By Nancy Arroyo Ruffin
The first time I remember experiencing death I was three years old. My uncle Louie lay in a casket at the Ortiz Funeral Home wearing a light colored suit; it could’ve been white, beige maybe. His afro was neatly picked and in my three year old mind he appeared to be sleeping peacefully. That’s the thing about death, to the deceased it is peaceful, and to the ones left behind it’s anything but. To those left behind, the haze of losing a loved one, which feels like a searing mass of heat injected deep into the veins, seeps into everything making it difficult to focus on anything but the grief.
From my recollection, the funeral home was a dreary place, old and decrepit, like an old lady who had spent too many years outside of herself watching her life pass her by. The red carpet in the viewing room was ragged and dirty and the lighting, though warm, was not inviting. It was a place that bid farewell to too many lives taken before their time. Exactly one year before on the same date, my maternal grandfather (his father) lay in a similar casket sleeping peacefully. He was in his 50s.
I can’t recall if I understood then that it would be the last time I’d see my uncle. I don’t remember if my parents explained to me the finality of death and what it meant when I heard family members say “at least he’s with his father now.” These are not things parents are prepared to talk about with their 3 yr. old. I think about my own 3 yr. old daughter and how I would explain death to her in a way that she would understand and I don’t think she would.
What I do recall about my uncle however are the times when he was vibrant and full of life. I remember how his eyes shone with happiness at the mere sight of me, or when he’d take me to the park and proudly tell everyone I was his daughter, even though he never had children of his own. He was young, handsome, and full of unrealized potential.
When someone dies we try our best to remember them, their great qualities, and how they made us feel. We try as best we can to remember the details about them like their scent or their energy as they enter a room. We try and recollect the curve of their mouth when they smile or the sound of their laughter, or the way their eyes say “I love you” when they look at you. We attempt to remember how their arms wrapped effortlessly around us or how their mere presence brought peace, happiness, and comfort. Continue Reading…