Papi’s Anniversary

Papi at Antiguo Bilbao Bakery in PR

It’s hard to believe it will be 4 years.  It just doesn’t seem like it’s been that long and at the same time it feels like it’s been forever.

Four years ago today, Papi was still alive.  And at some point between today and tomorrow (we believe night time) he passed away and forever changed my life and me in the process.  There were times in the beginning were I thought I would never get past this, but I’ve learned to move forward more out of honor for his memory than anything else.

This is just something you just cannot superar.  You deal, every day.  But there are still plenty of times, when I get teary-eyed at his memory or even at the slightest thought.  Papi missed my graduation; Papi will miss being an Abuelo….but he was there for the most important day of my life – the day I married Alan.

Papi‘s death was traumatic for me in many ways, so for this anniversary,  as many of you did not know him,I will leave you with what I wrote when we got back from his funeral.   To this day nothing expresses what I felt then better than this essay:

Paz y Tranquilidad (Peace and Calm)

That was Papi’s longtime wish. “All I want is paz y tranquilidad,” he would always say. He finally got his wish. Death hits you like a ton of bricks, and there is nothing you can do about it.

Papi used to call every other Saturday – the week of the 15th and the week of the 30th. He never missed a day. Never. He never answered the phone either if you were the one calling him; but every once in a while he would, or he would call you back.

He was due to call Saturday September 30th – he didn’t. I was at a conference, so I assumed he had called Mami first, learned I was at a conference and not called. He will call next Saturday I told myself. The grind of the week swallowed me up and it was Saturday again, this time October 7th. No phone call. No one had heard from him. No one. We contacted some friends in PR to go by his apartment. The news were not good.

There in front of his door, newspapers piled up since September 23rd. A concerned neighbor came out and said he was worried; he hadn’t seen him in a while. They called the police – but the police cannot go in unless there is a family member present. So they called me.

At 6:15am my husband and I boarded a plane to San Juan. Before 11am we had called the police, and I was at Papi’s door. I stuck my nose through the hole where the peephole used to be. My heart sank and my eyes started to sting. Tears sprung out uncontrollably, but I recomposed myself.

Papi lived alone. After the divorce, my brother lived with him for a while, but then my brother moved to Miami. I always prayed to God that whatever happened, I would have time to get to PR – I did not want Papi to die alone. I rather he have a heart attack in front of me. If that was not possible, then I also told God, I wanted Papi to go in his sleep. My biggest fear was that he would have a fall, or need help, and die because there was no one around.

Not knowing what I would find, I had told my husband I did not want to go in, and asked if he would – I did not want the last memory I had of my father to be him dead. My husband didn’t even blink, and followed the police in. Papi died in his sleep of a massive heart attack. He looked peaceful, there was no expression of pain in his face. He had been dead two weeks before we found him – or so we estimated by the date of the newspapers. Two weeks there by himself. I cried in my husband’s embrace, and quickly gathered myself. Mami was on her way, and Papi’s closest friends were there. I had to be strong, look strong, always stoic.

Dying alone, in your home and without a doctor is a red tape nightmare in a country whose laws are based on the codigo civil rather than common law. At around 4pm, the funeral home was allowed to come and take him to the morgue. The next morning we were at the morgue by 8am; I cried in front of the interviewer as I pleaded with her to release my father without an autopsy. By some miracle, she complied and the funeral home was able to take back Papi.

His last wish? To be cremated and released at La Bahia de San Juan. It was Monday and we were leaving Wednesday. But the Lord moves in mysterious ways, and so it was that Wednesday morning – after a beautiful mass Tuesday afternoon with his ashes present – my husband got a local fisherman to take us out into the bay where we released his ashes and marked the site with yellow roses. The ocean looked so beautiful with the roses. Papi was finally resting; he finally had paz y tranquilidad.

Papi was an immigrant all his life. Born in Lugo, Galicia Spain he migrated as a child to Cuba where teased by his classmates he quickly dropped his Spanish accent for the Cuban accent. He worked hard all his life. At the age of 14 he worked side by side with his father, while going to school as well. He barely got 3-5 hours of sleep. At the age of 21, he had achieved his dream – to own his own business: a restaurant bar named Wall Street.

