My Grandma Nora’s passing on Dec. 20, 2019, has made me question life and death, and how we will be remembered. In the end, we are all encompassed in a written obituary, spoken eulogy, or memorable stories. Within our hearts forms an intricate web designed of silky conversations and tenacious details. Reflecting and writing are my ways of preserving the best of her.
Nora was born June 22, 1929, in Kenedy, Texas to Miguel Ramirez and Guadalupe T. Ramirez. She was the youngest and only girl following the births of her three brothers: Emanuel, Roberto and Daniel Ramirez. Her family relocated during her early childhood to Pharr, Texas, where she graduated from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School in 1948 and was a member of the choir and played the clarinet.
In 1949, there was a knock at the door of Nora’s family home, as a handsome young man in a military uniform was looking for Nora’s brother, Dan. Patricio “Pat” A. Gonzalez had returned to Pharr from serving in the U.S. Army during World War II and was looking for his good pal from grade school who had also just returned from serving overseas. Nora was completely head over heels for Dan’s handsome friend. Nora and Pat started dating soon after and were married a few years later on June 1, 1952.
The first of their three sons, Omar, was born in 1953, followed by Andre in 1956 and Daniel in 1961. While juggling her roles as a new wife and mother, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in education at Pan-American College in 1955, a time when women, and particularly Mexican-Americans, were significantly underrepresented in higher education. She devoted half of her 90 years on this earth to her alma mater, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD as a fourth-grade teacher, librarian and library coordinator.
During the start of her career, she and other teachers from the Texas-Mexico border region were required to travel north all over the state for teacher trainings since learning resources and leadership opportunities hardly ever reached as far south as the Rio Grande Valley. This frustrated them, because they knew that Mexican-Americans needed to have a seat at the table, a voice for those who may not speak perfect English, and a way to open doors for ambitious visionaries who had last names like González. So they built their own table, used their own voices, and opened their own doors.
Several people within her immediate circle found ways to make a tangible difference. Nora’s brother Dan had studied in New Orleans to become a professional cake decorator, but he had haunting childhood memories of segregated elementary schools. He decided to run for a position on the PSJA ISD school board so that Mexican-American students would never have to hear that college wasn’t for them, or that working in the fields or manual labor jobs were a better fit. Dan died of cancer in the mid-1980s while serving in his fourth term as a PSJA ISD school board member, but Dan Ramirez Elementary School was later named in his honor as an acknowledgment of his efforts to ensure quality education opportunities for Pharr students of all backgrounds.
A trailblazer herself, Nora decided she wanted to pursue a Master’s degree in Library Science at Texas Woman’s University, which would involve moving more than 500 miles away from her young family to Denton, Texas, for four summers in a row from 1964-’68.
Social norms of the time for women were to be a housewife or to work in clerical or caregiving roles. Pat had recently opened a local auto parts/mechanic shop in Pharr and their youngest son was just out of diapers at the time, but nonetheless, Pat wholeheartedly encouraged her to continue with her studies, assuring that he would manage taking care of the three boys with the help of Nora’s mother.
Pat would load up the boys in the family’s blue 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air and make the nine-hour trip to drop off Nora at school every summer. In remembering the lonely drives back home, Pat said, with a quivering voice, “It was sad. It took a few miles [to shake it off], and I’m sure she felt the same way. But she was strong and wanting to go get her education.” At TWU, Nora would be in the minority as her Anglo peers often excluded her from study groups. She once said she would take note of which books they’d grab off the library shelves and after her classmates had left for the evening, she would retrieve those same books and spend late nights studying on her own. Pat says there were times she wanted to quit, but ultimately, Nora achieved the proud accomplishment of earning her Master’s in Library Science in 1968.
She rose through the school librarian ranks at PSJA ISD, becoming the library coordinator for the tri-city school district in the era when automation was being introduced into the libraries and classrooms. During her 45 years as an educator, she helped professionalize the role of school librarians in elementary schools and continuously encouraged students to read for pleasure. Always eager to keep up with the times, she wrote several grant proposals to help fund creative ideas and innovative changes.
