A friend recently lost her father, quite suddenly. I wrote this story a few years ago and felt moved to share it again…
On an eve of Christmas that seemed like any other, a beautiful human being looked out at the sea, dreamt his last dream and went gently into that good night. Not something you expect to discover when you visit your old friends at their beach house just days later.
We had not seen these friends for a long time and of course, much can happen. “¿Donde esta Eduardo?” was greeted by a silence that said more than words ever could have. Death had visited this family, and very recently we were to discover. “Eduardo está muerta” stunned us into our own silence. We didn’t know much español, but we did know ‘muerte’. Knowing what to say when told someone has died is difficult; within a barrier of language it’s torturous. “¿Verdad? It is true?” was all we could manage. The family was obviously saddened by their loss, but sad in a way that left us thinking the death had occurred some time ago. The language barrier contributed to our misunderstanding, but what really caught us off guard was how accepting the family was with death in their midst. A cultural perspective, a spiritual belief? Perhaps. One thing was certain, this death was not about loss – it was about life, and we were about to learn a valuable lesson.
That morning over coffee we talked about our lives, about everything that had transpired in the two years since we had last seen each other, and we made plans for the day ahead of us. It was only when Ric and Jose, were bobbing in the ocean later that day that enlightenment came. “We’re swimming with Eduardo”, Jose said, as he told Ric how they had spread his brother-in-law’s ashes over the Manzanillo Bay that he loved. About the same time, I was getting a similar story from Norma, Eduardo’s sister, while we sat under the sombrilla on the beach in front of their rented casa. “He just fell asleep on Christmas Eve and never woke up again,” she said. “And we decided to stay here because this was where he loved to be.”
In our culture we don’t talk about death like it’s an old friend we haven’t seen for awhile. We avoid it, avoid thinking about it, pretend it’s never going to happen and look the other way when it does. Even when we glimpse our own mortality, it’s from a distance, with lots of denial between us.
The inspiring thing about this particular death was in watching the family continue on with the rhythm of their lives. Not in a ‘denial’ or ‘disrespectful of the dead’ sort of way, but in an acceptance that ‘death is a part of life and is going to happen to all of us’ sort of way.
With great gusto they cooked the food Eduardo loved, drank the wine that pleased him, making frequent and often funny toasts to the deceased. They talked of him as if he had just popped back into the house to create another culinary masterpiece, which he was wont to do.
This family was not debilitated by their loss. They laughed. They sang. They made plans for the future. They appeared to ‘see’ their brother, their uncle, their cuñado, in every waking moment and were happy that he died so peacefully, in a place he loved so well.
I only knew Eduardo for a short time but his love of life was infectious. It is obvious he lives on in the people he has physically left behind. And I, for one, am glad to have had a fleeting friendship with this wonderful man.
So perhaps when Muerte comes a-knockin’ at my door, I’ll take a page out of the Sanchez/Perez family book and invite him in, mix us both a whiskey Pandita and ask him “where to next, big guy”. Hopefully it’ll be swimming with Eduardo.