March 15, 2021
On Death, Life and God
Death comes to us, unexpected, unprepared, unprecedented. It is not easy to deal with the death of a loved one, as it happened to my family and I.
Everything started in December, my dad began coughing and then my mom began showing symptoms, a dry cough, fatigue and shortness of breath. From the moment she told me about her symptoms, I immediately decided to book her a COVID-19 test appointment. She took the test on Tuesday, December 15th, and on the 17th as I was streaming my online graduation, my mom’s results came back positive. As we found out, my dad, my sister Gabriela and I decided to get tested. My dad had been coughing for days, so we began to get worried as he had two surgeries at the beginning of the year.
The rapid results came back in an hour and to our surprise all of us came back negative. We then proceeded to allocate my dad to the guest room and lock my mom in her own room. The following days tension was at an all time high. The virus was at home again, and this time it had affected those whom we had feared the most. On Friday 18th after a heated argument, I left my house to catch some fresh air and walk through the windy streets of The Woodlands. That same day my sister Alejandra, would also test positive for COVID-19. After walking my anger out, I returned home where the tensions had resided.
The following day, I joined a Zoom meeting that had been arranged a month prior in lieu of a graduation party. Gabriela had decorated the main dining room, and Alejandra had arranged for me a special cake, made by Chef Kieth. A chef I had met while working at the restaurant. I was to celebrate this accomplishment from a distance and despite the fact that my dad had tested negative we decided to quarantine him out of precaution, his cough was getting worse.
Right next to me was my sister Gabriela, helping me organize the zoom meeting by giving me a list of people who wanted to congratulate me. I was to call out the names in order so that everyone had a chance to speak. The meeting lasted for two hours and after that my sister and I took over the house responsibilities. I would clean, and she would cook, but this was soon to change.
A couple days later my sister would test positive, leaving me in charge of the cooking and cleaning duties. I did that for a couple of days but still kept my dad in the guest room as his cough was slowly getting worse and worse each day.
On Wednesday 23rd, I was to take him to get tested again. Although he refused at first, he then accepted. After a couple of hours I got a call from the clinic, I had tested positive but my dad had still tested negative. They wanted to do another test on my dad, as the results were not really clear.
The next day I took him into the clinic at 10:00 a.m. I have a vague memory of that day as I just remember taking him one more time. I remember he was angry, as they seemed to be worried about my dad in the clinic. I was relieved knowing he had tested negative. I remember telling him he would be fine. As the results came a few hours later, I tested positive again, and my dad was negative. Without knowing, that would be the last day I would see my dad.
On Christmas day, my dad called 911 around 6 or 7, he was unable to breathe properly. When I woke up, he was gone. The paramedics performed a molecular test on him and found out he was positive. I could not believe it, despite the diagnosis my dad told us there was nothing to be afraid about. They were taking good care of him at the hospital and he was feeling better, when I called him at night he said he would probably be out of there by Monday.
As the days progressed, we set up a routine. I would either talk to him via facetime when he would call my mom, or he would send updates about his health on a Whatsapp family group chat. Every night, one of us would call the hospital around 6 to ask about my dad’s health status. Even though my dad was at the hospital he always had a word of encouragement. He always assured us he would be fine.
I can’t remember the exact date or time, but I went with Gabriela and my mom into the hospital’s parking lot to try to locate his room. From afar I could see a painting that stood out from a room on the fifth floor.
On Saturday, January 2 I had received a call from the hospital informing me my dad had blood clots throughout his lungs and his body. My sister Alejandra told me to inform him but not to alarm him as my dad had asked me what the nurses had told me. With a broken voice, I informed him that everything required patience and that he was gonna be fine. My sister Alejandra would then give him the full report and told him at last to be patient, they were doing everything they could.
The medical staff tried everything they could to prevent my dad from going into a ventilator, but on Monday the 4th, the doctors informed my mom he was to go to the ICU as his oxygen levels were unstable. On that day he called each and everyone of us. His voice was calm. When I picked up the phone, I began shaking, he told me he was to be put into the ventilator, I asked him if he felt fine, he said yes, I told him I loved him and then I cried.
