Middle Age and College Dreams

I turned 55 this year. Arriving at this stage of life means I’m middle-aged and 15 years away from retirement. I work full-time at Bank Street College in a busy and at times demanding role. For the most part, I’ve worked steadily now for over 34 years. Later this year, I’ll celebrate 26 years of marriage, and I am a proud mom of two adult children. So, then why am I in college at my age, with four plus years to go before I graduate? Well, it’s a good question. One response would be is that at this point in my life I feel ready and willing to be back in school to obtain a longed-for sheepskin. Perhaps then the reward for taking on this endeavor at my age will be what I discover on while I’m on this long-delayed, but much-desired journey.

Even as I pursue this dream, I remain pragmatic about it because I do have more pressing obligations with family and work. But I forge ahead because, for many years, my lack of a college degree has been that monkey on my back that hinders my ability to advance in roles, for which I’m otherwise wholly qualified. It’s also been the consistent message reiterated over the years, in both the Corporate and Academia spheres that I’ve been privileged to work in that says academic credentials matter. I don’t negate that they are important because now more than ever I’m a strong advocate for higher education, but experience matters too, and unfortunately, not all of us were afforded equitable opportunities for success in higher education back when it mattered.

I grew up in New York City, in the Manhattanville neighborhood of West Harlem. I remember riding the bus on Broadway with my Abuela, and as we’d pass the Columbia University campus, she’d say to me, “Margie, this is where I want you to go to college.” With my grandmother, who was a former schoolteacher in Puerto Rico it was never if you go to college, it was when you go. I’d nod my head to appease her, but as I got older and understood what she was asking of me, inside, I’d shrug my shoulders at a notion that felt so out of reach for a girl from the ‘hood like me. Attending a school as fancy and expensive as Columbia seemed like a pipe dream in my world where poverty was the norm.

I remember New York City in the 70s as a desolate place in every sense of the word. Drug use and crime were at an all-time high. The urban decay was visible and the hopelessness palpable. It was survival of the fittest because people you knew well were falling prey to the streets, often losing themselves and their lives in the process. With such odds stacked against them, many of my friends and acquaintances gave up on their futures before high school even started and college was not a priority for most. My college-educated grandmother, however, very much wanted and expected me to continue my education. She saw a higher education degree as the key to my prosperous future, and although I understood that, I just didn’t share her confidence. For all her faith in me, and even though I was an Honors student, I couldn’t bring myself to aspire to such a lofty goal or even conceive of the idea that an Ivy League school like Columbia would accept someone with a background like mine. Yes, Abuela had dreams for me, but the issue was that she couldn’t get me to believe in them.  Looking back, I see now that I wasn’t the only one who suffered these doubts.

I graduated from the High School of Art & Design in 1980. A & D as we called it, was (and still is) a specialized art high school. There I developed my artistic skills, but sketching for four years did little to prepare me for what was to come next. I loved to draw but realized in Junior year that I wasn’t going to be the next Picasso or was even sufficiently talented to make art a successful career. I felt wholly unprepared for college. No college prep conversations as I can recall, if you don’t count my grandmother and no idea of what I wanted to do next. Still, I had to choose a school, so I enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) where my plan was to get an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts. To this day I still don’t know what that is.

My stint at BMCC didn’t last long. At the time, their “campus” was a smattering of buildings located in Midtown. It was a bear to walk from ugly building to ugly building to attend classes and each day that passed became more and more of a struggle. I just didn’t want to be there, and after a little less than two years, I just gave up on my college studies. I justified it to my family by convincing them that I needed to work instead of study so I could help my mom who was struggling financially at the time to maintain our household. There were other factors, stuff going on at home and which I won’t go into here that contributed to this decision, but suffice to say, I’d made up mind. Both Mami and Abuela railed against it, and I know now that they would have done whatever it took to keep me in school, but I foolishly chose not to heed their admonitions. I’ve paid the price ever since.

I found myself at a crossroads after I left college with little skills for finding viable work. By that point, my sisters had dropped out of high school and were attending a GED/vocational program at the East Harlem Council for Community Improvement (EHCCI). They completed the program, obtained their GEDS and were in the process of looking for employment when I decided to attend for the vocational training aspect of it. My stint at EHCCI proved valuable in helping me acquire the skills I needed to find work and by that, I mean I learned how to type. The first jobs I obtained were clerical, but over the years, as I gained valuable experience in the world of work, I was fortunate to work under managers that were willing to give me a chance, so I did work my way up to better-paying positions. However, that darn lack of a college degree was often a barrier to obtaining higher-wage and more responsible roles. My corporate managers knew I had the skills and experience, but no degree meant no chance to advance.

In the early 90s, I was being encouraged to go back to school, and I was seriously considering it, but work was busy, and I had two small children at home. I did give it a shot, for one semester, but this first attempt was a bust because of finances. As the primary breadwinner in my family, I had to carefully consider the financial toll it would take on us and our home at the time. It didn’t seem like a reasonable expense. I am of the adage now that short-term sacrifices reap long-term rewards, but at the time, I decided I’d make do with circumstances as they were, and therefore college studies were no longer a priority.

In 2006, I found myself working at New York University. NYU offers free tuition to staff, so in 2007, I started classes at the Paul McGhee School, which is their division for returning college students. It had been a long time between college studies and I wasn’t able to transfer all my credits from BMCC, so essentially I had to start over. Despite juggling a full-time job, and taking care of my family, I found myself thriving in my studies, and I could manage two evening classes per semester.  I began to dream of commencement and wearing the NYU purple gown and mortarboard and finally getting that degree in hand. I enjoyed it while it lasted but then the recession hit, and in 2009, my college dreams ended. I lost my job at NYU and my opportunity for study. I figured that was it. No more college for me.

In 2011, I found a job at Bank Street College, which is in the same neighborhood as Columbia University.  On my way to work in the mornings, I’d walk through the CU campus and dream of it as a place of study, not for me, but for my son. I had no qualms about encouraging him to apply because he had the high GPA they looked for, and by this point, I’d learned that Ivy Leagues do have scholarship money to offer lower-income students like my son. Therefore, if he were accepted, it would likely cost him less to attend there than another private college. With that in mind, towards the end of his high school Junior year, I took my son on a tour of Columbia. It was there I learned about the School for General Studies.

The Columbia University School of General Studies is for students like me, who are older and have been out of school for a time. I was encouraged to apply, and I did. I got into GS in 2015 and have been there ever since. Do I think I got into an Ivy League school because I’m smart? Not necessarily. I think in general we older folks are a little smarter and a lot wiser, but more I think it was because I showed the admissions folks that I wanted this. In turn, they’ve given me an opportunity to prove it. Is it hard being back in school? It is very hard. Collegial studies are no joke, even part-time. There’s a ton of reading and studying and tremendous effort to put into it. If you don’t make the time to put in that effort, you won’t do well. My cumulative GPA is 3.5, and I’ve worked hard for that. Do I ask myself regularly why am I doing this? You bet! Have I wanted to quit at times? Of course, but I’m halfway there. I finally made it to Junior status, and so I remind myself of that fact, plus my family members are my biggest cheerleaders. They tell me all the time that I can do this, so I will.

So, it’s taken me a lifetime to realize that I can and that I should aim higher when it comes to fulfillment of dreams.  But as they say, it takes a village and so I have some folks to thank for their role in my fulfillment of this dream. I’m thankful for Faith Lamb-Parker, my former Director and former Columbia Faculty, and my present management at Bank Street College who have given me the flexibility to go and take classes sometimes during a busy workday. I know that doesn’t happen everywhere. I’m thankful for an Abuelita who never stopped encouraging me, and even after all these years, her words still resonate deep within in my heart and soul. I feel especially privileged that I can be a collegiate scholar along with my son, who’s entering his sophomore year at Macaulay Honors College at City College of New York.  Together, we’re reaching for a goal that at times our society discounts for minority students. They can and at times do choose to negate our inherent ability to succeed academically and otherwise, but I know that we can and that we will succeed. I’m grateful for organizations like KIPP and KIPP Through College that help my son and other scholars daily refute those negative messages that say that they can’t and won’t succeed. Yes, they can and yes, they will. I hope I can encourage my son, my daughter and other future scholars to take on the challenges of higher education, but to do so before the responsibilities of life become a burden. There really is no time like the present. If you’re just starting or re-starting this college journey, kudos to you. Together, let’s climb the mountain to success where we’ll plant a flag so high that only the most audacious will ever encounter it. It might take me a little longer to get there, but I’ll get there. Take a lesson from me and don’t use middle age as an excuse to put off your college dreams. Whether or not I make it to graduation day, I feel I’ve already won because my reward is in the journey.


