What to Cherish

Sitting here at the office addressing the pile of work on my desks, trying to make a deadline tomorrow and our intern’s cellphone rings. Her desk is right outside my office and even though I try not to eavesdrop on her conversation, I cant help but hear it. I look over at her, her head droops down between her arms, and through what at first sound like sobs, I here her say “No. But what happened? I thought you…”
I know immediately what has happened of course. When you spend so much time together in an office, basically sitting right across from each other, you not only tend to talk about your lives but you become friends. Confidants.
She’s seen me lose it many a time here as I had issues with the health of my parents or in laws. Or, at times, when Im sitting here typing away at some emotional essay or post im writing, which, more often than not, she asks me to read to her and I comply, sometimes through tears.
But today, today I know what that call was about. It’s her abuelita. Her grandmother who has been in and out of hospital for longer than I can remember with a myriad of health issues. I ask about her abuelita everyday, she in turn tells me the latest goings on with her health and how it affects her family and how they are dealing with it all. I, in turn, can only offer a few words of comfort, sometimes a bit of advice from someone who’s already lived that a particular stage of life.
She hangs up her celphone and cant stop crying. She’s yet to raise her head and I am just sitting here staring at her, reliving the death of my own gradparents. I wipe my tears, get up from my desk and go stand alongside her.
I dont say anything to her. Dont offer my condolences or say Im sorry as yet. I know when shes ready she’ll lift her head. right now, I just want her to know that I am there. Right here with her.
A minute or two pass, I hear her take a deep breath and straighten up. She looks up at me and she can hardly say the words. “My abuelita died.”
My eyes well up again despite my trying to hold back the tears. “Im so sorry,” I say “Im so sorry.”
“I dont understand it,” she says. “She had a bit of a setback early this morning but my mom told me later on that she was all happy and lucid and even joking.”
Not knowing what else to say at that particular moment, all I can muster is “Im so sorry.”
“She even told my mom and her sisters to go home and rest. get some sleep because they’d spent the night at the hospital.” She pauses for a few seconds, tries to conrol the pain that is overwhelming her at the moment. “They called from the hospital, told my mom she had passed quietly.”
I think about asking how her mother is at the moment but realize just what a stupid question that is under the circumstances. “You need to be with your mom right now,” I say. “But I dont want you driving in that condition so just take a few minutes or as long as you need and try to calm down a bit.”
She nods, wipes the tears away and takes a few deep breaths. The other employees come by and offer their condolences, express their sorrow for her and her family.
“At least she’s not in pain any longer,” she says. “She’s not suffering like she’s been for so long.”
We all agree as we all believe her abuelita is in a much better place right now. There are no such things as pain or sorrow in Heaven.
After a few minutes she gathers up her things, tosses her school books in her bag, fumbles through her purse for her keys and tells us she’s heading home. I ask her to please call me when she gets there so we all kow she made it alright and offer to be there for whatever she or her family may need.
When she leaves, the office no longer feels the same. There is a sadness around us. The pile of work and that deadline seem so trivial right now. So unimportant. What was I thinking? Getting all stressed out and worked up about a dumb deadline?
I remember at that precise moment just how the death of my grandparents affected me. How their passing changed my life forever. How much I missed them and still do. How there isnt a day that goes by in my life where I dont remember them. A joke, a laugh. Some wonderful nugget of truth they bestowed upon me. Bandaids and scraped knees. Baseball games and haircuts. Abuela’s cane and balance, that creaky old Cuban rocking chair. My grandfather’s “Who is it? You or your brother?” each and every time I knocked on their front door. “It’s my brother, Primo.”
The phone rings a few minutes later. It’s her on the other line and I notice right off there’s something different in her voice.
“I made it home OK,” she says. “But you’re not going to believe this.”
Before I can blurt out a “what happened?” a smiling voice on the other end of the line interrupts me. “The stupid hospital called the wrong family. My abuelita is alright.”
I let out a sigh of relief as tears stream down my face. “What you need to do right now,” I say. “Is go spend some time with . . .”
“I know,” she says. “I’m already on the way there.”

4 thoughts on “What to Cherish”

  1. I was reading this in tears and then just like life the unexpected ending. Sometimes we get so involved in our day to day tasks that we forget what is really important. Things like this brings us back to earth.
    I’m glad to hear that your intern’s Abuelita is okay.

  2. Oh wow, my heart had just about broken for her. I feel badly for the other family, but I’m glad she has this second chance, so to speak.

  3. All I can say is, if people really care about someone, the time to show it is when he or she is still alive, not after the fact. All the tears and flowers in the world won’t make up for having failed someone in life. I’m not talking about the particular case you’re describing, but in general.

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