Yesterday was a heck of a day.
After having learned that Jose Luis had passed away, I was invited by Irvin to come view his body and say goodbye. I had immediately said yes, that I would go – and then spent most of the morning getting myself ready to do that.
“In front of the restaurant where we had met,” he told. me. I knew just the place.
It was also in front of the house that Jose Luis and his family own, the one where he and his wife had been spending the days recently because it was easier to tutor their granddaughter from there than if they stayed at the ranch, the big house close to my piece of land. His wife had explained this to me while we were at the notary’s office and then said that they were going back and forth between the two houses (she had used a Spanish idiom having to do with the paws of a dog) each day, sleeping at the ranch at night, but that in a few weeks they would just return to the ranch and stay there and enjoy it. Having been invited to the big house a couple of weeks ago, I could see how they would want to spend all their time there.
Their house in town is also where the grandpa lives. Jose Luis’ dad who will turn 100 next September.
I was a little intimidated. I had heard of the days-long viewings and the gatherings to honor the person who passed. I had walked past a couple of them in the last year and they seemed to me to be a blend of deeply intimate and yet full of community. Tables with gifts, food, people praying, talking. And the casket. I felt that I would be out of place there, having so recently met the family. What would I wear? What would I bring? What would I say?
A quick Google search confirmed that bringing a gift was a good idea. But what gift? How easy it could be to bring the wrong gift.
I looked around my home and decided to bring one of my heart paintings, hoping it would be okay. I looked through my stock and was guided to one. I got it ready to go and then found a way to stall for a couple more hours.
I needed to bring Jorge some money, make plans to meet later at the land with the excavator. I had to send some emails.
I was squirming.
Finally, I got in the car and made my way there, to what I thought would be a blocked street with many people I did not know. I was likely to be the only white person.
I parked, walked over to the street, the restaurant, the house … and there was nothing going on.
No canopy, no food, no people, nothing. The only indication that this was no ordinary day was the two flower arrangements leaning against one of the doors.
I was relieved. And then I was confused and then I was sad.
Where was everyone? Did I really miss this?
Not understanding what was happening – and not happening – I poked my head into the restaurant (the oldest one in the village), thinking maybe that was where the gathering was. Nothing. So I decided to quietly leave the heart painting on a table that was outside the house, next to what looked like an unplugged coffee pot, and leave.
I made it three steps towards my car and turned around, picking up the heart.
The other door to the house was opened and I had glimpsed a woman sitting in a living room in front of the TV. The same living room where they had brought me to meet the grandpa, a couple of weeks ago, as we had talked about me painting him as part of my “People of the Village” series.
I stood outside the door, watching her watch TV in this strangely quiet house until she looked up at me.
“Is Irvin here?” I asked. She shook her head. Then, not sure what to say, I added: “I am here to see Jose Luis.” As soon as I said it, it felt weird. But in a way, I WAS here to see Jose Luis. To say goodbye. To say thank you, too.
“He died,” she told me as though these were the only words she could speak. “I know,” was my reply and along with that, I gave myself permission to walk into the house, our eyes connecting.
“They are all on their way to the ranch. Then to the cemetery. He is my brother,” she told me, her words barely using her breathe to carry them.
My heart cracked as I tried to make sense of this moment. Her brother. Everyone at the ranch. Her, watching TV.
Then I realized that most likely she was not alone. The older gentleman was sleeping and someone had had to stay with him.
I brought a gift, I said, handing her my small painting. Something I made.
She took it, looked at it. “I will give it to his wife when they return.”
That’s when I knew that the heart was never meant to be on a table filled with other gifts, nor alone by a coffee pot. Nor for anyone but her, at this very moment. “No, it’s for you,” I told her. She looked at it again, then turned it towards her, the painted part facing her body, and clutched it, heart to heart. And then she cried, wiping her tears as fast as they came as though it was not what she was supposed to do, today. As though her job was to hold down the fort. Watch TV. Wait.
We talked a bit more, she explained to me the diabetic surge that took her brother’s life, also that he wanted to be cremated. I felt that she had feelings about that decision. I didn’t know whether I should sit with her and wait or whether I should go. I decided to go and I am not sure it was the right decision.
Before I left she asked me my name and I forgot to ask her hers.
Stepping out into the sunshine felt weird.
An hour later I met Jorge and two of his helpers at the land as we were supposed to start digging. Passing the third river, I could see many, many trucks parked on the side of the road, in the dirt, everywhere. People were coming in and out of the big house, visiting Jose Luis and his family.
Jorge and his crew were sitting in the shade under a tree and told me that I had just missed the funeral procession, that someone had driven him through his land, one last time. I could not catch up. I still saw him right here a few days ago, holding that measuring tape and hammer. I wanted to go up to the house but I had not been invited and so I too stayed under the tree, waiting for the excavator to show up, feeling heavy and full of something I could not name. Sad that I had missed the procession, trusting that it was perfect.
Then the knowing.
I knew today was not the day to start building, not the day to make noise, not the day to make holes in this dirt.
Today was the day to be here, to be quiet, to feel it all. To watch the big house from afar. To send gratitude.
But we had a crew ready to work and I wasn’t about to cancel their plans.
When the excavator gentleman called to say that his machine blew a hose and that we would have to postpone the digging till tomorrow, I nodded and remembered that we are always guided.