Of Grieving Still

It’s been over a year since my younger sister Norma’s passing. It’s also been a period of emotional highs and lows, to put it mildly. In the immediate aftermath of the death of a loved one, and depending on who you are and how you process these events, they can devastate you to the point of stasis, or you can confront them and plow through. I’m of the latter persuasion, and that’s what I did because you know, life goes on. At times I can be pragmatic and with a family to support, children to raise, a job to report to, part-time college studies, and a church to attend, well, suffice to say, life is busy. So that’s what I tend to do when confronted with a crisis, but I should know better as this is not my first tussle with grief and its consequence. Pretending to ignore the impact of this rather insidious experience can be detrimental to one’s health, emotional and otherwise and I am now left lamenting its effects. Woe is me!

I was able to keep grief at bay until the holidays rolled around. As Thanksgiving and Noche Buena approached, I felt the burden of being the family matriarch, that person that everyone looks to for what the holidays represent. A time to gather as a family, and celebrate the season, but the idea of fête and feast felt hollow in the midst of Normita’s passing. As the days approached, the sadness became almost unbearable. Sadness for her loss, but more so for her now motherless son. I know that pain. I lost my mom too, and it pained me to know he was feeling that hurt, that sorrow, that inexorable ache. But we did it anyway. Thanksgiving Day I managed to find my way into the kitchen and cook up the fare that everyone expects. We gathered, we ate and then we called it a day and when everyone left, I sat and sobbed for a good long while. I cried that day more than I did on the day Normita was laid to rest. Because eventually, grief catches up to you, the well of tears now filled to the brim will burst and you have to let it go. I’m thankful that my sister, Carmen hosted Noche Buena and it was a good night where we laid the somber aside and tried to enjoy ourselves as we enveloped our nephew with the tender loving care he sorely needed.

Before all this happened, I was working on my nutrition and fitness, working out regularly and had lost 30 lbs. Normita was so proud of me and would gush when I sent her pictures of my “bat wings” decreasing and muscle developing. But the melancholy that arrived soon after the holidays were over caused me to fall off that wagon, and I’ve now gained some of that weight back. My bad, but I will find my way back. I have to. I’m the matriarch now, and this matriarch has to be healthy, active and strong. My daughter, who works in a gym (shout out to Exceed Physical Fitness) tells me all the time that exercise will release endorphins and endorphins will make me feel better. I know that’s true, but I just have to move, and right now I don’t want to. Well, I walk ’cause I have to, but you know what I mean. If you fitness folks out in cyberspace know how to help me do that, suggestions welcomed. 🙂

So all this to say, that I’m not without hope. This grieving experience, it too shall pass and with God’s help and my family’s support, I know it will get better. I know we will be okay because as time passes the grief, the sorrow, the melancholy will abate. It always does, but until then, we move forward because as the French say, “c’est la vie”, such is life.

The Blessing of Suffering

Broken by Grace in a Journey through Dark Places

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

I’m a Christian and have been for a long time so this Scripture verse is one that profoundly speaks to me as a person of faith.  I define “The Blessing of Suffering” as the positive outcomes of the very difficult and frequently painful trials of life we often experience.  Grace, defined as God’s unmerited favor is what sustains and brings us, as believers, through the dark places of suffering, trials, and tribulations and helps us to emerge transformed, renewed and redirected. I’ve experienced my fair share of troubles in life, but nothing made this verse clearer to me than the experiences I went through in a 16-month period beginning in 2005.

March 16th, 2005 is a date I will never forget. I was at work that day, tying up loose ends on a 20-year run of my work life that was scheduled to end in June of that year. The pharmaceutical company I worked for was relocating to New Jersey and had offered employees a generous relocation package complete with an offer of a down payment for the purchase of a house for those of us who chose to move. I was making a great salary as a Manager and had been mulling the decision for a couple of months whether to stay with the Company or leave. Then the day arrived when I had to make that fateful choice.  To exit the Company meant that my tenure there would be over along with all the great benefits it offered. Obviously, this would be a very serious, life-affecting decision for my family and me. After much thought and prayer, I recall that the moment the contract was placed before me I just knew it wasn’t meant to be. I felt so strongly that I wasn’t supposed to go that I checked “no” on the form, signed on the dotted line and on that day in February of 2005 my time there was done. I took it as a providential moment and said to God, “I’m trusting You to take care of me and mine now.” By mid-March, most of my colleagues were gone from the NYC office, but I was still there working with a skeleton crew and training my replacement, grateful that my former employers had been gracious in extending my time until June 30th of that year. I knew that I was taking a giant leap of faith by leaving a good position, but my hope was that my many years of work experience would help me secure another job quickly. However, a call in mid-March would change everything.

The details are a blur now. I don’t think anyone is ever prepared to hear that their loved one has fallen seriously ill and is at death’s door, but I knew immediately afterward why I wasn’t meant to be in New Jersey. I was supposed to be here in New York City as I received the news that my mother had collapsed while grocery shopping and was in the hospital in extremely critical condition. After the initial shock of that call, I immediately left work to meet up with my sister at the Neuro ICU at Roosevelt Hospital. There we were told that our Ma had suffered an intraventricular hemorrhage. I remember seeing the scan of my mother’s brain and the doctors pointing out an entire darkened area near her brain stem where the brain bleed had occurred. They told us that those types of injuries are usually fatal and that she should have died instantly. In those moments, my Ma was in grave condition, but she was still alive, so I knew there was hope.

My Ma spent six weeks in a coma. Every day I’d leave work early to relieve my sister as she spent every moment possible with our mother. From the moment visiting hours started until they ended each evening, we made sure one or both of us were there. I can’t even begin to describe what it’s like to watch your loved one in a hospital bed, hooked up to all types of machines designed to keep them alive and they are completely unresponsive. No movement whatsoever as you sit there watching hour by hour praying for some gesture, some indication that they can hear and understand. It is the most helpless feeling in the world. Still, as I sat there each day and held and caressed my mother’s hand, I’d stroked her brow and gently pat the shaved head that doctors had operated on to relieve pressure on her brain, hoping and praying for a response. And I prayed and prayed some more. I prayed that she’d wake up. I prayed that she’d recover. I prayed to speak to her again, to have just one more conversation with my momma. I prayed that she’d come home, but mostly I prayed that she wouldn’t die.

My sister, Mita who was always the more emotional one constantly cried during that period. She remained anxious and worried about the outcome of Ma’s condition throughout the whole ordeal, but for some reason, I didn’t feel that way, at least not for a while. The more I prayed, the more confident I felt that my mother would eventually wake up and begin her recovery and she did. Six weeks after the accident, she finally opened her eyes, but she couldn’t move, and she couldn’t speak. Her body had lain in that prone position for so many weeks that it was going to take intensive physical therapy for her to recover movement in her limbs. She couldn’t speak because doctors had performed a tracheostomy on her to allow her to breathe. After two months at Roosevelt, she was moved to the acute rehab brain injury unit at the Hospital for Joint Diseases where she stayed another six weeks and received great care. Her physical therapy was coming along, but her brain injury had affected her cognitive abilities, and it was difficult for her to comprehend even the simplest of commands. She became impulsive, angered easily and acted more like a child than a 69-year-old adult. Because she’d had the tracheostomy where an incision is made in a patient’s windpipe to allow them to breathe through a tube that is inserted, that breathing tube or cannula had to be constantly monitored and cleaned to allow the flow of air to continue unimpeded. Once my mother was able to move her hands she kept trying to remove the cannula, so the nursing staff at Joint Disease placed bulky gloves on her hands to thwart her attempts to remove it. It was a continuous struggle to get her to cooperate, and she needed constant vigilance, but we were just glad our Ma was still alive.

