Love is more than the manifestation of its energy through someone’s physical presence. It is an energy that endures far after the person is gone. It endures in the hearts of the people who were left to grieve, to miss, and to yearn. I am only beginning to understand the grandeur and magnitude of the love my grandmother felt for us. While her love was transformational while she was alive, in leu of her physical presence, her love feels even more potent now. Somehow the memory of her and the values of love, forgiveness, and compassion she raised us with have become the compass for how we discern how to live our lives.
As we navigate through our pain and relationships, we can clearly feel her guidance and wisdom. Her legacy lives in the choices we make for our lives. We keep her legacy alive when we choose to love unconditionally the way she loved us; when we choose to forgive even in the most difficult situations, and when we choose to have compassion and to understand someone beyond the limitations of our own experiences. These are the things she equipped us with, so we could liberate ourselves from the pain that has been passed down through so many generations.
As I listen to my brother speak, I hear my grandmother’s wisdom in the way he is choosing to see life. In holding on to my grandmother’s love, he has had to allow his heart to open. That is the irony of it – in order to receive someone’s love fully, we must be open to vulnerability, and even the possibility of hurt. Opening our hearts exposes us to confront the pain and the trauma that we so often run away from, but it also allows us to love more deeply and intensely.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anaïs Nin
Growing up we all suffered our fair share of neglect and abuse. My brother was a victim of my uncle’s own experiences of neglect and abuse. My brother has come to understand that my uncle was also once a little child and his innocence was devastated by the raw and untamed pain of the adults that were supposed to protect his innocence. At some point of his journey, my brother had an epiphany – our uncle did the best he could with what he held emotionally, and took care of us as best he knew how; that was a moment of grace allowed through the opening of his heart. He talks about seeing a bigger picture, one that occupies a significance much more powerful than the lens of his individual pain and trauma. He has begun to recognize the infinite whole and to see himself as part of a greater process.
My mother also suffered a tremendous amount of abuse and neglect. For a long time, like many of us who suffer through inconceivable experiences, she felt as though in some way she held responsibility for what happened to her. As if the violence had specifically chosen her. What she has come to recognize is that what happened to her could have happened to anyone, and it does happen to many children, without some particular design or criteria for who it happens to. It wasn’t her fault. It didn’t happen to her because she was less divine or less worthy than anyone else. And she too realizes that my grandmother did the best she could to love her and protect her from the abuse.
My uncle, for the first time, listened during the quiet of the night to my aunt speak to him about the need for him to reach out to God. She told him it was time to stop the suffering, and only by opening his heart to God would he find peace. She often prays to my Tita asking her for her guidance, for her love to heal the wounds that my uncle has hidden the way the fog hides the trees. For the first time my uncle allowed my aunt’s plea to move him enough that he gripped her hand tightly, and turned slightly away to allow a tear to escape from his left eye. The first petal has unfolded.
As for me, my grandmother’s love has guided me to find true love – I have fallen in love with myself for the first time in my life. I think about how much she loved me and know that I must love myself no less than that. I believe in myself enough to have the courage to follow my heart and my purpose. She is there to help me navigate through uncertainty and moments of doubt. Also, for the first time in my life, I have a deeper, more authentic relationship with my mother. It is my grandmother’s love that nudges me, even challenges me, to open up to the possibilities of a new relationship with my mother. For so long I focused on what my relationship with her wasn’t, prodding and intensifying the pain of what I wished could have been. But in doing that, I was missing out on what could be. I honor my grandmother’s legacy by loving my mother the way my grandmother loves her. I cannot receive my grandmother’s pure love if I allow animosity to live within my heart. And the greatest gift I can offer my grandmother, is to heal the relationship with my mother, so in turn my grandmother and my mother can heal theirs.
As I reflect back to my brother David’s and my journey, there were so many times we were confronted with situations that could have easily lead us into gang violence, alcoholism, or even drug addiction; situations that would have caused us greater danger and trauma. Most of the time, however, thinking about the immense pain we would cause our Tita Carmen, we had enough self-awareness and grit to stay away from self-destructive experiences.
There are people that are raised with loving childhoods with very little wounds and traumas. There are others that must confront very serious and painful experiences from a young age. I don’t know why this happens, but it does. Maybe all those experiences help us to become more compassionate and giving toward others. Maybe it helps us understand the universal experiences of humanity and our connectedness. Whatever the case, one thing I do know for sure is love like the kind that our Tita Carmen nurtured us with can heal and transform the most damaged and beaten heart.
“What was said to the rose that made it open was said to me here in my chest.” -Rumi
In honor of our Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother
May 26, 1926 – Nov. 24, 2010