Everyday Observations: Grief, obituaries, choosing words to say


I helped a friend write an obituary this week. It was one of those acts of kindness that come after you tell your friend that you are there for them and will do anything, not knowing what anything really means. It’s just a feeling when you say it.

Grief is a complex enemy and friend. It comes and goes. It sucker-punches you just when you are feeling better. It’s there when you don’t know it is. Sometimes you run away from it. Sometimes you can’t escape it. You feel it all around, even when you can’t feel anything. When you are numb to everyone and everything.

When you first learn you are losing a grandparent, you become a little kid. You never grow up when you think of what your grandparents meant to you. Summer vacations. Picking you up from school. Cookies. Big hugs. The kind that you get lost in.

When I was a kid, nana and tata gave us brothers a place to escape. When it was time to get picked up to go home, we always wanted to stay longer. Everything is fun when your parents aren’t around to stop you from doing the things that grandparents always let you do. Life with them was always a little more open, a little riskier, a little more like the life you wanted.

Then we get older. Every few years, you lose a grandparent and then another. All those feelings come back. The kind of feelings that make you smile while tears run down your face. Feelings that remind you that you were the favorite, no matter what anyone else says.

A few years pass by, and then you lose another one. It doesn’t get easier, but you are older and tell yourself that this is part of life. You try to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense. Everything is supposed to make sense when you are older. 

I don’t have grandparents anymore. It’s been about ten years since my nana passed away, and she was the last grandparent. Towards the end, she didn’t know me. She rarely looked me straight in the eye and never called my name. The same name her husband had. 

It was challenging to visit with her in that state of mind. To ask if she remembered the last time all the grandkids had Christmas in her old house on Rogers Avenue, across the street from Mormon Church. To not be able to hear her talk about her dad the musician, down in Cumpas. To listen to her voice, full with the cracks of time, as she sang “Mas Alla del Sol,” one of her favorite hymns.

If I had written her obituary, I would have asked her if she remembered all those things. I would have asked her if it was ok to be sad about her leaving us. I would have told her that her death was one of the hardest things I had ever experienced.

The meaning of an obituary is to make a notice to the public that a loved one has passed. A notice of the date, the times of service, and the relatives left behind. The details you have to include but only get in the way of what you really want to say. 

When it comes time to write my obituary, I hope someone includes that I liked to listen to seventies light rock while cooking at the soup kitchen, that everyone was worth meeting and most of them were worth making a friend, that my cat Nadya always waited for me to come home no matter how long or short I was away, and that even though I didn’t say it as much as I should have, that I loved everything my family taught me and never forgot those lessons.

Also, that not everything is supposed to make sense, and that’s okay.

Abe Villarreal writes about the traditions, people, and culture of America. He can be reached at abevillarreal@hotmail.com.