Right before the six weeks were up at Joint Disease, we were told that she would need to be moved to a sub-acute rehab because Medicaid would no longer pay for her care. That meant that I had to find another rehabilitation center for my mother and it needed to have a unit that knew how to care for brain injury patients as well as provide a bed for her. I visited several places, some which I liked and others that were just nursing homes. The place I wanted did not have a bed available in time, and because my grandmother, who was in her 90s at the time had been unable to visit my mom due to the distance of the places she was receiving care at, I felt pressured to find a place closer to home. Eventually, I chose a place. It was a bus ride away for Abuela, was aesthetically pleasing and seemed to provide the services Ma would need. At least that’s what I was told. The administrators there gave me a nice song and dance along with assurances that they had all the medical facilities and trained staff to care for a patient like my mother. I chose to believe them and had my mother moved there just in the nick of time. I regret that decision to this day.

Often when we are in the midst of a trial, we don’t realize we’re in it until either a significant amount of time has passed or something major happens that awakens us to that grim fact.  We live our lives so caught up in the cares of each day that we chalk up “bad” days to unforeseen or impossible circumstances. But what do you do when that “bad” day turns into a “bad” week or a “bad” month or a “bad” year?

As believers, we are often tested and face temptations daily. Sometimes they seem to come in like floods, which seem unstoppable and impossible to overcome. We need to be aware that the enemy of our souls makes it his cause to get us to sin and fall and lose our way or ultimately give up on our faith.  But more importantly, we need to realize that the God we serve is keenly aware of our many flaws and weaknesses.  He knows how much we can endure or to what point we can bear these bad circumstances.  What we need to recognize is that nothing happens in a believer’s life that is not ultimately meant for our good. Think about it. Those “bad” circumstances you lament and carry on about are meant for your good!  If God allows those times of trial and testing, it’s because He wants to see what you’re truly made of. Our trials are meant as a refining process in our lives so they will expose the weaknesses in you that need to be strengthened.  God says in His Word in Zechariah 13:9a (CEV),

“Then I will purify them and put them to the test, just as silver and gold are purified and tested.” 

One of the ultimate paradoxes in Scripture is found in the book of James, Chap. 1, vs. 2-4. It says,

“Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 

Joy is defined in the dictionary as “an emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.”  One would never think to associate the word “joy” with trials or testing which by their very meaning imply affliction or suffering. God Word’s provides the answers to every difficult moment in life by resolutely telling us that although

“we are hard pressed on every side (we are) not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4, vs. 8, 9 (NIV))

My Ma lasted at the sub-acute rehab less than two weeks. As soon as she arrived, we quickly realized that we had been deceived. The place was nothing more than a nice-looking nursing home. The “medical” facilities were non-existent, and the medical staff consisted of nursing assistants who didn’t even know what a cannula was. We warned them of Ma’s tendency to try and remove her cannula and they refused to put the gloves on her. In those two weeks, my mother suffered two falls, one of which left her painfully bruised and badly hurt and another day, she was taken to the emergency room because she took out her cannula and almost suffocated. Thankfully my sister was there and called 911 just in time. They wouldn’t allow us to stay with her even though she had her own room and so no one was there the night she removed her cannula again. This time no one realized it until it was too late. My Ma died of asphyxiation in the early morning of June 25th, 2005. She passed on her eldest grandson, Jordan’s 17th birthday.

Our entire family was now in mourning. Losing a loved one is probably the most difficult trial, humanly speaking, that a person can go through, but I believe with all my heart that God gave my family and me an opportunity to say goodbye to our matriarch. He gave us three extra months in fact, and I’m so grateful for that.  One thing that amazed me through those first few days of funeral preparations was that God’s Word, which is chock full of wonderful promises, takes on even deeper meaning when you’re in the midst of a trial such as this.  The Lord would bring to mind verses like Psalm 116:15, which says,

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” 

Or 2 Corinthians 5:8, where Paul says that,

“to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” 

There are just so many marvelous and encouraging verses in Scripture that bring us through this difficult process, and it certainly did that for me.

After Ma’s death, I spent some time doing all the things one does when you lose a loved one.  Then a new school year began, and I decided to start seeking employment just to keep myself busy.  I didn’t want to spend my time thinking about Ma’s death.  I wanted to see it as a home going.  She went to heaven because God wanted her home. I began anticipating that wonderful heavenly reunion that is so certain for the believer.  The sadness would seek to overwhelm me at times because the reality was and is that I missed her terribly but it often dissipated with the joyful realization that Mami was with the Lord.  She’s now in that awesome place described in Revelation 21, where it says, there’s no more death or mourning or crying or pain.  Mami was no longer suffering, and that made me glad.  How could I feel otherwise? It’s not to say that sadness doesn’t come. Grief happens and it comes in waves, but during that period, for me, reflecting on Heaven provided the solace I sorely needed.

Six more months passed and at first, I had a couple of good job prospects but one fell through and the other I declined it because I didn’t feel it was the right fit for me.  At the time, I could afford to wait.  I was collecting separation pay until mid-May of the following year.  I thought I had plenty of time to find another position.  After all, everyone told me how great my resume was and that I shouldn’t have a problem finding another job.  But unbeknownst to me, God had other plans, and there a new phase of my trial began in earnest.

In January of 2006, I decided as if awakened from a slumber that I should be taking advantage of my forced time off and give more of that time to the Lord.  Although I had begun praying more and was developing more of a discipline in this area, I still wasn’t where I needed to be which was consistent.  I would drop my son off at school, come home and begin to pray and pray.  I began reading the Bible more earnestly, and as I read Scripture, I began writing down the Bible promises that were encouraging to me.  I decided to begin keeping a journal, but it was mostly Bible verses at first and I began recording anything I would read or hear that I felt applied to me and my experience.

I would read Hebrews 12:11 which reads,

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful.  Later, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it”, 

What serenity those words would bring to my heart!  I knew that eventually, no matter how long God took in this process I would come forth as gold with experiences that were shaping me to be what God wanted me to be.  My faith was building.  My confidence was growing.  My trust was developing.  I was learning patience. I was learning to wait on the Lord.

The months passed and still no job offers.  By this time, I had submitted over 100 applications and resumes to all different types of employers.  The silence was deafening.  The stillness was disquieting.  I had to pray.  I needed Him to provide that calm, that firm assurance that in due course everything was going to be alright.

Mid-May arrived and my separation pay ended.  Now began the real test of faith and learning how to trust God completely.  I spent May, June, and July seeking His direction and would find just enough of the funds I needed to pay the essential bills although the only salary was my husband’s which wasn’t much but God was faithful.  I used up my 401k and borrowed from friends and family to see us through those months.  In mid-August, I found myself in the same dilemma and still no job on the horizon.  I needed $1,700 to meet my rent and other important bills of the month and so I began to believe God for a miracle.

On August 20th at 3:54 pm I wrote in my journal the following words, I’ve asked the Lord to supply our need for the bills this month…by faith this prayer will be answered days before September 1st.” and I highlighted those words.  That night, a former Pastor who was a dentist and owned a clinic called and asked if I would work for him a couple of weeks to cover for his vacationing receptionist.  I knew God was beginning to answer my prayer.  I worked for him nine days, and he paid me $1,100.  On Friday, September 1st I attended a weekend retreat with the Preteen ministry at our church, and I remember saying, “Lord, I am not taking the burden of the additional money we need with me.  You provided the $1,100, and I know without a doubt You will provide the rest.”  It was just a matter of time.  I went on the retreat and was truly blessed.

The Monday after the retreat which was Labor Day I got a call from one of my sisters.  At the time, she lived on a fixed income so I had not asked her for anything thinking she would not be able to give me anything but she wanted to help.  I don’t even remember telling her about it. I told her not to worry, but she said to me, “No, no matter what I’m going to find a way to get you that money you need.”  By Thursday of that week, she had deposited the balance in my checking account, and my need was met.  Praise be to God!

That same week, I got a call about two jobs and interviewed for both.  The first job was not to my liking, but the other seemed perfect.  I noticed right away how God had changed me.  When I came before the Lord about the job, I said, “Lord, not my will but yours be done.”  No matter how wonderful it looked, I wanted God’s perfect will and would settle for nothing less.   I got the job I so desired, and I knew it was God’s will for me at the time. It’s not about the money.  I wasn’t going to make as much as I used to.  It’s never about what I think is perfect for me.  It’s about what He wants and this new job, at the time, was what He wanted for me.  I looked forward to fulfilling His purpose in my new workplace, and I thanked Him every day for the opportunity to be a light in the midst of the darkness.