There were several “firsts” in her tenure, such as the annual Superintendent’s Medal, which was awarded to the students from each grade level who read the most books. PSJA ISD was also one of the first school districts to implement the Accelerate Readers tests as a way to revive involvement in the libraries. One of Nora’s favorite annual events was the “Reading Is Fundamental” parade at PSJA Stadium that served as a book distribution where students and staff would dress up as favorite fairytale characters. Under her direction, the PSJA ISD Library Department received statewide recognition and a campus visit from fellow librarian and former First Lady Laura Bush at the time that George W. Bush served as the Texas Governor in the late 1990’s.
On Monday nights for 35 years, Nora also served on the Planning & Zoning Committee for the City of Pharr at a crucial time when our small town started to see significant infrastructure advancements and population growth. Her career approach was to find mechanisms to address inequitable challenges and strengthen existing systems, as well as to expand access to professional mobility within our PSJA community for more than just a select few — and certainly so for women.
“Everything that she ever wanted to do was for the good of the family or for the good of the town, so we never argued about anything,” Pat says, as he always supported her professional endeavors. “Once she got an idea in her head, she would see it through.”
Nora loved to laugh, travel and dance. For more than six decades, she and Pat would attend Friday night football games at the PSJA Stadium, which is directly across the street from their home. On Sunday mornings, Nora would wear her favorite jewelry to church services at La Trinidad United Methodist Church and would sit in the front-row church pew next to Pat surrounded by their sons, their growing families, and other close relatives.
Nora R. Gonzalez is survived by her loving husband Patricio of Pharr, her three sons: Dr. Omar R. (Kathy) Gonzalez of Round Rock, TX; Dr. Andre R. (Norma) Gonzalez of McAllen, TX; and Daniel R. (Letty) Gonzalez of McAllen. She leaves behind nine grandchildren: Celeste Marie, Alicia Renee (Matthew Gieringer), Aaron Patrick, Adam Michael, Amanda Danielle, Adrian and Alan Gonzalez, Randy and Angel Segovia; four great-grandchildren: Caden Bradley Gonzalez, Rocco Silas, Milo Noah and Isla Mae Gieringer. She also leaves behind numerous nieces and nephews whom she loved deeply.
Our pastor says that in Heaven we’ll see them young. I personally like to imagine that new angels above will take form of themselves in their prime, free of illnesses and limitations of old age. Meanwhile, when we enter those pearly gates, we will recognize our loved ones as we best remember them, frozen in the form of our favorite memory. Over the past month, many people have shared how they best remember Nora.
“She was my fourth-grade teacher,” a wrinkled, silver-haired woman in a walker told my father at the funeral, emphasizing that my grandma made a lasting impression on her at Napper Elementary in her first year teaching. Other recollections have been: “She was my high-school librarian.” “She was my boss.” “She was my mentor.” As for my family, we’ll remember a wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother; also, a sister, an aunt, and cousin.
Grandma Nora and Grandpa Pat were like two peas in a pod, always together. Grandpa has fond memories of watching her dance the Jitterbug, ringing in each and every New Year together on the dance floor, and enjoying a weekly episode of “Dancing with the Stars” on the television. The two were married for 67 beautiful years. When asked what his favorite memories were, he said, “They were all great.”
My dad and my uncles will know her as Mom. She wanted the very best for her sons and their futures. Mom and Dad took the boys on road trips to the newly-opened Disneyland, on adventures to Sequoia National Park, and they would stay in log cabins at Lake Tahoe. Pat said Nora would order university brochures and information catalogs to study so that she could determine the best schools near and far for her boys to apply to, also practicing college admission interview questions with them. Omar became a doctor who now resides in Round Rock working in a nearby emergency room. Andre opened his own dentist office in the heart of Pharr called Ultimate Dental Care, and Daniel continued to run Pat’s shop, Car Check Auto Service, working next door to Andre’s dentist office. She always encouraged her family and others to value faith, education, and community involvement.
