“Death doesn’t break the connection to someone you love; the believer’s mind does.”

– Katie


My downstairs neighbor’s son died a while ago. I immediately went just to hug her and see if I could do anything. Then I took her a couple of sweets from the bakery, Viennese pastry, and a container of vegetable soup I had made. Sorrow wants for sugar and something warm and comforting like soup.

I did not know her son, had never met him. At that time I had lived here for 6 years and  I had seen her daughter every year, but never her son. My neighbor doesn’t go away very much either, so I don’t think she visited often. I don’t know if they spoke by phone. Another neighbor who is also her friend told me that she didn’t speak to her other son at all, or perhaps that he doesn’t speak to her: they had a falling out.

After taking her soup for two days, I gave it a rest. Then, a few days later, on coming back from my walk with Salomé, I decided to stop by and see how she was doing. She looked worse than a week before, when the news was fresh. I could see the suffering was weighing her down. Gently I suggested it might be good to start doing something, begin getting back to her routine. “After all,” I said, “it isn’t as if you saw him every day.”

She shook her head: “It is not even his death,” she said, “but the fact that it could have been avoided if they had done what they should have done; it was negligence; that is what keeps running over and over through my head.”

I couldn’t say what jumped to the tip of my tongue (“Is that true? They could have done it differently, is that true?”), but instead I mumbled some platitude like ‘Maybe he would have suffered more if he hadn’t died,’ that she fortunately ignored. But I could see how her mind had reached out, instinctively, for anger as a defense against the pain of loss, and how it was precisely that anger that, ironically, kept her going back over and over again to what she considered his ‘unnecessary’ death. Her mind killed him over and over again, as it contemplated the possibility that he might not have died if he had received the adequate treatment. It was a catch 22.

That same evening, when I came home I read the above quote from Byron Katie. How true: our loved ones only die once, and then we kill them over and over again in our minds. If we believe that death separates them from us, we will push them away when their memory comes, remembering the only thing we keep of them: their death. We won’t let them ever live again, shutting ourselves down to their visits and to the love we could still keep feeling for them until the day we join them. As we believe that their death is painful, when the thought of them comes, instead of feeling the love we always felt when we thought of them, we feel the pain of their supposed separation, and we push them away.

So far the deaths I have lived through have been the normal ones we all face: grandparents, parents; never a child or grandchild. When my husband of 30 years died, we had already been separated for 20. When I received the message from my daughter with the news I was at a retreat in California. I read the words, simple words: My father died today, it said, and a strange thing began to happen. A weird and horrifying howl emerged from deep inside, from somewhere below my stomach, down in the abdomen and came out of my mouth. My eyes weren’t crying, there was no pain in my heart, no conscious sorrow, but it was as if an animal were trying to escape from within emitting the most horrid sounds. My two roommates come over immediately, but I gestured to them that I was all right, not to worry, and continued to produce the inhuman wails that had nothing to do with me and that were like nothing I had ever experienced before.

After about ten minutes, the animal inside me quieted down and I began to breathe normally again. I thanked my roommates for their patience and understanding, and simply said that what had come out didn’t seem to have much to do with me. The following day I was very quiet, filled with love as if the presence of the father of my children were there with me. I didn’t feel sad; I felt no need to cry. I was grateful for what we had shared and grateful that he had been released from the cancer that was claiming his body. He was closer to me in that moment than in any previous moment since our divorce. What the animal inside was and why it had to bring out all those strange sounds, even today I have no idea.

I don’t often get visits from my ex-husband or my grandmother or even my father, but my mother, who died in 2007, is with me constantly and I love her so much and am so grateful for her company.

At the time when my neighbor lost her son, I remember wishing there were something more I could do, and finding nothing else I simply continued to take her sweets and soup until she began to heal in her own way.



(Statement of Manuel Domecq Núñez de

Villavicencio on his death bed, to his son)

In August of the year of 1977, Pedro Domecq González Núñez de Villavicencio and Gordon, 2ndPerico circa 1942 Viscount of Almocadén had a heart attack. He was in San Francisco with his wife, Elizabeth Cook, and his granddaughter, Maria Fernanda Rodríguez Domecq who, at the time was 10. They had taken her to Disneyland in Los Angeles and then gone on to San Francisco. They had been out to dinner and, upon arriving back at the hotel room, Perico (as he was called) complained of indigestion. He took an Alka Seltzer, as was his custom in these circumstances, but the problem only got worse. Suddenly he gripped his chest, leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. Betty knew there was a problem. Probably, if they had been anywhere else but the U.S., he would have died, but an ambulance took only five minutes to arrive and in less than twenty he was in the hospital. Betty called her daughter.