I know God had stayed His hand in my job situation.  He was not allowing me to move forward in this because He was teaching me life-changing lessons.  He was teaching what it means to live by faith.  He taught me what it means to wait on Him.  He taught me that He IS JEHOVAH JIREH!  He taught me to rely with confidence upon His Word. He showed me that His love and mercy for me are greater than all my sin.

I can’t even begin to put into words how grateful I am to God for the blessing of suffering.  Faith was triumphant, and I’m a new person in Him.  I’m not perfect.  I never will be but I know I’m being perfected in Christ each and every day.  I know now without a doubt that with God all things are possible and that no one person, experience or circumstance will ever change that reality.

I left that job in 2009 and experienced another lean period of unemployment, but again God was faithful, and in due time, I received another job offer that was walking distance from home. There I’ve been privileged to work with a great group of colleagues and I continue to learn and grow as God sees fit to show me His way. I’ve been through so much more, before and after these moments described, and maybe some day I’ll write about those too, but the gist of it is this… God is faithful.  He was and is to me, and so He will be to you. So, if you’re going through a trial in your life right now, my advice to you is, DON’T GIVE UP!  He will see you through all situations you face. He is our Helper in a time of the storm.  He is our Shield and our Deliverer.  That’s a promise.  Remember this…

“Blessed is the man who perseveres (endures) under trial (temptation) because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. “ James 1:12


Jordan Lee

June 25th, 1988 is a day I will never forget. My oldest nephew, and my Ma’s first grandchild or as she used to call him, su “Rey” Jordan Lee Rivera was born on that day. Seventeen years later, on June 25th, 2005, my mother passed away. Yes, June 25th has been a bittersweet date for a long time now. This year though I want it to be about Jordan and how wonderful he is, not only to me but to our entire family and anyone who’s privileged to know him. So, my dear nephew, the following is for you, with much love from Titi.

My most beloved nephew, as I thought about your upcoming 29th birthday and the 12th anniversary of Ma’s passing and what I wanted to do to make it special for you, of course, I couldn’t help but reflect on what we’re missing. I know that this past year has been the most difficult one of your young life. You lost your mom, the woman you loved most, the woman who gave you everything she had even when it was all she had. No one understands what you’ve been through more than me. We’ve both lost and continue to grieve the most important and cherished people in our lives. It’s an enormous ache that we now carry and will do so for a period. The only thing that I can promise you is that with time the pain will ease. What I’ve learned over the past 12 years since Ma passed away is that now my reflections of her bring a smile to my face and peace to my heart. I think how she was so misunderstood at times and had this reputation for being rude and brash, but we were so blessed to know the real Ma. Behind that façade, we knew intimately the loving, generous, kind person she truly was. I think every day how privileged we were to have had her as our matriarch and that there will never be another Ma, but I pray someday to embody the qualities that made her that special person. And so, it’s now just you and me and the kids that comprise this tiny portion of our maternal family, but someday it will grow, and as it does, we will have so many wonderful stories to tell about our Matriarch, about your slam poetiza bis-Abuela, and about your beautiful mother. They are stories that will be shared for generations to come. Death and grief are temporal, but memories are everlasting.

I also thought about that day at Sterling in 1987 when your mom pulled me into the Ladies room to break the news that she was having you and how bittersweet that moment was for both of us. I was over the moon because I was going to be a Titi, but I was scared to death for your mom over Ma’s reaction. Your mom was 25 years old, but she was still her mother’s child, and it made her both thrilled and terrified at the prospect of sharing this news with her. She knew there’d be some disappointment on the part of Ma because Mita was going to be an unwed mother and no matter that your mom had a good job and could take care of you. But as I always said and as I always did until the day she passed, I told your mom I’d support her even if it meant me living with her to help her raise and support you. Thankfully Ma’s anger dissipated quickly, and by the time you were due to be born, she was beside herself at the prospect of finally seeing you and holding you in her arms. I believe that you turned Ma from the bitter woman that she once was to the loving Abuela you got to know. ma jordanHer life changed when you were born on that Saturday 29 years ago. I still remember vividly how happy she was and how she jumped up and down with excitement when your dad came down in his hospital gown to announce you had arrived. It was comical, it was exhilarating, it was a nirvana moment because you changed all our lives for the better.

Lastly, I think about how proud you’ve made us all. You’ve been through so much but havemita jordan always been an encouragement to others. You’ve never given up on your dreams. You’ve pushed through every obstacle that’s come your way. You’ve turned problems into solutions, and you’re so much like Ma in that regard. Your biggest cheerleader was Mita because she always said you made her proud regardless. She loved you from the moment she knew you were coming and lived her life loving on you. I know sometimes it was to the point of annoyance, but you couldn’t do without it. mita and jordan2I’m not your Ma, I’m your Titi, but I want you to know that these past 29 years have also been the best of my life. You’ve brought us all, me and our entire family, so much joy. I can’t even articulate how much we all love and care about you. I know you know that without a doubt. I/We will always be here for you, my darling nephew and I’m so thankful that you have this fantastic relationship with your cousins who all love and admire and respect you tremendously. No matter what happens in life, know that your family will always be here for you.

me jordanSo, on June 25th, I want to wish you the happiest of birthdays. May it be filled with an abundance of joy, peace, and blessings and may all your dreams come true. I have no doubt that they will. Thank you for the blessing that you are. Love, hugs, and kisses xoxoxo – Titi Margie.

Father’s Day

Anyone that knows me well enough is aware that discussing my biological father can be a touchy subject. I honestly don’t want this post to be about that and I’ll explain it with an adage, a good one I might add, that I heard a lot from him growing up, “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all”. Suffice to say that I’ve yet to find a Hallmark card apropos for my father. That said, as far as I’m concerned in terms of our relationship now, I think we’re good. This despite the fact that he seems to think otherwise. We haven’t seen each other or spoken to one another in almost a year, since my sister’s passing, but that’s not unusual. Those moments of non-communication have been far more common than rare over the years. What I’d like this post to be about is the other fathers I’ve met in my lifetime who I’ve learned to love and appreciate. I’d like it to be about men who’ve shown me what true fatherhood is all about.

In 1979, I met a great family. There were seven of them, two parents and four children living at home when I met them, the oldest daughter having married and started her own family. The patriarch of this family was my first Pastor, Luis Efrain Rodriguez. What can I say about Pastor Rodriguez? In my eyes he personified fatherhood at a time when I idealized the role but hadn’t experienced it for myself, and boy, he didn’t disappoint.

A city bus driver, Pastor Rodriguez rose every work day before the crack of dawn to go out and make his daily bread. He has a daughter my age and she and I became fast friends so I remember being invited to stay over their house a couple of times. I remember seeing Pastor Efrain come home from work in the mid-afternoon after putting in a long day of driving. He’d walk in with a smile for his lovely wife, Mercedes and their children. She’d rubbed his tired shoulders while he put up his feet on a kitchen chair and eat a snack. As I sat there and witnessed that scene, inside I’d smile. Why? Because I saw something I’d rarely seen up to that point in my existence. A man who loved and respected his spouse, who adored his children and truly enjoyed his interactions with his family. A man who’s always been there for his family. A spiritual leader who’s modeled a life of service to others. He was their provider and always demonstrated to them an amazing work ethic and discipline. He continues to be a model of piety, and a pillar of strength for his children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. Pretty sure, he’s stern when he must be, but above all, he knew back then and he knows now how to love, not only his family but everyone.  This is a man who knows how to be a father. It’s something that’s left a deep and abiding impression on me. Along with his children, I hold this wonderful man in high esteem and consider it a privilege to have met and known him. He’s a man who truly embodies qualities I’ve always sought in a father. Pastor Rodriguez, you hold a special place in my heart and I will always love and respect you as a man of God and one of the special fathers in my life.

After a time, Pastor Rodriguez left to pastor another congregation and I met another man of God who became like a father to me. His name is Pastor Jesus Medero and when I met him, he was just starting his ministry along with his wife, Gloria and their daughter, Mitzi. My mom and Gloria had met and worked together way back in the 1950s so there was a cherished history between them and when I was 18 years old, my mom sent me on a road trip with them to the Southwest. I barely knew them at the time, but the three weeks I spent with them on that trip helped nurture a very strong and loving relationship that continues to this day. In the few years, I spent in Pastor Medero’s church, he provided me with a model of piety, strong leadership and tons of prayerful guidance. He helped me tremendously as I was developing the Youth ministry there and put an enormous amount of trust and confidence in me, which I will never forget. He let me lead and disciple the teens and placed no barriers or obstacles in my way. When I made mistakes, he disciplined and corrected me with love. He treated me like a daughter, our family like his family.  When Pastor Medero and his family moved to Florida to continue their ministry there, I was sad to see them go, but he left an indelible mark in my life and continues to hold a special place in my heart. Pastor Medero, you are like a father to me and I will always cherish you.