To me and my cousins, she will always be our Grandma Nora: Clever and quick with a joke (that she wouldn’t finish because she’d laugh up a storm before getting to the punchline.) Whenever possible, she and Grandpa Pat would be hand-in-hand attending our marching band competitions, dance/theatre performances, award presentations, sporting events, piano recitals, church confirmations, adventure sendoffs, and most certainly, our graduation ceremonies. She loved being able to provide us with new travel experiences and seeing our eyes full of wonder and excitement.
The absolute joy in her smile as she held each new great-grandchild for the first time was special to witness. Nora’s oldest great-grandson Caden has danced in the living room with Grandma Nora, played the Mexican dominoes game of Train, and even had his great-grandparents attend one of his junior league soccer games in Round Rock.
At the funeral services, Caden delivered a touching impromptu speech. At age seven, he was still too short to reach the microphone atop of the podium, so my brother Alan picked him up. None of us knew what Caden would say, but we knew it would be genuine: “I’ve been very happy with my Grandma Nora. She will always be watching over us and she will always love us with all of her heart and all of her soul.” After blinking back tears, Caden ended firmly in repeating, “She will always love us with all of her parts of her heart.”
She will always love us with all of her parts of her heart.”-Caden Bradley Gonzalez, Nora’s great-grandson
Below are eulogies that my brothers and I read aloud at Grandma Nora’s funeral services.
By: Amanda Danielle González, Nora’s granddaughter, and Daniel & Letty’s oldest child.
For much longer than I can remember, my Grandma Nora would sit next to my Grandpa Pat in the front-row church pew every Sunday at La Trinidad United Methodist Church in Pharr, Texas. My grandparents would color-coordinate their outfits and Grandma would always wear her favorite jewelry.
During my childhood and whenever I would visit home from college, I usually sat on the other side of my grandma. In recent years, when it was time for individual prayer, Grandpa Pat would stand to kneel at the altar in the front of the chapel joined by my father and my brothers. I would stay sitting on the pew with Grandma Nora, holding her hand, which was always oh so warm, as we said our respective, quiet prayers.
Once the pastor would say “Amen” she would quickly squeeze my hand really tight. She would then feel my rings press into her skin and immediately look down to examine them. When she’d recognize my college graduation ring, she would gently glide her finger upon it and smile at me.
She knew the academic achievement my ring represented. She knew about the late nights, quiet sacrifices, and homesickness. She knew about the moments of self-doubt and self-determination. She knew of the internal struggles and external pressures of college because she herself earned a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in the 1950s and ‘60s when women, and particularly Mexican-Americans, were significantly underrepresented in higher education.
My grandmother valued education and she helped build a bench of leaders, thinkers, and doers within our PSJA community. So many of us have her to thank for steering us towards higher education, professional advancement, and community involvement. Although she loved to laugh, she was also very strict and expected a best effort in all that we did.
My grandma loved reading the newspaper cover-to-cover while Grandpa would make her coffee with extra sugar. I’m proud that some of the last articles she was able to read were articles that I wrote for the school newspaper at St. Edward’s University.
Grandma’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis led to some sad moments from time to time over the last decade, but it also allowed our family to relive our best memories over and often.
Her long-term memory was always intact, as she would tell us about her childhood in Kenedy, falling in love with her handsome soldier, her summers in Denton obtaining her Master’s degree, traveling adventures with her sons, her years serving on the Planning & Zoning Committee for the City of Pharr, as well as her many decades working at PSJA ISD as a teacher, librarian and library coordinator.
When my brothers and I would visit our grandparents’ house, she would ask how we were doing in school, what we were studying, and where I was working. Her face would light up when I would tell her that I was working at the Texas State Capitol, or that my team helped conduct policy research. She would say things like, “Mijita, that’s wonderful” and explain how proud she was of me. A few minutes later, our conversation would quiet down, then she would repeat the same series of questions, which we would answer as if it was the first time she asked, and again, she would say just how proud she was of us.
When I would travel back to Austin, I would call my grandparents to let them know I had arrived safely. Grandma’s first question would always be, “Amandita, when are you coming home?” I would always answer, “I’ll be home soon.” And I am truly thankful I was able to come home with my Uncle Omar in time for one last “I love you” and one last time holding Grandma Nora’s warm hand.
