A horrific day for our country. In shock, I watched the Space
Shuttle Challenger break apart and burn just seconds into its
flight. Five men and two women tragically lost their lives for
the good of all humanity. They lived their dream by serving
others. I may not have known them personally, but they died
Three months later, on April 3, 1986, sickness reduced an
eighty-six-year-old unsung Puerto Rican woman to skin
and bones as she lost her bout with cancer. She wasn’t affluent.
Refined. Or famous. But she was loved. Adored. And my
When Mama called me and told me about Grandma’s final
moments, sobs stuck in my throat. She expressed how she
had sat at my grandma’s bedside, terrified, while listening to
her breathing in short, laborious rasps.
“Your grandma’s parting words were, ‘God is calling me
now,’ and then she gazed up at the ceiling.” Mama spoke dolefully.
“So, I asked her, ‘How do you know?’ But she didn’t
speak anymore. She closed her eyes and I held her close.”
Mama’s trembling voice was broken by sobs. “I . . . told her
that I loved her. And I said to her, ‘you carried me for
I pictured that heart-rending image of Grandma’s gentle
countenance and Mama struggling to convey her love to her.
And I thought, Oh Mama, she carried you longer than nine
months. My insides ached, knowing that in her heart and
prayers, Grandma carried us all.
My grief came in waves. Looking back, I know God spared
me from becoming hopelessly morbid and consumed with
anguish. Grandma wouldn’t have wanted that. Knowing she
no longer suffered, I believed her final heartbeat didn’t mean
the end but the beginning!
I wanted to celebrate her life when I journeyed back to
help with her memorial.
Once a plump woman, Grandma had lost so much weight
in her final days. She had always loved a simple white Easter
dress that belonged to me and requested that when the time
came we’d bury her in it. My dress fitted her perfectly then. I
also asked that everyone wear white instead of the customary
black garments at her funeral.
White carnations—Grandma’s favorite—covered her
opened casket. I stood, my eyes caressing her still face, now
so thin. Vivid images of her life jumped in my thoughts. I
saw her on her knees pleading to God to be merciful to her
loved ones. I recalled her many prayers of gratitude for another
day. I pictured her lips mouthing words as she read her
Bible, with her index finger pointing to the sentences across
the worn pages. I could still hear the sound of her soft voice
calling my name. I remembered the merriment of her laughter
after listening to one of my silly jokes.
Hot tears blinded me and I couldn’t blink them away.
In my mind’s eye, Grandma came to me. I could hear her.
Feel her. Touch her. Her love, her hugs, her kisses embraced me.
We honored her memory and her passing from this life
into the next.
A gentle breeze blew the heat of day; the sun hid behind
the clouds. The scent of rain permeated the air.
As it started to drizzle, my heart comforted. Grandma always
considered it a good omen if it rained on the day someone
laid to rest.
Before long, her coffin lay in a crypt next to her cherished
husband, my grandpa.
At last, Grandma’s labors had ended. Thank God, she
hurt no more.
(Excerpt from Chap. 37 “Running in Heels: A Memoir of Grit and Grace” by Mary A. Pérez)
Footnote: Dear Readers, on this Mother’s Day coming up, gone from us for more than three decades, I remember my precious grandma who I mentioned in my book. Matter of fact, both Mama and I miss her terribly. Grandma was the undisputed, caring matriarch of our familia; a ray of sunshine in our entire existence. She rarely complained or thought about herself. She was a selfless soul, showering love and kindness to others. Impeccable in my eyes, she truly was our unsung hero. We cherish her memories.