When I got married, I received a gift. This gift is my father-in-law, Rolando Jimenez Sr. First, I’d like to say that he’s not a monster-in-law, as a matter of fact, he’s the complete opposite. He’s a loving, committed, responsible family man who always puts his family first. One thing I’ve learned from being married to an immigrant is that they make great sacrifices to come to the United States. Even before he came to the U.S.A., Rolando had spent his life finding ways to take care of his wife and eight children, including traveling overseas as a Merchant Marine to provide for them. He did what he had to do to ensure he took care of his family. He applied for and waited a long time for a visa to come and live in the United States to work his older years as a janitor so he could send money back to Honduras. Even with his children and grandchildren grown, he’s always providing for them. His priority is his family. I got to see that firsthand when he lived with us in New York City. He’s a big bear of a man with an even bigger heart. He’s got the best belly laugh and I always got a kick out of hearing him laugh as he watched his favorite show, “El Chapulin Colorado.” He’s the best cook and always wanted to cook for us when he was here. He didn’t have to, we didn’t ask him to, but he always wanted to and it was the best gift ever. He makes the best tamales. Despite a language barrier, my children and their grandfather possess a deep and abiding love between them because he showed them that he loves and cares for them. His actions speak louder than words. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a treasure and I’m grateful that his family here and in Honduras has shared him with me. Don Rolando, sois un especial tesoro en mi corazón. Siempre agradeceré el haberle conocido y le amo mucho.

Lastly, I want to say that God has blessed me and my children with the man who owns our heart and has been there every step of the way for his children. My husband, Rony, is not perfect, but then again, none of the men I’ve described here are. I’m sure they all learned how to be the great dads they are as they went along, but they all have one thing in common and that’s love. I’ve been blessed to witness this for myself the past 24 years. I longed for my children to have what I never had, which was a stable home and God granted me that desire with Rony. He’s been a model of piety and devotion to God, a man who prays for his children day in and day out. He’s always displayed an amazing work ethic in providing for our family. He’s affectionate, kind and even-tempered and a disciplinarian when he’s needed to be (just ask our daughter). Above all, I’m grateful that he’s been here and will always be here. His children know that he will always be there for them no matter what and that’s the best gift. I know someday he’ll make a wonderful grandfather and leave a legacy of love for our generations to come. Rony, de parte de mí, Rebekah, y Jeremy, te deseamos un día de Padres muy feliz y bendecido.

To all the Fathers out there in blogland who’ve really taken your roles as dads to heart, I salute you and encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing. Continue being examples of love, nurturing, and stability for your families because those actions will always inspire and you’ll become models for your future generations.  To all of you I wish deeply and sincerely a Happy Father’s Day! ¡Feliz Dia de los Padres!

Happy Birthday in Heaven

“Interminable is the anguish of grief,                                                                                       

lasting is the sorrow                                                                                                                

and solace…oh, so fleeting.”

We were Irish twins my sister and I. That’s a term that used for siblings born within a year of each other and my sister and I were born just eleven months apart. I arrived in July of ’62, and my sister Norma came along in June of ’63. We called her Normita or Mita because she was Mami’s namesake. As her birthday and the first anniversary of her passing approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about her, and these remembrances are bittersweet. I think we sometimes don’t appreciate our siblings until we’re either all grown up or until they leave us unexpectedly as my sister did. That’s when we realize how special and precious it is, it was, to have had them in our lives. Who else, as we say in Spanish, “te podia sacar de quicio”  (riled you up) and at the same time loved on, and defended you with the same intensity?

kidsAlthough Normita and I didn’t look alike, because we were so close in age my mom dressed us alike those first few years. Everywhere we went, we wore the same outfits. It was cute, and it got us a lot of attention, although mainly I think it was because Mita was so darn cute. It was one birthday party each year for the both of us because Ma was frugal and smart. And for Christmas, she always bought two of the same toys. This way, Ma reasoned, it prevented the dreaded fights over which toys were better. That worked until one year when she tried to buy us each a Crissy doll. That doll was all the rage back in the late 60s with her pretty features and long adjustable hair, and we cajoled Ma for one for months. She finally caved and went to buy the dolls, but unfortunately, the store didn’t have two of the same in stock, so Ma ended up buying one Crissy and one Tara and decided to let us choose which one we wanted. Shamefully, we both fought over the Crissy doll, and I don’t remember who won that battle. That skirmish was won, but ultimately the war was lost because Crissy suffered the consequence. At some point, her long adjustable hair was cut off out of spite. Chopped right off at the nub with a kitchen shear. Poor Crissy!

Mita and I were as close as siblings could be, but we also engaged in some doozy knock-down drag-out fights as we got older. Funny how I don’t remember what those fights were about now, but I do recall them being intense. We’d fight but also try hard to restrain ourselves because we never wanted to hurt each other seriously. Naturally, we loved each other, but when we fought it was about venting the anger in one way or another. There was a lot of pushing, hair pulling and one-sided swearing. Not from me. My insults were pretty lame, usually about her weight (a sensitive subject, shame on me). I kept mine profanity-free, but Mita could shell it out when she was mad. I never took her words to heart though, because I knew she didn’t mean the things she said in anger.  That last time we fought I remember clearly. We went at it so hard that we bent Mami’s curtain rod and broke a leg on her favorite green pleather chair. Fear of Ma’s wrath stopped the fight instantly as Mita and I worked frantically to fix the crooked curtain rod, and find something to right the chair, but yeah, we didn’t fool Ma and boy, did she let us have it!

As Mita and I grew older, we learned to talk out our differences instead of attacking each other. Although we still fought at times, we were also each other’s biggest defenders. Whatever problems we had as a family, well, those were our problems, so we both took issue with those who wanted to get involved in what was none of their business. Metiches (busybodies) were not welcomed.  And forget about trying to start a beef with me ’cause then you had to contend with Mita, and no one was a bigger defender of mine than my little sister. Once, in middle school, I made the mistake of lamenting to her about my supposed friend, Louise who had dropped me like a hot potato after a few short weeks of friendship.  A few days later I hear a commotion outside of vocal music class, and when I go to check it out, I see my sister, wagging her finger up at a terrified Louise. I was mortified! The poor girl was being scolded by a 5’1” tiny terror and the fright in her face was real because of course Norma wasn’t alone.  She had her middle school crew with her, and one of them was Big Joanne. I think you can surmise by the name that no one messed with Big Joanne.

While we were growing up, our home was a hotbed of familial dysfunction as my mom and dad didn’t get along, to put it mildly. The few times my dad was actually in the house, it seemed as though anger and bitterness seethed in our home with an undercurrent of intense hostility. We walked on eggshells most of the time, trying not to be that person to set my mother off. I understood as an adult the whys of all that, but as children and then adolescents, my sister and I lived in a state of constant stress, and it was a painful and emotionally wrenching time in our lives. For my sister, it exacerbated her feelings of rejection. At times, she expressed how she felt unloved and unwanted by both my parents, but especially my father.  My father’s story is a whole other thing that I won’t go into here, but suffice to say the repercussions of his actions have lasted a lifetime and my sister, I believed suffered them the most. All she ever longed for was love and affection, and it came to her fleetingly, although she poured it out in abundance.

mitaNorma also struggled with her weight, and despite being stunning because she was a beauty, inside and out, she lacked self-confidence. Depression became the story of her life, and it latched on, acutely and chronically. It just never let go. For anyone who has ever dealt with loved ones in the throes of depression, it is a pernicious and persistent battle that makes those of us who are on the outside looking in feel helpless and useless.  I was her older sister, and I wanted to protect her, but at times I just didn’t know how to do that. All I could do was pray and be there for her when she needed me.

jerryNormita was with her husband for over 30 years. My mom used to call him, “su adorado tormento” (her adoring torment) because truthfully, their relationship was tumultuous and dysfunctional at times. They separated at points, but always got back together, because she loved him immensely. She stuck by him through thick and thin even when others told her not to and showed him what unconditional love was. I know he knows that because he loved her too and I feel his pain at having lost his one true love.