Grandma Nora, thank you for always encouraging me and so many others to study hard and travel far. I will truly miss celebrating our June birthdays together. You were so much more than your illness, but the biggest takeaway was: Live as if you can’t remember the last time you talked to your friends and family. Express words of adoration, ambition, and affirmation at every opportunity.
By: Adrian Gonzalez, Nora’s grandson, and Daniel & Letty’s middle child.
Grandma Nora lived a long, happy life and I’m fortunate to have been in it for a little over two decades. For most of my life, I pretty much got to see my grandparents every day, always sharing their love and joy with one another.
On weekdays, Grandma’s day would start with a daily breakfast date at Whataburger where she and Grandpa would share a biscuit with jelly. Then, they would drive to Car Check, where my dad was always eager to see his mommy and his daddy.
My grandmother would have the best time laughing and singing to the parrot at Car Check. That bird does not like many people, so it was special to see how well the bird always got along with Grandma.
She and Grandpa would then walk next door to visit Uncle Andre at Ultimate Dental Care. After lunch, they’d come home and watch the news and “Wheel of Fortune.”
My brother Alan and I would walk to their house from Liberty Middle School. And each time, Grandma Nora greeted us with warm hugs and the same three snacks: Pringles, chocolate-striped cookies and SunnyD orange juice. For two growing boys, these snacks always tasted so much better after a long day of school.
It’s undeniable how much grandma loved music. She herself played the clarinet and the piano. Grandma Nora always loved dancing with Grandpa Pat as well as hearing me and my brother play the piano during the holidays.
That’s why on Friday nights, playing the saxophone as a member of the PSJA North Raider band was extra special as I not only got to perform for the PSJA community, but for the grandparents who always cheered me on from the bleachers.
On Sundays, Grandma was always eager to be in the front row at church and hear about God’s grace. Afterward, we would always have lunch together, go home, and prepare for this weekly cycle again.
And though seeing her so often was a blessing, one of the hardest parts was seeing her illness progress. Though her short-term memory was fading, the genuine love and enthusiasm she had for all of her grandchildren never left.
Some of my most memorable encounters with her came towards the final few years of her life. As we all know, she strongly valued education. I will be graduating in May from St. Edward’s University with a degree in Journalism & Digital Media.
And no matter how many times my upcoming graduation slipped Grandma’s mind, she would always get the same excitement and pride when we would remind her that another one of her grandchildren is earning their degree. So I know she’ll be cheering me on in Heaven when it’s my turn to cross the stage and receive my diploma.
And no matter how forgetful she was becoming, learning how to be patient with her was a lesson I’ll carry on.
No one better demonstrated consistent patience and love for their significant other more than my Grandpa Pat. I also give lots of respect to my dad, who was always there to help them, even spending every night with them for the last two months. I’m lucky to have them as great role models in my life.
The laughter, excitement, and passion that my grandmother always embodied are qualities that will always stay with me as her spirit will continue to watch over us.
By: Alan González, Nora’s grandson, and Daniel & Letty’s youngest child.
Although I am the baby of the family, I feel like I spent a significant amount of time with my grandma. She was my laughing buddy and she always appreciated a good joke and a hard-earned vacation.
When I was in kindergarten, Grandma sat me, my siblings and my parents down on the couch in their living room and told us how proud she was that we were doing so well in school. She said, “As a reward, we’re taking you all on a trip… We’re going to Las Vegas.”
I loved it, and I could see why Vegas was Grandma’s favorite vacation spot. The bright lights, the colorful costumes, the beautiful buildings were all so captivating. By the end of the trip, I was telling Grandma that I wanted to come to college in Las Vegas and get married at the Bellagio hotel.
I grew up going to church every Sunday, sitting in one of the front pews with my grandparents, and then going out to eat with them after church at our family’s favorite restaurants: Luby’s, Garza’s Cafe, Margarita’s, and El Maná.
When I was in elementary and middle school, I would walk to Grandpa and Grandma’s house after school to wait for my parents to get out of work and pick me and my brother up.
