In memory of Dolores Gomez
My dear friend Adrianne's grandma, Do?a Lola, a.k.a. Dolores Gomez, passed away. Her funeral was last Friday. I took a couple hours off work to attend the gathering that followed her burial, and drove from Pasadena to the Moose Lodge in Sylmar under a gloomy and rainy sky that well set a tone to the occasion. Adrianne was very attached to her grandma, and for the last few weeks she had been spending long days and nights at the hospital with Do?a Lola. While I drove, I contemplated what I could tell her that would be useful rather than a clich?, something that would sound honest and heartfelt. I recalled my belief that we humans only truly die if we are forgotten, and I decided I would tell Adrianne just that, that as long as she remembered her grandma, she, in some way, would always be present.
Published on LatinoLA: February 14, 2005
Once at the Lodge, I walked to the door with my umbrella in one hand and white flowers for Adrianne in the other, and stepped in.
?into the twilight zone.
Inside, the sounds of rain were erased by the loud sound of a six piece mariachi, fully equipped with their guitars and trumpets and decked out in black outfits of silver zippers and buttons. They entertained four or five long tables full of people that busied themselves eating, and went to and from the back of the room where three restaurant staff stood dishing out food. To my left there was a bar in full motion.
I was feeling well out of place holding white flowers and wearing black clothes between all those happy people. I figured I had walked into the wrong place, or that there might be a door to a second room somewhere, but then I recognized the face of someone who stood up and waved at me. It was my friend's mother, and Do?a Lola's daughter, who then walked to my rescue. We hugged, spoke a few sentences in which I explained my confusion and she started saying something that I don't recall, and perhaps did not even hear because it was in the middle of this exchange that I realized my huge shortcoming: I had gotten flowers for the granddaughter and forgot all about the daughter! I fought the impulse of handing the flowers over to her instead. Actually, I was just about to do that when I realized that the card on them read a big ?Adrianne?. I gave up, and secretly ashamed of myself, asked her where Adrianne was.
She pointed at my friend. Adrianne was sitting at the end of one of the tables closest to the mariachi, next to two ladies I had never seen. As I walked towards her, I wondered how she felt about all the noise. I assumed she had no prior knowledge of a mariachi being there that day, and that perhaps the family had agreed to do the best they could under the circumstances.
When I reached her, I touched her shoulder and she turned. Her eyes looked sad and tired, but she wasn't the devastated sight I had feared. In front of her were a beer and a half empty plate of food. We said hello, I handed her the flowers, and asked in her ear: ?did you know that a mariachi would be here?? She answered ?yeah, the mariachi members all knew my grandma. They're playing today because my grandma wanted them to?. I was surprised. The mariachi was actually meant for the funeral and that was a first for me. I was about to comment on it, but then I saw Adrianne's father.
Her dad is a cheerful man that likes to tease me by saying that I smell funny. I don't, really, but that has been his consistent tease over the years. He didn't say it this time though, and I missed it. His eyes were teary and sad, and for a moment my brain did a double check as to whose mother Do?a Lola was. While I hugged him, and wished him well, I saw Martha.
I met Martha a couple years ago through my friend Letty. I was not confused as to who she was, or where I had seen her prior, but I had no idea of why she would be at Do?a Lola's funeral. I walked over to her and said hello trying my best to hide the progressive confusion that walked along with me. There was an extraordinary amount of information coming to me all at once and I was having a hard time putting all the pieces together.
The saying goes 'when you can't beat them, join them'. So, while I had never seen a mariachi at a funeral, or such a festive air about one, I grabbed a Corona, some Mexican food, and sat down by Adrianne and her friends.
After a short while I understood that this wasn't Do?a Lola's twilight zone after all, but rather her last well thrown party, one that reflected her happy personality. While I ate, I heard the stories of many years back, when Do?a Lola had been the 'bus' to and from school for the neighborhood kids. That's how the mariachi members knew Do?a Lola, that's how Martha knew Do?a Lola. I heard about Adrianne's coworker who once upon a time, in need to save funds, took up Do?a Lola's offer to get married in her home. And the story of how much Do?a Lola loved birds, which explained the flower crown that read 'Pet's World' on it, that had appeared misplaced before.
I learned that Do?a Lola liked laughter more than tears, and that her life had been so significant that all those folks in the lodge, everyone there, had taken the time, on a work and a rainy day, to remember and celebrate her life.
She wanted her memory to make folks happy, a party instead of grief, and those who loved her honored her wishes.
I had walked into that room anticipating depression, and ended up leaving it with a smile, perhaps even a little inspired, contemplating how the life of someone I never met was powerful enough to still affect mine.
Perhaps my thought is true after all. Perhaps we only disappear if we get forgotten, and as long as someone remembers us, at a level we still exist. Do?a Lola, for example, seemed to chime from everywhere last Friday!
Buen descanso Do?a Lola!...y gracias for the great party!