The roosters begin to sing around 6am and she’s up. She brushes her long black hair and puts it up with her favorite silver pin. She is wearing a long skirt, a white shirt and her colorful apron (a must have). The sun is about to rise and plants outside are covered by the morning dew. She steps outside, grabs a broom and begins her morning ritual… turns on the “hornilla” (furnace outside), grabs well water, sprinkles the patio, sweeps, waters the plants, makes café con leche and begins to yell, Frida ya levantate! (frida wake up)
This is my favorite memory of my abuela Tota. I remember her morning sounds, her smell and her loud voice early in the mornings before going to school. She was always up before the sun. I think she loved the peace, quiet and freshness of the the mornings.
Tota turns 77 years young today; she was born in 1934 in San Miguel, El Salvador. She has been the mother and father of 7 children, 6 girls and 1 boy. Hard to imagine a woman so tiny could give birth and raise 7 children. Today she has 19 grandkids and 9 great grandkids. She is the root of our existence, where everything began.
Tota is a feisty, stubborn, prideful and powerful woman. She has never been afraid tospeak her mind and one that knows what she wants and how she wants it. She is a woman that doesn’t give up easily and someone you don’t want to mess with. She is the woman who cared for me since the age of 2 and hasn’t stopped ever since.
She is my other half.
A year and a half ago her life changed. She collapsed and for the first time in her life couldn’t get back up. She had a minor stroke and lost mobility of her legs. Today Tota’s only view to the outside world is the window in her room. She glances outside every so often to take a look at the trees and the birds outside. She is not the same woman that used to ran behind me when I climbed trees.
Do you ever think about what goes through an elderly mind after they lose complete independence? Do you ever stop to think how broken their heart may be? Do you ever wonder if they cry themselves to sleep?
For one moment, imagine not being able to walk, bathe and feed yourself. Imagine your only view to the outside is this window. Imagine having to depend on everyone around you to survive. Imagine for one moment losing the freedom to go as you please and do simple things like wash the dishes, water the plants and cook a warm meal.
For a long time I was mad at my grandmother for giving up, I didn’t understand why she just didn’t get up like she always did. I refused to see her as weak. She was never weak. But yet she was, something changed and for the first time she needed to be taken care of. The idea drove her insane, it still does. She hates it and complains about it every day.
I’m happy to say some things will neve change. She still not afraid to speak up her mind and say what she likes and doesn’t like. If the food is not cooked the way she likes it, rest assure she will tell you and remind you about it every chance she gets. You cannot make her do anything she doesn’t want to. If she doesn’t feel like eating, she won’t. If she doesn’t like the shirt you choose for her she will not wear it.
Never take away the right to choose from elderly because that’s all they have left and will try to hang on to it as long as they can. Respect their choices and understand they need some of that power to be able to survive. If you take that away from them they will lose the bit of joy that gives them and eventually lose touch of who they are completely.
She does find moments of joy and still smiles. Tota can still crack very funny and sometimes very dirty jokes, she puts her arms up wanting to dance when she hears a song she likes. She loves to talk about her life and her lovely El Salvador. Tota has an amazing memory and remembers details like no other. She likes to sing Vicente Fernandez and Pedro Infante songs Pandora plays for her.
She also love loves to play loteria. Oh, and she won’t stop asking me when will I get married and when am I going to have a child. She says, “I don’t want to go before I see your first child, so you better hurry up.”
Tota asked for pizza and Mariachi for her 77th birthday and that’s exactly what she got. I hope she loved it as much as the Serenatas (serenades) the love of her life used to bring her in El Salvador (one of her favorite stories to tell). This transition hasn’t been easy for our family but we do all we can to make her happy. Yes, we have moments of frustration but we have to quickly snap out of it and understand where she is.
Our view to the outside world is not just a window and never limited like hers. She is still a powerhouse and the center of our family. She is the only person that can mobilize the entire family to be under one roof.
She makes us whole. She is our beautiful Amazon and the soul mate that will never leave my side.