My Grandma Nora valued education and loved supporting us in all of our school events. She loved going to our drama productions and watching our musicals at PSJA North. I ran track for 10 years from elementary school to high school, and Grandma and Grandpa attended almost all of my home track meets at PSJA Stadium. They would be amazed that I could run hurdles and not fall or get hurt. I always wore bright, neon-colored socks so it would be easier for my family to spot me in the group of runners.
Grandpa and Grandma were there for every milestone, big or small, and that didn’t change once my siblings and I left for college.
On road trips to Austin to visit my siblings at St. Edward’s University, my grandma and I would always be sent to the backseat of my mom’s suburban because we were the smallest, but we didn’t mind. We kept each other company, just talking, but mostly laughing together, throughout the entire trip.
Once I graduated from high school, she was so proud of me for going off to college to continue my education. I did not go to college in Las Vegas, but I am a sophomore at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio majoring in education. Last year, I was blessed to have my grandparents join my family in dropping me off at school and help me move into my freshman dorm. Grandma Nora loved that the library was directly across my dorm, and she knew I would be fine as long as I worked hard and kept my faith.
I have been so blessed to have gotten the chance to know such a beautiful, intelligent, and loving woman that I had the pleasure to call my grandma. I will miss you, Grandma, but I know you’re in a better place, continuing to share joy and laugh often.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Experts suggest that as many as 5.5 million Americans age 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s. Recent estimates indicate that the disorder may rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States, just behind heart disease and cancer, as a cause of death for older people, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Although treatment can help manage symptoms in some people, currently there is no cure for this devastating disease.
When Grandma Nora first realized that she was starting to repeat herself, she would cry, according to my grandpa. Her mother also had Alzheimer’s disease, so Nora had a fearful idea of what to expect. Always keeping tabs on indications of research breakthroughs, my Uncle Omar prescribed different treatments over the years, but unfortunately his mother’s illness was advancing faster than the world of medicine.
“I knew her memory was slipping away for quite some time,” my Grandpa Pat said. “At nights when we’d lie down in bed, she had funny questions like, ‘When are we going home?’ But in the morning she wouldn’t remember asking that question.”
As her condition worsened, Grandma Nora became somewhat agoraphobic, only finding comfort in being at her home or at church. Week-long family vacations had to be shortened to weekend trips, then to day trips, because she would get anxious at night in unfamiliar locations. She always wanted to keep track of two specific things: “Where’s Pat?” and “where’s my purse?” Nora’s trusted, life-long partner and her small, tattered purse became security blankets, representing her entire world and all she had ever earned.
Grandma Nora would try profusely to engage in meaningful conversations with family and strangers alike, but was becoming unable to carry them for very long because she would lose her train of thought or couldn’t remember all of what the other person had just said. Even when her sense of humor started to dim and she stopped knowing what year it was, she would still find reasons to laugh or smile every day.
Her shelf full of heavy books started collecting dust, and eventually reading the daily newspaper or just watching a full program on the TV became too difficult for Nora. But she never allowed her mind to go hollow. Instead, she would divert energy towards watering her trees, pulling weeds, and organizing twigs and branches into neat piles by the garbage can. “She would get so involved in the yard, cleaning it completely,” Pat says. “I would let her spend as much time as she wanted outside because I knew she was trying to find herself.”
Anytime she saw a lonely piano, my graceful Grandma Nora would play a fast, little tune on the black keys that only she knew. In her final years, the melody became slower, then she started missing a few notes, but the music itself never faded from her memory. Her special song will forever live in our fondest memories.
And while Alzheimer’s continued dismantling my grandmother’s brilliant mind for more than a decade, it wasn’t the direct cause of death, given that her health rapidly declined within the short span of a month and a half.
In the fall, like clockwork, my grandparents would cross the street from their home to PSJA Stadium, where they have Friday night football season tickets reserved on the 50-yard line. As PSJA ISD celebrates its 100th birthday in 2019-2020, my parents, Daniel and Letty, brought my grandparents to the a Centennial Celebration Sock Hop on Oct. 24, 2019, where Nora and Pat saw several old friends and enjoyed dancing to 50’s music.