In the 60’s he left Cuba as soon as he could and moved back to Spain, where he met my mother who was also fleeing Cuba. They settled in Puerto Rico, where he worked for a while as a salesman for Kimberly Clarke. But Papi was a hard worker, and he liked to own his business. So once he had enough capital, he and three other Spaniards (family and some he befriended in the island), created a partnership of four Panaderias. Papi loved us all very much – but his Panaderia was the love of his life. The picture above was the opening day of said partnership, and that is how I want everyone to remember my father.

He was not perfect, no one really is. He had his faults, but I loved him anyway and he loved me. I was his muñequita because to him I was beautiful; his garrapata because I always clinged to him as a child, and his cacharrita which came from the song cachita. He was very proud of me and had no qualms in telling me that he loved me or in sending me kisses over the phone.

This past Father’s Day I wished him a Happy Father’s Day. His reply?

“You called me so it already is a happy day.”

I will miss you always Papi. Descansa en Paz

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Happy Birthday Papi

Papi and I at Metropol

Papi and I at Metropol

Papi would’ve been 78 years old  today.  Really not that old at all.  Unfortunately, Papi passed away unexpectedly late September 2006.  He died of a heart attack while he slept; not a bad way to go, but not a consolation for his absence either.

I never really thought about Papi not being around.  For sure he’d be around when I graduated from my Ph.D, or when I got my first academic job, and even to see his first grandchild.  But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

I was lucky enough to have had him for 36 years of my life; and doubly blessed that he was there to give me away when I married Alan.  But I was not prepared for his absence.

Papi y Yo

Papi y Yo

Papi’s passing was very hard to deal with; it knocked more than the air out of my being and changed me forever.  When a parent dies, part of your identity dies with them.  You are no longer a daughter and you’ve know become an orphan.  It’s a painful process and not for the emotionally challenged.

It took everything I had, and everything Alan had, and some other things, to get my life back on track, to push forward with my Ph.D. and my life.  But his absence is still very painful, even after barely 2.5 years.

Papi was a very humble person, and as such a very humble father.  He didn’t expect anything from me, he never demanded anything from me either.  It made him enjoy my visits and my calls so much more, and I’d get to see and hear the happiness in his voice because I had thought about him.  I had taken time out of my busy schedule to see or talk to him, he thought.  It was something truly amazing.

So much so than when I told him I was moving away to Miami, he hugged me tightly at his house and whispered in my ear:

Muñeca, I don’t want to lose you now that you will be away”

“Dont’ worry Papi, you won’t” I responded

His humble ways also made him an emotional support rock for me.  He shared all my good news with glee. He was always proud of me.  And even if he didn’t agree, he’d ask “Is that what you want?  Is that what makes you happy?”  And if your answer was yes, then he’d support you 100% on your endeavor.

That is a void that is not easy to fill.  He wasn’t perfect and I’m not romanticizing his memory, but today on what would’ve been his 78th birthday I want you all to know why his void in my life is so big and why it was so easy for me to love him.

Papi also has a great sense of humor.  The last time I saw him was on 2005 (picture above).  In one of our 4 lunches at Metropol that year (we always went to Metropol), I believe it was the second, we sat at a darker side of the restaurant.  Papi was baffled that he couldn’t read the menu, when the day before he could.

Viejo, es el cambio de luz, give it some time for your eyes to adjust” I said

So he ordered himself a Dewar’s on the rocks, and we talked for a while.  After about 15 minutes and a whiskey, he opened the menu again and chuckled like a little kid.

Que pasa Papi?” I asked

His response?

“No wonder I couldn’t see the menu…. all I needed was un trago!”

After his whiskey he could see the menu! I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so genuinely in my life.  You had to be there to see the mischievous smile on his face as he said it.

Happy Birhday, PapiFeliz Cumpleaños Viejo!