jordanNorma loved her husband, but I know for a fact that her greatest love was her son. She considered Jordan her miracle because the doctors had told her that her chances of conceiving were slim due to a surgery she had in the early 80s. When he came along, he sparked life and relevance back into her being. She found her purpose, and it was to be his mom. Those of us who are mothers know what that’s about. It’s hard to articulate the love a mother has for her children because it’s an unconditional, all-encompassing, and transcendent experience. That’s what it was for Mita. She loved being Jordan’s mom. It gave her joy to see him grow up and become a responsible adult. She bragged on her boy and was proud of the man he became. There was no closer bond. Now that she’s gone, I feel a great sense of responsibility towards my nephew. It is through recollections like these that I seek to keep hermita and jordan2 memory alive.

siblingsI have so much more amazing and poignant stories I could tell about my sister, but I’ll save those for another time. What this post was for was to offer a glimpse of the wonderful person Normita was. In spite of her insecurities, her flaws, her times of woe, she also embodied enormous love. Ask our family. Ask our friends. When she loved, she loved fiercely, and you had a true friend for life. And she encouraged others, even when she was in the midst of discouragement. She loved the Lord, and always talked to others about Him. I was so encouraged to hear her friends in Florida tell me what an amazing and beloved person she was and how she would share her hope in God with them. She was a huge blessing in all our lives, and I’m thankful for the privilege we – my sister Carmen, my brother, Louie and I had to have been her siblings.

So all of this is bittersweet because as I smile through the recollections of our time together,  I’m also tremendously sad that this June 5th on what would have been Normita’s 54th birthday, I won’t be able to pick up the phone and call her to wish her a happy one. I’m sad that just a month later we’ll have to reflect that a year has passed since she died unexpectedly. I’m sad that someday Jordan will marry and have children and they won’t get to meet their grandmother. The only thing I can promise is that they and others will know all about her because as a family, we will always strive to keep her memory alive. Norma may not be here physically anymore, but she’ll always remain in our hearts so happy birthday in Heaven, my beautiful Mita. We love you, and we’ll see you on the flip side.


P.S. I don’t want to end this without saying that towards the end my sister and my father rekindled their relationship. It was a brief time where I saw a wish fulfilled for her and it gave her great joy to have her dad in her life. For that I’m thankful. 

Unwelcome Seasons

Mother’s Day was different this year. Since the passing of my Ma and Grandma, the holiday has become more solemn for me, but this year, well, even more so. This was the first Mother’s Day without my sister, Norma and as the first anniversary of her passing approaches, the grief that I’ve been trying to reign in all year has been threatening to break through like a dam about to burst. At times, it feels like it’s only sheer will and determination that staves it off, but sometimes I ask myself, why? Why don’t I just allow myself to go through the grieving process? I think it’s because it hurts a lot and I hate pain. I hate the anguish that accompanies it. It’s raw, profound and one of those woeful things you just don’t want to confront, at least not willingly. 

This semester I took a nonfiction writing workshop class. It was both scary and exhilarating. It was scary because I knew that what I was going to write was going to be read and critiqued and well, I’m a sensitive sort. At the same time, it was exciting to finally be able to share a piece that I wrote and receive constructive feedback from a body of writing peers. The following is the first piece I shared and appropriately enough it’s about grief. I wanted to share this as my second post because writing is a part of my cathartic process. 


Death sucks. I mean it really sucks. I get that death is a fact of life and that we are all meant to depart this mortal plane at one point in time or another, but doesn’t it seem like our loved ones leave us at the most inopportune times?  It doesn’t matter if your loved one was sick and dying or dancing the jitterbug the day before, you’re never really ready for them to go. There’s no death knell that announces the demise of your loved one is imminent. And even when you think you’ve been forewarned, because, let’s say, your family member is terminally ill; it’s not the same as being prepared for what’s about to happen. You’re just never really ready. Even those of us, who see ourselves as eternal optimists, who choose to hold on to hope even when there’s just a modicum of it left, find out rather quickly that the painful reality is that none of us can stave off the grim reaper.

A few months ago, my cousin informed me that my Titi who had been critically ill seemed to be stabilizing. I hoped that meant she was on the road to recovery, so I was hoping to visit her at the hospital. A couple of days later, I was at the movies with my son when another cousin called to tell me my aunt had passed away. Just like that my Titi Mercedes was gone and just like that another tragic moment occurred in what has been a series of tragic moments in my life. Because I promised my son a movie that day, we stayed to watch it. I’m glad we did because I let it carry me away to a place where I wouldn’t have to think about this death and its consequence until I had to. Once again, the question is – who is ever actually prepared to confront the specter of death, its aftermath and yet remain undaunted?

That aftermath is grief. Grief is death’s constant and loathsome companion. It acts like that hateful, unwanted visitor lingering perniciously after the funeral ritual is said and done, prolonging its stay with intent to provoke you into a state of despondency.  Grief has a mission, and it’s to relentlessly torture you with anguished memories of your loved one and exacerbate feelings of self-regret with interminable reminders that things were left unsaid or unresolved or unforgiven.  It offers no mercy or compassion in its vexing as it ruthlessly attempts to suck its victims into a swirling vortex of misery, pain, and despair.  Grief will afflict and torment until you find yourself in an inescapable morass of profound and wretched woe.

I speak to what I know because I feel like somewhat of an expert on bereavement at this point in my life. At times in the past 12 years, I’ve felt what I’ve just described and more. I’ve lost my mom, my grandmother, my younger sister, and now my aunt. Two of these deaths were somewhat expected, illness and old age being the prime factors, but two were not. I believe that how your loved ones leave this earth impacts how acutely your experience of grief will be and not everyone’s experience with it is the same. I can only truly speak for me and what I can say for sure is that each of these four partings thrust me into intense and unwelcome seasons of my life.

I grew up in a small Puerto Rican family. It was just me, my Ma, my Abuela and my younger sister, Norma, or Normita, as we called her. Ma and Abuela raised us, Ma as the sole provider and Abuela as our primary caretaker and both worked hard to support our family because my father was in and out of our lives. He wasn’t there because he spent most of our childhood and early adolescence cheating on my mom and constantly leaving us in the lurch. Why my Ma put up with the dysfunction and chaos he caused for so many years; I just don’t know. What I do know is that there were, and to this day, continue to be painful and lasting consequences to my father’s actions.

My Ma was a strong-willed and determined individual, who could also be harsh and bitter at times, especially with her children. There were moments where she vented her anger over my father’s actions on us, so our childhood and teen years were turbulent and challenging, to say the least. My sister and I were very scared of our mother growing up. We never knew when she would explode because she seemed perpetually and vehemently angry. We could never do anything right and felt her wrath more times than we could count. When we disobeyed, she wasn’t shy to use the belt on us, but her favored method of punishment was verbal and emotional abuse that she heaped on us time after time and it reaped in both of us deep and long-lasting emotional consequences. Her heated barbs cut into us like knives, cleaving scars imbued with a ton of resentment, bitterness, and anger that we then directed back to her because as adolescents we didn’t understand why she did what she did. We didn’t understand that she wasn’t looking to hurt us consciously. Deep down I knew she loved us, but now, all these years later is when I truly recognize that she was just so angry at my dad and had nowhere else to channel that fury but at us. Had she realized back then that she could have vented her ire in other ways, I’m sure she would have done so. She didn’t, so for a long time, we bore the brunt of her abuse, and it left a profound defect in our souls. It was only after we grew up that we realized that we were just in the way. She wasn’t mad at us. She was furious at my dad, and it was his actions that damaged us all. In my mother’s case, my father’s abuse ultimately affected her physically as well.

My Ma was never one to imbibe, but she did smoke cigarettes for many years, and it was only when it began to affect her health that she stopped. It was a good step forward at the time but the consequences of her many years of smoking were already there. That combined with the stress of being the sole provider most of the time just exacerbated her ailing condition. The last time my father left in 1977, my mother fell gravely ill, and although she recovered somewhat, she was never the same. For the last twenty or so years of her life, Ma got progressively sicker with an array of ailments ranging from acute hypertension to diabetes to more than a few mini strokes. In Mid-March of 2005 when she was 69 years old, Ma collapsed after suffering a brain hemorrhage and on June 25th, 2005, she died of asphyxiation. She was 70 years old. She was very sick but was seemingly also on the road to recovery when she passed away. The prime reason she died was due to negligence on the part of the rehab facility where she was staying. The consequence of her brain injury meant she needed constant vigilance because she’d do involuntary things like trying to pull out her breathing tube. That last night at the rehab that’s exactly what she did and the nursing staff didn’t find her until it was too late. To make matters worse, she died on what was her grandson Jordan’s 17th birthday.