But in early November, everything changed. We assumed that Grandma’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis had reached a worse stage, but we didn’t know that in reality she had developed a UTI, a bladder infection that can make some people with dementia restless, disoriented, and aggressively argumentative.
Almost overnight, the hours she’d spend in the backyard were transitioning into her walking away for blocks. We were in what my Uncle Andre described as “crisis mode,” because Grandma Nora kept sneaking off at all hours of the day, adamant that she wanted to walk to her “mother’s house” and speaking to us as if we were her late father, brothers and cousins, not her husband, sons and grandchildren. During that week, my dad and Uncle Andre took turns checking in on their parents throughout the day between dental patients and car customers. Thankfully, we also have kind neighbors and extended family who would help keep a watchful eye.
My Grandma Nora was suffering from “sundowning,” a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia that causes confusion and agitation to worsen in the late afternoon and evening. My dad offered to start spending the night in the home he grew up in with a baby monitor in his parents’ bedroom. He would hear Pat pleading and repeating, “I love you” to Nora, displaying the utmost patience as she wanted to put on her shoes and go for a walk at 3 a.m. during a cold front. With my dad on guard, my 95-year-old grandfather could get a little bit of shut-eye, knowing he didn’t have the full responsibility of preventing her from leaving the loving home she was suddenly confusing for “a hotel.”
Cómo quiera te quiero.”-Grandpa Pat would say to Grandma Nora
When I visited home for Veteran’s Day weekend, I wasn’t aware of the problem’s severity. But once I was in Pharr, I felt guilty about leaving knowing that my family was in such a delicate situation, so I took a few sick days and asked my boss for permission to work remotely for the week to help my grandparents around the house. Calmly trying to keep Grandma present, both physically and mentally, was exhausting for all of us.
Although we never had to use a “silver alert” announcement, this ordeal made my family truly appreciative that a public notification system of broadcasting missing elderly people with dementia exists. It also drilled into my mind that 4.3 million working Texans lack access to basic work protections like paid sick leave, which means they have to choose between a paycheck or caring for an ill family member.
One of the few people who Grandma Nora always responded well to at the height of her illness was her nephew, Roberto “Robert” Ramirez, Jr., a spitting image of her late brother. A U.S. Navy veteran and local insurance agent, Robert and his wife Melba, Nora’s right-hand woman as library coordinator, would for years host my grandparents for a weekly dominoes game of Train. As a way of seeking a sense of normalcy, my dad and I took Grandpa and Grandma to a Veteran’s Day ceremony at Liberty Middle School, where she was so ecstatic to see Robert, as well as his sister Gilma Franco.
Over a two-week span, her three sons were thrust into a life-altering debate about whether to build a fence around their parents’ house, hire 24/7 living assistance or relocate Nora and Pat to nursing home options where they could be together. None of the temporary solutions sounded good, or immediate. However, on Nov. 15, my Grandma Nora fainted on me for a few minutes and we had to call an ambulance.
She stayed in the hospital for a little under a week receiving treatments for her newly-diagnosed UTI. During this time, she was refusing to eat but was healthy enough to be released a few days before Thanksgiving. Still walking and talking, she was now also staying put and making more sense; however, she did seem uncharacteristically somber. As we sat around the kitchen table with plates full of turkey and fixings, she shed a tear and said a short prayer, “God, we need you now more than ever.” When my brothers and I were leaving after the holiday break on Dec. 1, we said a heartfelt goodbye and all felt a sharp sense worry.
Early December wasn’t any better. She still wasn’t eating much and was becoming less mobile with each passing day. Grandma was moved into a hospice center on Dec. 8 for what we were thinking of as a “trial run” for different living options, but she was adamant that she wanted to leave from the second she arrived.
Moreover, two of my grandparents’ long-time friends, Rene Salinas and Romeo Escobar, passed away two weeks apart from late November to early December. Their grandchildren were classmates and Sunday school buddies of mine and my brothers. We sympathized with the mourning our friends’ respective families were experiencing following the deaths of their grandparents, and we were scared to think we too might soon feel that grief.
