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Ode to Abu — When Your Babies Lose a Grandparent

man, girlIt’s that time of year when all of the blogs are spewing out feel-good holiday posts about creating new family traditions, executing the perfect apple pie, and hilarious scenarios to try with your Elf on the Shelf. As I sit here trying to come up with my own warm and fuzzy yuletide contribution, I can’t help thinking about the promise I made in my first post with BVTMB — to keep it real, to always tell the truth, to put myself out there. So this isn’t going to be a very cheery post, I’m afraid.

On December 3, 2015, my father died. And my precious girls didn’t have a chance to know him.

My dad, mi papi, as I called him, lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My youngest, Sabine, never met him in person. We were hoping to make the trip during the next year before she turned two. My older daughter, Violet, spent two weeks with him in April of 2014, but she doesn’t remember him.

It was only a few days before my father suffered his fatal heart attack that Violet sat on my lap browsing Facebook pictures with me when we got to one of her and my papi.

man, girl, kiss“Who’s that, Mama?” she wondered. My heart sank.

“That’s Abu! You remember Abu, don’t you?” I encouraged.

She spread her hands out with a shrug of her shoulders, letting me know that she didn’t. I shouldn’t have been surprised really. She was only 22 months when she met him, not even two years old yet. But it still saddened me to see her eyes searching for him in her memories and coming up short.

“We really need to get back down to Argentina soon,” my husband and I agreed. Three days later, Abu was gone, the opportunity missed.

But there is some good news: it’s not too late. I’m still here! His daughter, his friend, equipped with his life story and all of the lessons he taught me. I’m still here to keep Abu present in my daughters’ lives. He also leaves a wonderful legacy behind: his writing. My father was a gifted poet and he has penned the most beautiful verses, including ones he wrote following the birth of each of my babies.

How I wish he had held Sabine in his arms the way he held Violet. But how grateful I am that he was able to laugh at Sabine’s antics during Skype sessions and saw pictures of her and her sister on a daily basis.

“Why are you sad, Mama?” Violet asked me.

How do you tell a 3-year-old that your own Dada has died when she doesn’t know what “died” is yet? You don’t, I decided. Not yet.

Instead, I’ll tell her about Abu, show her photographs, share my memories and his writings. We’ll return to Argentina with both Violet and Sabine to spend time with the rest of our family there: my brother, my sister-in-law, my nieces, cousins, uncle, aunts, dear friends, and my father’s wife, known as Yaya to all the girls — a bonus grandmother full of love and laughter.

I’ll take comfort that my girls still have four amazing grandparents in New York to shower them with affection: Nono (my loving stepfather), Noni (my adoring mother), Nana (my wonderful mother-in-law), and Grandpa (my beloved father-in-law).

I’ll pass on the gifts my father gave to me: a love for the arts, theater, music, cinema, and books. A sense of humor to carry you through frustration and hardship. A need to connect with people, to sit on a balcony together with a cup of coffee and talk to each other, to debate important issues, to discuss philosophy, to laugh at your past mistakes.

Just three hours before he passed away, my father published this poem on his Facebook wall:

Ahora dejaré descansar mi equipaje.
En este ir y venir de la nada a ningún lado.

Ha dejado mis piernas pulverizadas de cansancio.

Translation:

Now I will leave my baggage to rest.
All of this coming and going from nothing to nowhere,

Has left my legs pulverized from exhaustion.

I read his words over and over after receiving the news, the little time stamp below his name telling me he had posted just “4 hrs” ago. As the night went on and I refreshed his page, I watched it turn to 5 hrs, 6 hrs, 7 hrs, 12 hrs, Yesterday, and then simply December 3.

Rest in peace, Abu. I love you forever. And my daughters will know you.

man, baby

Ruben Valiente (2/19/48 – 12/3/15)

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