As I look back at the year that is quickly passing, I remember with vivid sharpness the final couplet in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Rainy Day.” It is half of a quatrain I often heard my mom quoting long before I knew the beloved bard’s name.
Thy fate is the common fate of all / Into each life some rain must fall.
We lost mom just a few days before Thanksgiving. That hard reality has yet to sink in, at least for me. And I doubt it ever will. And that’s because my memories of her remain fresh in all the recesses of my memory and in my heart. She is not gone. She’s still with me, always will be. I am, after all, flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone.
There’s a Chinese saying I heard years ago. When parents die, their children bury them in the cemetery. But when children die, their parents bury them in their heart. The truth goes the other way, too, for the latter. My mom is not gone. She is in my heart where she will stay with me forever.
I still feel the warmth of her right hand that I held all night during the times I stayed up with her at the hospital when she needed a comforting touch. I still hear her voice - its soothing sound and musically rich tone - teaching me and my siblings the many songs from our childhood.
I still hear her singing as she taught me a song from her own childhood that I’ve never heard before, while I was feeding her breakfast at the rehab a few days before she bade us a final goodbye. The voice had grown a little raspy and soft, but a glimpse of its youthful sound still emanated from the simple notes of the old ditty.
I still see her smile, the way she mutely expressed her displeasure when she did not see the merit of something she was seeing or hearing, by the almost unobtrusive way she folded her arms and turned her nose up.
A year of remembrance
It would take a tome to put together the cache of memories stored in my heart and memory.
I wish I could say that losing my mom was the only dark valley in the year that is fast closing in on 2013. Alas, that isn’t so. The year 2012 will be a year of remembrances. A year to cherish memories of members of my family and that of my husband’s who have reached the end of their earthly journeys.
We encountered the first dark valley in May with the sudden, but not totally unexpected, demise of my husband’s faithful, loving, generous and infinitely patient grandmother. It was sudden only because grandpa Risso and my husband had just helped grandma eat her dinner at the rehab in Manteca when the end came seemingly out of the blue. It is quite interesting to note that her passing happened on a day noted for its lively parties nationwide - Cinco de Mayo. Grandma, who remained true to her rich Portuguese roots, often reminisced about the happy days of her youth and adolescence filled with laughter and going to festa dances with her mother. When they got home at midnight, there was no time to get any sleep at all because they had to hurry and start milking the cows. All her life, she lived in one dairy farm after another, eventually marrying grandpa Risso, a first-generation farmer whose parents came to America in 1906 and started a dairy in South San Francisco to make a living in their newly adopted country, like many immigrants from the old country did at that time. I’ve also heard grandma Risso reminiscing about being a festa queen in Long Beach where she grew up, but it was only after she died that I actually saw her photograph in all her fine queen’s array complete with a traditional tiara and a lacy cape. She was 15 years old when she led the festa parade, along with her sidemaids, down the streets of Long Beach, which was captured in an old fading photograph that we also found after she died.
In June, my father-in-law and the kids’ Papa Guy lost his wife. About two years ago, Lea, a retired school teacher with Stockton Unified and an avid equestrienne, fell from her horse at the horse ranch in Galt that she co-owned and operated with her only child Chris. She sustained serious injuries as a result of that fall and never fully recovered. But she got well enough to ride on a horse one more time after the fall. Her funeral was held two days before the Fourth of July. Barely two weeks later, her son Chris died suddenly from a congenital heart condition while working in one of the horse stalls at the ranch.
Then one day, between Lea’s funeral and Chris’s death, we lost our beloved and loyal Zeus, a one-of-a-kind German Shepherd as far as the family was concerned. He was actually Grandpa and Grandma Risso’s dog but he treated my husband and me in the same friendly way that only he could show. He came to the family as a gift from a woman who had to give him up because she was moving to a new home setting that did not allow dogs. Zeus could not have showed up at a better time. Grandma and Grandpa had just lost their Rottweiler Taco and were in need of another guard at the ranch. And they could not have chosen a better canine candidate no matter how they tried. Zeus, as it turned it, was descended from a stock of champion German Shepherds and, in fact, had been trained as well for competitions but did not quite make the cut, which eventually worked in our favor. Our four-footed friend was a joy to have around. He was always there with us whenever we went to irrigate the fields for Grandpa and Grandma, during the day or any time at night. I’ll miss seeing him pace my husband as he ran the tractor through the fields to cut the tall grass. Or, maybe in his mind he was trying to guard my husband from Grandpa’s Texas longhorns.
In late summer, word reached us that the youngest of my nephews in Manila suffered a stroke and died. He was only 38 years old. He left behind a wife and four young children, the youngest of whom was barely a year old.
It’s been a year of dark valleys and high mountains. But life, also, is full of hope -- that after the darkest hour of the night comes a new dawn and a bright sunshine on the horizon, that after the punishing rains and driving storm come the halcyon days of spring, and that at the end of the cruelest, coldest winter always comes an invincible summer. And, as mom always used to say, quoting the second line in the last quatrain of her favorite Longfellow poem, “behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”