Grief: Illness/Death; Language
Maria Garcia sits at her mother's bedside anxiously watching her chest rise and fall.
Maria’s eyes are drawn to a photograph taken just the year before. Before cancer destroyed their lives and especially, her mother’s body. “Unbelievable,” she whispers to herself, comparing the healthy-looking woman with full, rosy cheeks in the photograph to the shriveled body lying in the bed; her face, pale, gaunt, resembling plaster of Paris. “Damn this shitty disease,” Maria cries, tossing the Hospice brochure into a nearby trashcan.
“What’s wrong, mi niña?” Rebecca Garcia asks, her voice weak, raspy. Maria stands and leans over the four-poster bed.
“Nothing, mamá; I’m sorry for waking you,” she says, adjusting her mother’s feather-down pill ow.
The Hospice home-health nurse enters the bedroom and approaches the patient. “Ms. Garcia, here's some pain medication to make you more comfortable,” she says, dropping a pill under Rebecca’s tongue.
“Thank you, Angela,” Maria says to the nurse who smiles and nods and steps out of the room, leaving the door open.
Maria shifts her attention back to her mother. “Mamá, is the pain really bad?” she asks, caressing the withered hand lying on the breastless chest.
“No, it’s not too bad,” Rebecca says, but the tears in her eyes don’t lie.
“You rest now, mamá. I’ll just sit over here and read my book.”
Sun rays piercing through the window make it difficult for Maria to read. To Hell with it: I can’t comprehend anyway, she says to herself, snapping the romance novel closed. She rocks back and forth in the Boston Rocker; its rhythmic squeaking seems to comfort her grieving soul.
Maria notices a lovebird music box perched on the bedside table. She picks it up and reads the inscription on the bottom: To My Darling Rebecca. She winds it up. The tune to Elvis Presley’s, Can’t Help Falling In Love is louder than she expects. She tries to silence it, but it’s too late for her mother’s already awake, humming along to the melody. Maria notices a timid-looking grin flash across her mother’s colorless face.
“Sorry, I woke you, again, mamá.”
“It’s alright, Maria; Besides, I love hearing it. It makes me happy.”
“Dare I say, dad was more romantic than I thought?” Maria asks, flashing a grin and a wink her mother’s way. Rebecca responds with a shaky smile and closes her eyes.
“It’s a cherished gift from a cherished friend,” Rebecca says, patting Maria’s hand. “But it’s yours now.”
On the other bedside table is the Holy Bible, left open to The Lord’s Prayer. Maria, unable to accept the fact that she’s angry at God, shifts her rage toward family photos hanging on the wallpapered walls. She covers her eyes, trying to shut out their hypocritical stares. “Can’t stand to look at those forced and faked smiles,” she says, angrily.
Rebecca begins to stir. “What’s wrong, mi niña?”
“At them,” Maria says, pointing to the photographs on the wall.
“Yesterday, this room was full of family members and friends who came to say goodbye. I was trying to remember the last time any of them ever stopped to say hello,” Maria says angrily, focusing on the photographs; one in particular: a man in a gray suit, wearing a white carnation on his lapel. On his arm is a younger, healthier, Rebecca, wearing a champaign-colored gown and holding a small bouquet in her hand. “We both know the only reason he came at all was to rid himself of guilt.”
“Now, Maria, I didn’t raise you to be bitter or to hold grudges. I want you to forgive him. It’s not his fault that he left me years ago, it’s mine,” Rebecca scolds, her voice quivering.
“But mamá, dad didn't just leave you, he left me, too. He was never around for either of us. He doesn’t care; never did. Besides, he has his own family now,” Maria says, quickly wiping tears from her eyes. Rebecca closes her eyes, but it doesn’t stop tears from escaping down her cheeks.
“Mama, I’m so sorry for being a selfish brat; especially, at a time like this. It's just that I’m supposed to be getting married in a week and I can’t depend on my own father to show up and walk me down the aisle.”
“I’m so sorry, Niña. It’s all my fault. Please forgive me?" Rebecca begs, her voice trailing off.
“Forgive you, for what?” Maria asks, but Rebecca doesn’t answer. Although her eyes flicker, they remain closed.
Is your pain medicine taking effect or are you just ignoring me? Maria wonders. “You just rest now, mama, I’ll be sitting right here if you need me.”
Although Maria’s vision is blurry from dried tears, and the sun’s glare, she sees a tall, dark figure standing in the doorway. The Bible in his hand and the white collar tell her it’s Father Joseph Valdez. He enters the room and approaches her; his strong but gentle hand caresses her shoulder. “I’m sorry for waking you, Princess, but your mother’s nurse asked me to come right away,” said the priest with red and puffy eyes.
Maria stands and gives him a hug. “Oh, I wasn’t asleep, Father. I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve been wanting to tell you how much my mom and I have appreciated you and all you've done for us over the years. Your friendship, love, support, and prayers have been such a blessing to us both,” Maria cries, hugging Father Joseph a little tighter. She glares at the photograph of the man in the gray suit. “I just wish my own dad was half the man you are.”
“Thank you, Princessa. It’s been a blessing and an honor for me as well to have known this beautiful and kind lady, and her precious daughter.”
The priest takes Rebecca’s frail left hand in his and sits on the edge of her bed. “Rebecca,” it’s Father Joseph,” he says, his voice cracking, tears pooling in his eyes. However, Rebecca doesn’t respond.
