Last words about my mother at her burial today

This eulogy was delivered by me on October 11, 2008 at Rose Hills Park & Mortuary, Whittier, CA:

Thank you everyone for being here today with Ana, Gloria, Joe and myself, and the rest of the Rodriguez family, in celebrating the life of Maria Estela Rodriguez, our dear mother. I say celebration because, although we’ve sustained a momentous loss with the passing on of our madrecita, her love for us has brought the family closer, a family that has not always been together or seen eye to eye. But today, as we have for the last few years, we talk, we laugh, we enjoy our togetherness—we are still family.

Our mother’s life and example brought you, our friends, our community, closer to us as well. This is what our mother has given us as legacy. And for this we celebrate.

In the final years of her life, Maria Estela was a sweet and loving person. When we got together for holidays, birthdays, or just to eat out, we saw her smile, her glow, the recognition that we mattered. The last happy image of our mother that will stay with us is of her blowing kisses, and smearing her lipstick in the process, to family members and friends as she walked through the Knott Avenue Residential Manor in Buena Park where she had been staying at for about a year and a half. The occasion was a Luau dinner and I recall how happy she was to be surrounded by so much family. Every once in a while, she’d tap my hand and say, “Is this all the family?” She’d forget why we were there. As many of you know, our mother was progressing through various stages of Alzheimer’s. This is a difficult and devastating disease. But I also remember that when I said, “Yes, the family is here for you,” she would sit back and smile.

I want to give special thanks to the staff at Knott Avenue Residential Manor who made sure our mother was taken care of—and who made sure we knew of the Luau, or we would have missed it.

Our mother lived a lifetime of hard times. She grew up poor in Chihuahua, Mexico, with roots in the Raramuri people, also known as the Tarahumara. Her family moved to the border region in Ciudad Juarez. Despite the poverty and issues such as alcoholism at home, my mother managed to finish the 11th grade, quite an accomplishment in Mexico, but especially in her time when schooling was rare for most Mexicans. She studied hard and became a clerical assistant, eventually meeting my father, who happened to be a high school principal. They married and they had the foresight to have their first three children born in El Paso, Texas, the other side of the border, as they made plans to come to the United States—my youngest sister Gloria was born later in East LA at the General Hospital. Our oldest half-sister Seni and her husband Diego also did the same with their daughters, and they led the way to Los Angeles, eventually persuading our father and mother to follow suit. In time they all became US citizens.

We may have different ways of looking at things in this country, but none of us regrets our parents’ decision to become citizens—and insure our children would be as well.

Despite joblessness and evictions living in South Central LA, the San Fernando Valley, then the west San Gabriel Valley, our parents struggled hard for us to have a better life. Finally, they bought their home in San Gabriel. They wanted the American Dream, but they also knew you had to work hard to obtain this—and we know that in these times, even this won’t suffice.

You should know that our mother was very creative. She worked on and off in the garment industry, but she also sewed on her own for family, neighbors and friends. She made porcelain-faced dolls, stuffed animals, blankets, sweaters, and more. I recalled many a night when the house shook with the constant roar of the industrial sewing machine—either for piece work or for her own projects.

Some of you may know that Maria Estela suffered from many ailments, even when we were children. She had diabetes, thyroid problems, extremely painful varicose veins, no teeth, and more. But she went through all this with such bravery and determination, including the cancer, breaking several bones in a couple of falls, and once burning her arms, legs and face from the sun when she fell in the garden and couldn’t get up or yell for help for hours until my sister Ana came home from work. Then the Alzheimer’s hit—and we had to make the hard decision last year to place her in the residential home where she could get 24-hour care.

A few years ago, my mother beat the cancer. She outlived all her siblings and our father. It looked like she was going to even outlive us. I do need to say here—thank you, Ana, for taking responsibility for our mother, for sixteen years after our father died, for always being there, for never giving up. There are not enough words for all that you’ve done.

My mother passed away this past Monday, October 6, at 3:45 PM at Kaiser Hospital in Anaheim. For several days, various family members came to pay their respects—including Seni, Ana Seni, Aide, and Rebecca: Gracias for always being kind and loving to my mother. I also want to acknowledge the prayers and presence of my mother’s half siblings, Marcelo and Gloria, and their families. Gracias. On the last day, some twenty of us stood by her side, including all four of us, our wives, husbands, a few of the grandchildren, Seni and her daughters.

Maria Estela passed on peacefully with much love, tears and gratefulness. We’re blessed my mother got to live a full life—she was 85 years old—and that she did not have to spend years and years as the Alzheimer’s ate away at her memories, our faces, our names, and the small things that, when the mind goes, become so important. I thank God for that.

So on behalf of my brother and sisters—Joe, Ana, and Gloria—and the rest of the Rodriguez family and extended families, I honor Maria Estela Rodriguez. Our bodies began in her body and so did our psyches, attached by the many threads of our natures, feelings, and habits that compose our lives. Memory and mother are one, the ground of the experiencing soul, the umbilical cord that is never truly cut off, the wise exaltation that transcends reason, the nourishing voice that will forever feed our sacred hungers.

I leave you with these words paraphrased from the poet e.e.cummings:

I carry your heart with me
I carry it in my heart
I am never without it
Anywhere I go, you go
And whatever is done by me is your doing

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows:
Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
And the sky of the sky of a tree called life, which grows
Higher than soul can hope or mind can hide,
And this is the wonder that keeps the stars apart…

I carry your heart. I carry it in my heart.


A mi madrecita, le deseamos paz y tranquilidad mantenida en las manos abundantes del Creador. Su espiritu y memoria estara con nosotros siempre.

Muchas gracias
—thank you.

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