As the oldest sibling in my family, the responsibility of dealing with the aftermath of her passing fell to me. I had to take care of everything, and when I say everything, I mean everything. Until something like this happens to you, you will never know how much work goes into wrapping up what was the life of your deceased loved one. I became the matriarch of our small family by default and had to assume the responsibility for everything, including caring for our 93-year-old Abuela who had just lost her only child. I was also days away from losing my employment after 20 years on the job when all this happened, but that’s another sorry tale that I won’t go into here. Suffice to say I didn’t have time to worry about anything but the responsibility that lay ahead after my mom’s passing. There were a ton of things to do, and no one in the family besides me had the strength or wherewithal to take it all on. So I placed my grief on a shelf, so to speak and got to work. With help and support from family and friends, we buried my Ma on July 2nd, 2005.


Death is a Veil

Death is a veil
It obscures the what was
of a life defined by pain and suffering
difficulties in life remembered now no more

Death is a veil
It filters out the sighs, the regrets,
blotting out the brusque,
obliterating the disappointments,
illuminating the pleasures

Death is a veil
For it helps us now perceive
beyond the physical who was
to the memory of a good, 
beneficent, cherished loved one

Seen now through this veil,
it is their legacy of kindness
that remains forevermore

Rest in peace, dear one...
Rest in peace

I wrote that poem as an assignment for a Creative Writing class that I was taking at NYU in 2008. I believe it captures well how I felt about my mother’s passing and writing it proved to be part of my healing process. Three years had gone by, and I was still dealing with the aftermath of her death. Outwardly I may have looked and felt fine, but inside I was spent. Emotionally, I felt fragile although what everyone saw was me trying to be strong. But being strong takes effort. Granted that my mom wasn’t an easy person to get along with when she was alive, but not having her around was worse.  As I matured, we had become the best of friends. I had begun to understand who she was and had forgiven the past hurts and moved forward with love and compassion for my mother. I spoke to her every day. She took care of my children. She was my rock even as I complained about her because she could be so pessimistic, critical and demanding at times. But she was also intensely loving, kind and generous to a fault. That was a side of my mother few people saw, and yet regretfully it seemed I only focused on her flaws most of the time when she was present. Then she was gone, her passing a major tragic event, and I was left bereft and angry. It took me months to come to terms with how and why she died. All I would think was, “Did my mother suffer as she suffocated to death?” I was angry at the staff at the rehab who didn’t do their job and let her die, and mad at myself that I couldn’t protect her.

Once she passed, I was able to focus on how wonderful my mother truly was and how many lives she had touched. I remembered how she collected clothes for the homeless and invited them to come and eat with us during Thanksgiving dinner. She had no compunctions about helping those in need. I had forgotten those things and writing this poem was a reminder to me and to those who I chose to share it with that once our loved ones are gone we can choose how to remember them. We can choose to forget the bad moments and try and focus on the good. Because what’s the point of dwelling on the past anyway?

My mom’s passing shook us all to the core, but because grief is not a “one type fits all” deal, it also affected us all differently. The first few weeks after Ma died, while I was playing the role of the “strong one” in the family, my heartbroken Abuela was crying a ton of tears. It was distressing to see her in such anguish. My grandmother was tiny, all of  4’9” and I’d sit with her and hold her small hand in mine and just let her weep. I didn’t know what else to do. Then one day the tears suddenly stopped, and it was as if she shut herself off. She went into a catatonic-like state where she was unable or unwilling to do anything but sit on her sofa and stare into space for hours on end. It took some months to bring her out of that experience, but eventually, she came through it, and it happened in the following ways.

Abuela was always a woman of deep faith and believed in the promise of eternal life. She was heavenly-minded, always praying, always reading the Bible and modeling all the best qualities of her Christian faith. In her moments of deepest despair, she knew to call upon the Lord and He would answer. He was her hope, her comfort, her solace and I knew that through her tears, He was hearing her pleas and offering her the consolation she so desperately needed. Another thing that helped her process her grief was to talk about Ma so I invited the ladies of her church to come over and visit with her and the more they came, the more she shared stories about her beloved daughter. The more she anticipated that day she’d see her daughter again. I began to see her coming back to who she was before the tragedy. Lastly, she found solace in her inspirational poetry. A former schoolteacher, my grandmother, was a prolific and I’d say divinely inspired poet who would spend hours on end creating her verses and editing them. All of her poems rhymed and she frequently committed them to memory to recite. Abuela was the original slam poet. Because she was always editing her writing, I made her a binder, filled it with printed copies of her poems and gave her a red pen. I encouraged her to get back at it, and she did for a time, although truth be told she was never really the same. Her health began to deteriorate, and five years after mom died, my grandmother passed too. She died in hospice care.

Abuela’s passing thrust me into grief once again, but this time it felt different. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. I guess I knew that at 98 years of life, she didn’t have long to live anyway. I also knew she just wanted to move on from this life and be reunited with her child.  Abuela would always talk about that place where there are no more tears, no more sorrow, no more pain, and where you reunite with your departed loved ones (Revelation 21:4).  Deep down, I knew Abuela was hanging on to this life because she thought we would suffer her loss too deeply if she left us too soon.  We assured her we’d be fine, and in the twilight hours of Tuesday, July 27th, 2010, the Lord called her home and she passed peacefully into eternity. I was there in that hospice room when the nurse gently tapped me on the shoulder to tell me she was gone. I didn’t see her take her last breath, but I got to kiss her goodbye. I miss her terribly to this day, but there’s a sense of resignation when death occurs in an older adult. It’s easier to accept its finality and so is moving on from the experience of grief. For me, this was a shorter season of sorrow, but a mourning period nonetheless.

Latino families tend to be very close. We are always up in each other’s business, so to speak, but in a good way. When it came to cheering on the significant events that occurred in our family and especially when celebrating our children’s successes, no one was a bigger cheerleader after Ma than my sister, Norma. Of all of us, she took Ma’s death the hardest. Hers was a prolonged season of grief. It seemed to me like she could cry a river of tears for weeks on end. It was profoundly sad to witness, but we rallied around her as a family and worked earnestly to bring her through that dark tunnel she was in. I admit it was a little scary for me to watch her in this process of bereavement because my sister suffered from depression and was so disconsolate for what felt like a long period. But with the passage of time, the deep mourning and anguish of grief abate somewhat, and Norma began to pull through slowly and out of the darkness.

My sister lived in Florida, so she wasn’t physically around to take in all the important family events, but we always tried to loop her in and keep her up to date on what the kids were doing. She was so genuinely proud of all her nieces and nephews. As I mentioned, she took on Ma’s old role as the ultimate family cheerleader, reveling in the news that my son was graduating salutatorian from his high school and had received an offer to attend college on a full ride. It was a given I’d keep her up to date on my son’s accomplishments as he traversed his college journey. We even talked about her coming up for Jeremy’s college graduation in 2020 as she did in 2013 when she flew to Cambridge for our niece, Virginia’s graduation. She was supposed to be here for that significant event. She just was.

This past summer, on June 25th, 2016, eleven years to the day of my mother’s passing and my nephew’s 28th birthday, my son graduated high school. June 25th has become one of those dates that will always carry with it bittersweet memories. But on that particular day, it was super special, and to say my endorphins were at a max would be an understatement. I was still on that high a week later when I got the call from my nephew.

It was mid-morning on Saturday, July 2nd, 2016 and we were sitting down to breakfast. That call is hazy to me now, and I don’t remember exactly how Jordan broke the news because he was crying so hard. What I do remember is putting my fork down and staring at my husband and son in disbelief as my nephew told me through gut-wrenching wails that his mother was gone. My sweet, lovely, generous, kind-hearted, best friend and best sister anyone could ever ask for had died in her sleep.  Norma went to bed the night before and never woke up. Just like that, gone at 53 years old. That moment for me felt like a stab in the heart. I experienced an emotional pain so intense and intolerable that I truly thought my heart would burst. I was in such a state of shock that I couldn’t even cry at first. I just sat there stone-faced for a bit. Once again, I was thrust into another horrible process of grief, and it was wholly unwelcomed. It was something that I didn’t want to experience again so soon, but here it was, and here it still is. It’s now been almost a year since it happened and I still feel that ache. The melancholy comes and goes, and I can feel myself being dragged into a mode of despair at times. I’m really trying to be strong, but at times I do feel broken.

