some point in my life, but I was too preoccupied with being a kid to realize that it could happen at any time.

People feel loss every day. Some expect it, and to others, it comes as a devastating surprise. Regardless of age, it’s a blow that is difficult to endure, but one that must be dealt with. Thirteen years later, the blow has softened, but he’ll never be forgotten, and he’ll forever be missed.

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