“Mama!" Maria yells, but still, no response. "Angela?” Maria yells for the nurse who responds immediately and checks her patient’s vital signs. “Angela, I don’t understand; mamá was having a conversation with me just a few minutes ago. Did you give her too much pain medicine?” Maria asks in an accusatory tone, tears rolling down her cheeks. Nurse Angela sees the Hospice brochure in the trashcan, but she doesn’t take the gesture or accusation personally, for she recognizes grief and denial when she sees it.
“No, Maria, it was the dose ordered by your mother’s physician,” Angela reassures, softly caressing Maria’s hand. “I’m sorry, hon, but your mother’s bodily systems are shutting down. It won’t be long, now,” Angela says, taking a seat in the room.
Maria sits on the bed and takes her mother's other hand in hers.
Father Joseph takes oil from a bottle and makes a cross on Rebecca’s forehead and prays… “It is in the name of The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.”
He leans down and whispers something in Rebecca’s ear. Whatever it is, it seems to bring peace to her face.
Maria lays on her mother’s chest. “I love you, mama,” Maria cries and kisses her mother’s sunken cheek, then Rebecca Garcia takes her last breath.
Using a stethoscope, Angela listens to her patient’s chest and looks at Maria and Father Joseph…“I’m sorry, she’s gone.”
Choking back tears, Father Joseph removes a necklace consisting of rosary beads and a crucifix from around his neck and places it in Rebecca’s hand. Maria finally allows herself to break down. Father Joseph pulls her off her mother’s chest and into his arms where she sobs for what seems like an eternity; her tears saturating the priest’s black shirt.
Her mother’s final words keep repeating in Maria's head …
Why did mamá feel she needed my forgiveness? After all, she was a Saint!
Light shines through the colorful, stained-glass windows of Holy Savior Catholic Church. Rebecca Garcia’s favorite, peace lilies, adorn both sides of the altar. Maria, still angry and cynical watch mourners, all dressed in black, dab their eyes with tissue.
Maria is cautiously hopeful that her dad plans to surprise her with his presence. But the Sanctuary doors close, the hymn music begins to play, and there is still no sign of him. “So much for hope,” she whispers under her breath.
Father Joseph leads Rebecca’s casket down the aisle. Maria and her fiancé, John and her best friend, Brittany, follow close behind and family and friends follow behind them. Maria realizes that in less than seventy-two hours, she will be walking down the same aisle. She looks at all the people beside her and behind her cries to herself…But looks like I’ll be walking it alone.
Maria’s wedding day is here. The bride-to-be sheds happy and sad tears; happy ones to marry the man she loves, but sad ones because her mother will only be attending in spirit. Not to mention, the sadness she feels that her dad chose not to attend, not even to walk her down the aisle. Maria looks at the sizable check and attached note of regrets from her dad.
“I could care less about your money or your regrets,” she says, stuffing the check and note back into the envelope and writing RETURN TO SENDER on the front.
An instrumental version of Shubert’s Eve Maria plays softly as family and friends are seated in the Sanctuary. Father Joseph is officiating the wedding as his gift. Maria’s maid of honor as well as best friend, Brittany, help the bride into her new wedding gown. To finish the ensemble, Brittany lends Maria her diamond earrings. While searching for something old and something blue, they are surprised by a knock on the door. Maria playfully warns...
“John, you know you can’t see the bride before the wedding.”
“Princessa, it’s Father Joseph.”
Maria opens the door and welcomes him in with a big hug. In his hand is a white envelope secured with a blue ribbon. “This is for you. It’s another wedding gift from your mother. She asked me to give it to you on your wedding day,” Father Joseph said, choking back tears.
Maria opens the envelope. She is surprised that it contains much more than a gift, much more than a letter. It’s a confession.
Mi niña, Maria,
This is your something old, something new, and something blue.
Something blue -is the sadness I feel for not being there with you today. Please keep this blue ribbon as a small symbol of my love for you.
Something old because it’s old news.
Something new because the old news is new to you.
I love you so much, sweetheart. It’s my hope that this brings you a little peace, and I pray you can find it in your heart to forgive me and your father.
You see, Maria, your father was always there. He was there at your birth. He was there when you were sick. He was there when you were happy. He was there when you were sad. He was there when you lost your first tooth. He was there when you had your appendix removed. He saw you through your first broken bone. He saw you through your first broken heart. He attended all your school functions, chaperoned your prom, and was at both of your graduations.
Mi Niña, I’m sorry that I won’t be there on your special day, but your father will be, and he will walk you down the aisle.
The sanctuary doors open. The Bridal Chorus plays softly. Lilies and lilacs decorate the altar as cascading wisteria adorn the church pews.
Maria watches her maid of honor, Brittany glide gracefully down the aisle. She sees her handsome groom, John standing at the altar awaiting his bride.
Although tears of joy cloud Maria’s eyes, she’s no longer blind to the truth. Her heart has no room for bitterness, only love. She looks up; past the sculptured ceiling; past the clouds. She can picture her mother watching the ceremony from Heaven. She can almost hear her mother humming the tune to her lovebird music box. It all makes sense now, mamá and I forgive you and I forgive dad.
Maria looks at the man standing beside her and smiles…And I forgive you.
As the Bridal Chorus rises to a crescendo, the congregation stands and faces the bride and her escort. Maria takes her father’s arm, and they walk down the aisle together.