Alan finished with finals and came home Dec. 14, setting up a small decorative Christmas tree in her hospice room, which she welcomed with a smile. Adrian finished his finals and came home two days later on Dec. 16 and she wasn’t able to speak as much by that point. Grandpa would lie with her in the bed, motivating her to keep fighting, saying that she had to get stronger so they can go to church together on Sunday.
On Dec. 18, the hospice center transported Grandma Nora via ambulance to her home, where she now had a kind caretaker and medications to ease her pain. That evening, my Uncle Omar FaceTimed my dad and didn’t like how weak Grandma Nora was looking. He decided to drive to his hometown from Round Rock the next morning on Dec. 19 at 4 a.m., and I joined him. It was an emotional five-hour drive of reminiscing, but once we arrived home, my Grandma seemed more at peace having all three of her sons talking to her in their uniquely distinct voices.
Uncle Omar plugged in the old string of lights on her treasured Christmas tree in the dining room, but it was difficult to find Christmas cheer. Close family and Pastor Arturo Pérez, Jr., came to say final goodbyes and loving prayers over her. On Dec. 20, 2019, at approximately 3:15 p.m., Nora entered eternal rest with her dearly beloved Pat by her side holding her hand.
Due to holiday schedule delays, our family held funeral services 10 days later. Those were the longest days of hurry up and wait. We went to church Sunday morning on Dec. 22, because we knew that’s where Grandma would’ve wanted us to be. I wasn’t expecting to be overwhelmed with tears of sorrow, but when we reached time for individual prayer I no longer had Grandma Nora’s warm hand to hold. I ended up sobbing uncontrollably throughout the entire service, causing a chain reaction amongst my family.
All of us continued grieving in our own ways: Grandpa was being a soldier not showing sadness in front of us, while my dad was a mess, crying several times a day. Other relatives would check in on us, as we watched our favorite Christmas movies and looked through photo albums to keep ourselves entertained. When we started opening Christmas gifts, Grandpa asked if I could display a holiday picture of Grandma on my laptop so she could be with us in spirit.
We were less grief-stricken as the end of the year arrived, receiving some closure and reaching the commemorative day of Grandma’s burial. Thank you to everyone who sent prayers, flowers, food, warm hugs and kind messages our way. Being surrounded by friends and family was wholesome, and the funeral services were as beautiful as Grandma Nora.
I think about Little Caden’s words at the viewing, and it’s true: Our Grandma Nora loved us with all the parts of her heart and all the parts of her soul — even if she couldn’t always recognize us with all the parts of her mind.
It’s been exactly one long month since my elegant Grandma Nora passed. Grandpa Pat says that he is thinking about starting to volunteer at the local food pantry, saying, “I’ve got the time and my hands still work.” My dad has emphasized that these last few months have forced him to “grow up a lot” and all at once. My dad drives Grandpa over to our house for dinner with my mom every night, then all three of them watch the news and flip through the TV channels to watch a different movie each evening. Afterwards, my dad takes my grandpa back to his house and stays the night with him there.
One of last week’s films was “Charlotte’s Web.” My dad mentioned he distinctly remembers his “mommy” reading this classic children’s novel to him “as a Little Danny.” I too decided to recently re-watch the animated movie, and Charlotte’s farewell speech to Wilbur has actually helped me truly make peace with my Grandma Nora becoming an angel. A barn spider’s death and a livestock pig’s selfless friendship transcends beyond the E.B. White’s book pages, echoing a late librarian’s love for literature, during a time of solace in a way that is most comforting.
They go on dancing their dance-Charlotte’s Web
Of everlasting romance
Mother Earth and Father Time.
He turns the seasons around
And so she changes her gown
Mother Earth and Father Time.
How very special are we
For just a moment to be
Part of life’s eternal rhyme.”
Special thank you to my Grandpa Pat for answering all my emotional questions about Grandma Nora as I wrote.
A Song I Listened to While Writing: “Can’t Help Me Now” by Rob Thomas. During the week I was home staying with my grandparents in November, I had never felt more helpless or hopeless. Rob Thomas’ music has been there for me in the saddest and happiest moments of my life. I think this song represents the range of emotions I was feeling, but also, to a certain degree, what Grandma Nora could have been feeling, “lost in a daze for days and days.”