When the phone rang, I was sitting in the bar (in our house) having a nightcap with my husband. I answered and heard the news: my father had had a serious heart attack, was in the hospital and the next day my mother was going to put my ten year old daughter on a plane to fly home alone. She gave me the arrival time so I could pick her up and promised to keep me informed of my father’s progress. All I remember was a hollow feeling inside. I loved my father; I think I have loved him more 1938-1 Cat Cay 1938 3 (2)
than any other person in my life. If nothing else –and there was plenty else- he showed me that it was possible to be happy in this life with very simple things and that was what kept me going every time I was ready to give up.

My father survived that incident, although it was a bad attack and he had to spend at least three weeks in the hospital and then another month at Burlingame Country Club in a small cottage they rented before the doctors would allow him to fly and return to the altitude of Mexico City.

He had survived, but he was never the same again. “I wish I had gone then” he used to say. I think he meant that the waiting for the next time was not much fun. He lost most of his interest in the things that had occupied him before: the1939-3 Gordon Claridge's Manor  England (5) bird watching, the translations, loading his shotgun shells, painting bird pictures. Life seemed to have turned into a waiting game, trying to guess, perhaps, when the next “sablazo” would hit. (Sablazo is a Spanish word for being struck by a saber with force and it is what my father used to call the blows life dealt one; he called his heart attack “un sablazo”.)

After three and a half years of waiting, Betty figured it was safe to travel and they went to New York to see their son, Michael and his family. Again, the phone call came at night.

“Your father’s in the hospital again. His lungs filled up with water and he was drowning. We rushed him there in a taxi because your brother had gone out to dinner. He almost died,” she said in what sounded like a tired voice.

“Did you consider letting him go?”

“Yes, but he said he was afraid, he wanted to live so I had to take him. The doctors say he will pull out okay, but he is going to have to take care or his lungs will fill up again.”

1949-1 Travels to Latin America07052014That was when my mother learned to cook without salt thanks to a wonderful cookbook that I ended up adopting just because the recipes were so tasty. After a while, my father didn’t miss the salt either, and he would continue having his glass of wine in the evenings and midday on weekends so the loss of salt was not a tragedy. He got well, he even took up some of his hobbies again and all seemed to be going along smoothly.

Then my mother decided that she had to go to San Francisco again, I guess because they had some money invested there, and she took my father along. In Spanish we say “la tercera es la vencida”, which means the third time is the one that wins, and, at least for my father, this turned out to be true.

It was the 25th of February 1982, and once again the call came at night. My mother’s tone sounded emotionless.

“He’s not going to make it,” she said, her voice heavy with fatigue; “I saw an x-ray of his  heart. Poor thing, it’s all limp and barely beating; it looked like a dying fish.”1960-8 Bodegas  (3)

“I’m on the next plane,” I told her and hung up.

My husband and I got tickets for a flight the following day and, once on board the plane, I remember thinking all the time of what I wanted to tell my father when I got there, all the things I thought he might be interested in, how the Conservation Association he belonged to was doing so well, and the projects that had been approved at the last council meeting for the following year. Then suddenly I knew, I knew from deep in my heart: There was nothing left to say. My father and I had said it all. In that instant I accepted that I did not need for him to stay alive, to wait for me, to continue living. I understood that I was ready for him to leave and realized how blessed I was that there was really nothing left to say to him. From somewhere in the air, I closed my eyes and said goodbye with all my heart. When we arrived at the hospital, I practically ran to the room. My mother was standing by his bedside gazing at him as if she were trying to recognize him.

1943-1 Florida trip21042014 (7)“He went 5 minutes ago,” she said looking up slowly from the blessed fog that deep change shrouds us in for a moment to protect us from the shock.

I noticed the strange waxen aspect of his face and, walking over to the bed, put my cheek next to his; he was still warm. “I’ll take care of her, so don’t worry” I whispered and gently kissed his cheek. Then my mother began to talk.

“It’s so strange. About three days ago his voice began sounding different; it wasn’t his and it came from somewhere else. I couldn’t recognize his voice, but he didn’t say much anyway. Only once, he said ‘I want to D-I-E’ in this strange voice, spelling out the word as if it were difficult for him to say it. And then today, I was just sitting here gazing out the window and he called to me.1955 - 3 Trip to Cuba (2)

“’Lay down the bed, I want to rest.’ You know, he had to be in a sitting position to be able to breathe due to the liquid in his lungs. I asked him if he was sure. We both knew that if I lay him down, it was the end. He said ‘yes’. So I cranked the bed down. And then I just held his hand. It wasn’t too bad, but it took about 10 minutes. After he was gone, I called the 1939-7 Perico visits Tony Ruggeron in Portugal15042014 (4)doctor. He asked if I wanted him to revive your father so he would still be here when you arrived. I said ‘no’.”

I walked around to the other side of the bed and embraced my mother. She seemed tiny and all bones in my arms. The admiration I felt for her in that moment was overwhelming; as far as I was concerned she was the bravest woman I had ever known. We sat together holding hands until they 1977 Perico19042014came to wheel my father’s body away. The following day we went for the ashes and flew back to Mexico carrying them in a plastic shopping bag. My father would have had a good laugh over that. No fuss.