My beloved Mami passed away this morning. It was a quiet death, with my older sister Diana at her side. It was not the passing my siblings and I hoped for -- one where all four of us were somehow there at the same time, her birthday blanket of all the grandkids' pictures wrapped around her, her favorite hymns playing in the background -- but death, like birth, rarely comes exactly how you want or envision it.
This picture is from last New Year's Eve. It was just a couple of weeks before a necessary colostomy surgery in January left her a shell of her former self. But this past New Year's Eve, Mami was genuinely happy. She had come to my house for Christmas and stayed through New Year's, when my brother Louis and his family came down from New York. We went out for seafood. We played Scrabble. We had my mother's favorite -- shrimp cocktail with extra lemon and sauce (see photo!). When the clock struck midnight, Mami got choked up toasting to 2008, saying she felt blessed to ring in another year. Looking back, I think she knew in her heart of hearts that it would be her last New Year's, but as always she kept the tone sweet and festive.
That was my mother -- the life of a party, everybody's best friend (even her occasional hairstylist from when we lived in Brooklyn called me to offer condolences) -- a petite but fierce woman who overcame so much tragedy throughout her life and battled cancer on her terms until it was finally time to let go.
She loved "I Love Lucy," "The Golden Girls" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," the Colombian dance la cumbia and the movies "Gone With the Wind" and "The Godfather." She preferred beer to wine and a Screwdriver to any other kind of cocktail. She was a great dancer but a terrible singer. She thought Clark Gable, Tom Selleck, Burt Reynolds and George Clooney were the most handsome actors ever. She never stopped loving my father, who died when she was 37. She never left the house without a full face of make-up on, and until the lymph-edema caused her one leg to swell, she almost always wore high, high heels, size 5 1/2. She felt naked without jewelry, especially earrings, but thought ankle-bracelets were trashy. In her thirties, she was once confused for Sofia Loren, even though Mami was at least eight inches shorter than the Italian superstar. She couldn't get enough of old-school celebrity gossip or news about Queen Elizabeth. She dreamed of going to England, but when she finally reached it in 2006, she ended up preferring Paris. Until recently, she always covered her gray, sometimes with a color other than black.
I could go on, but most of all, she loved her friends and her children, and she absolutely adored her eight grandchildren, who were the delight of her life.
Rest in peace, Mami. We'll miss you for the rest of our lives.