When Ma passed, I went into automatic mode. I delayed and unwittingly prolonged my grief just because I thought I should. To face it was to confront profound anguish and despair, and I wasn’t ready. I used the busy excuse. I told myself that I didn’t have time to indulge emotional distress. Instead of seeking help with my bereavement process, I packed it all away neatly, somewhere deep inside, hoping not to have to think about it, maybe not now or ever. The thing is you do have to face it eventually. It took many months for my buried grief to resurface and the dam holding back the store of tears to finally break. It happened on a day when I was alone sorting and looking through Ma’s old papers and a ton of family pictures.  Healing from grief for me that first time was a slow process, and it wasn’t until three years later, that I was given that assignment to write an elegy for class and there began a process of catharsis for me. Writing helped to heal my broken heart although the truth is you’re never really whole again. A huge part of me is still missing because my mother is irreplaceable. Now with my sister gone, another part of me is gone, and I wonder – how long it will take for me to heal again?

Grief is not something you can tie up with a neat little bow. Even with the passage of time, its remnants remain to be triggered by the banalest of things. That familiar scent of musky perfume your mother loved to wear. The holidays, where you sit at the table and reminisce about how only Abuela knew how to marinate that pork shoulder just right. It happens every time I look at my beautiful daughter whose dark hair and hazel eyes resemble my sister more and more each day, so much so that people always thought she was Norma’s child instead of mine. I dream about them at times. In my dreams, I hug and kiss them. It feels real, and it’s what I long for more than anything, but then I wake up and realize my truth. They’re gone. I can’t hug Ma one more time. I can’t just go and sit and chat with Abuela, who was my confidante and the one person I trusted the most growing up. And I definitely can’t call my sister anymore and just shoot the breeze and be her big sissy. They have all left this earth, and there’s nothing I can do about it.  And that’s why I hate grief. That is why I despise this process of bereavement with all that is in me, and it’s because I can’t do anything about it but confront it.

Now my healing heart is broken anew. In the few months since my sister died, I have tried to approach it differently, but it’s hard. I don’t want to hoard the hurt. I don’t want to deal with it later, but sometimes I just do. At times the pain is still as intense as what I felt on that July morning. It feels overwhelming at times and especially so this past holiday season. I tell myself again and again that it’s okay to cry when triggers hit, but I don’t always heed my reminders. The reality is I know I need to face my grief. It’s how I will begin to heal. And yet, I still feel a deep need to be that source of strength for my nephew Jordan, for my kids, for Norma’s husband, Jerry. I know they rely on me for help. They call me for advice and come to me for guidance. They ask me to pray, and I do even as melancholy, and a looming depression threatens to weigh me down. It’s a daily struggle, but as with all things, the more you go through it, the more you know what to expect and how best to overcome those moments of despair. At least that’s what I’m learning.

My nephew is now in grief therapy, and I’m glad. It’s helping him. My other siblings are dealing with the loss of our sister in their way because it’s a different process for everyone. My sister’s husband, Jerry is doing okay, still adjusting to his new status as a widower. As for me, I go to church, and I pray. I keep busy with work and school, and I write. Above all I do life. I know I’ll get through my sister’s passing eventually. Like I did with my mom. Like I did with my grandmother. Like I’ll do with my aunt. We all must go sometime. Death and its consequence is a fact of life. We are all mortal, and we will all die. It’s what we leave behind that counts. I know that, and I hope that whatever that is, whatever my legacy will be, helps my family cope with my loss. I hope that they will always remember the good things I sought to do and did and focused on what I tried to teach them. But “it is their legacy of kindness that remains forevermore,.” For me that’s the key gift I hope endures for them and generations to come.


Thank you for taking the time to read through this long piece. I hope you didn’t read it with the notion that I’ve given in to my grief because I haven’t. I’m determined to come through it because the idiom holds true, “this too shall pass” and besides like my Abuelita, I hold on to the hope of seeing my family again someday.  Psalm 116:5 

Until next time.


“Odes from a Daughter” – An Introduction

To the universe or anyone even remotely interested in what I have to say, let me introduce myself. My name is Margie, and I am a wife, a mother of two, a proud Latina, a woman of faith and a grateful believer. I work full-time, and go to school part-time, intent on completing a long-desired Bachelor’s degree. If all goes according to plan, after four attempts at college studies, I’ll achieve my goal approximately 42 years after I started. I’m also a bibliophile and logophile, which leads me to how I define myself for this purpose. I am a writer, or at least I aspire to be, and this is my blog.

I know there are tons of blogs out in the blogosphere, and I don’t have any illusions that this one will rise above the rest. I’m also not doing this to seek attention, fortune (although that would be nice), fame (definitely not that) or anything of like manner. If you know me well enough, you know that’s true. I just want a place to write. I need a space to write. So I envision this will be where I can practice and develop my craft and share it with those who care to read my stories.

A college classmate of mine named Trevor Creighton, now a proud grad of the Class of 2017, said the following in one of his nonfiction workshop pieces – “Stories can do anything we want, but do the littlest of all when they remain imprisoned in our memories.” This profound statement is more than just a truism. It speaks volumes to me, as I hope it will to my fellow writers. Until we put our thoughts and ideas down on paper, or as I’m doing here, sharing in electronic form, they remain just quiet thoughts and silent notions. What we have to say today may be what others need to hear tomorrow. Perhaps our words are profound enough to reach into a soul, affect a being, transform a life, guide others on a path or just impart knowledge and or entertain. Who knows what power our words may possess or what good they can do, but we won’t know if we keep them locked inside.

When I started my writing journey many years and a former college experience-ago, I didn’t know what I wanted to write. I didn’t know which genre was mine. I love fiction, and I read a lot of it, but I’m not that imaginative. I tried my hand at writing fantasy (my favorite fiction genre) but found I’m not good at making things up and hence only produced a handful of half-finished pieces (sorry Farhad). I’ve dabbled in poetry, which I enjoy and love, but it’s hard to do. Mad props to all the skilled poets out there. Then I remembered what one of my Creative Writing professors once said, which was, “write what you know.” It wasn’t until this past semester when I took my first nonfiction writing workshop that I finally discovered what that meant. What I know are my true-life experiences and yes, I can pull a lot of material from those. Of course, I don’t claim to say that my experiences are greater or any more profound than anyone else’s, but they are uniquely mine, and in sharing them, both good and bad, maybe, I can affect and or inspire others.

I want to major in literary nonfiction writing and learn as much as I can about writing the truth. I want to develop skills that I can use both in my professional life and in my personal one. My ultimate objective as a writer is to create a tome of familial stories that I can leave as a legacy for my children and our future generations. Even if no one else cares to read them, I want our present and future kin to know that our family overcame many struggles. We dealt with a lot of dysfunction, experienced great loss, hurt and pain, and yes, sometimes we fell into despair, but we also found joy, experienced healing, received an abundance of blessings and knew and know how to love immensely. I decided to call this blog “Odes from a Daughter” because my story begins with my mother and grandmother, both now deceased. They were my heroes, women who showed enormous fortitude in life and were great examples to me and many others. I didn’t fully appreciate that about them until they passed away, but that’s not unusual, sad to say.

I’ve learned and am learning many lessons as I traverse life’s journey and perhaps I’ll share some of those. In the past few years, I’ve also gone through unwelcomed seasons of grief, one of which I’m in right now. I definitely have a piece I’d like to share about that. Even as I write this, I don’t have a clear plan of what I should write or how often to post a piece, but what I aim to do is write, so write I will.

I’ll end this post here with a poem I wrote that sums up what writing continues to do for me. Maybe you’ll relate. Until next time…


Cleansing of emotions,
years of burden bearing
need to find release,
from hurt and pain
rooted deep inside.
Scars of affliction,
buried, repressed
remain covered, untouched,
seemingly forever.
Deliberately unmentioned,
loathed to discuss
feelings are hidden away,
I’m trying to forget.
Emancipation –
through a flow of words.
Healing through words that touch.
Potent words that unleash
torrents of emotions.