That week would be the most painful week of my life. Every hour was a song of despair, every minute seemed to run slowly, time was a foe that was laughing at us. Every call was wound to the heart. The news was that he wasn’t getting better.
That night my mom had a dream. She dreamed she went to the hospital, the doctors asked if Maria Ortiz was there, to which she replied with so much joy, yes! The doctors informed her she would have the privilege of putting my dad in his bed. They gave her the proper attire and told her to follow them. As she walked through the hallways of a hospital, my dad raised his head and asked.
“How do I look?”
“Great,” she replied. She then woke up.
On January 6th, as the capitol was being sieged in Washington, the doctor called my mom to inform her that one of my dad’s lungs had collapsed. My sister called me, the hospital announced that only three people could go to visit my dad, as they had promised us that if he was to get worse, then we would be able to see him.
It was raining and thundering, a blistering cold set the stage for a desolate day. The doctor was to discuss with us personally my father’s condition. As they had informed us earlier, it was not promising.
As we got to the hospital, my sisters and I would decide on who would go up to the second floor to see my dad. My sister Alejandra was kind to let me go, so Gabriela, my mom and I would go up the second floor.
As I entered the ICU I noticed a woman screaming, she couldn’t breathe, I heard her wailing as I became more immersed in my thoughts as I was to see my dad. Everything seemed like those video clips from Italy at the beginning of March. The head of the ICU, Paul, was to break it down to us first, before we could see Dr. Reyes.
It was hard for him to look at us. There were tears on his eyes, a reflection of our pain. He informed us they were trying to do a dialysis on my dad, they couldn’t really move him, because if they did he would lose oxygenation. All the medicine they had given him to dissolve those blood clots was having an adverse effect on my dad. He began to bleed from his nose and ears and although he wasn’t feeling anything, it was hard to see him through a glass window as he bled out.
After seeing my dad laying there for a couple of minutes, Dr. Reyes would come to greet us. He introduced himself in a professional manner and then led us to the conference room. His brown eyes stared at ours. He told us there was nothing promising about the results. His body had entered a cycle where once they were able to fix some issues other ones came. Dr. Reyes informed us that my dad was in such a fragile state, that if they tried to resuscitate him there was a high probability that his organs would explode. My mom signed the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form, and we headed back to the ICU hallway to see him.
Through the glass window, I would see him, wishing I could break the glass and hug him. Deep in my thoughts, I stared at him, until a nurse in black scrubs came to talk to us. Her name was Suzanne, she had taken care of my dad when he had been on the 5th floor. She told us about the day my dad was put on a ventilator, she cried, she cried because through the little time she had met him, she had felt his love and charisma.
She hugged my mother and my sister, she then suggested I switch spots with Alejandra, so that she too could see him. I went down to the lobby and gave Alejandra my guest sticker, Suzanne then followed and escorted her where my dad was located.
Since we all had recently recovered from COVID-19. They had allowed us to come visit my dad, otherwise it would have not been possible. As I went down, the nurses were to give my mom all the proper attire to enter the room and see my dad. As I sat down in the lobby, my sisters would call me, I would speak to my dad through a sort of radio. I could just tell him I loved him, as the tears ran down my face. There was a fountain in front of me, I just stared and listened to the water as it came running down in silence.
My sisters and my mom would come down a couple of minutes later. It was time to go, time to try to get some sleep.
The next day, they would only allow two people to come in. Alejandra and my mom would go up to the room and pray for my dad. Gabriela and I were to stay in the car and pray. I honestly have been the most distant from the church in my whole family, not that I am atheist, because I am not, but since I have a philosophy degree everyone assumes I am.
Hume came to mind while praying, an empiricist who didn’t believe in miracles but said that once in a blue moon they could happen. Then I thought about my dad and what he would do if any one of us were in that situation. He would pray. So I decided to let my mind go eff off, as I prayed.
Gabriela put on some worship music in the car, she sings and plays the piano for church. We began talking about my dad and all of the sudden my sister called, my mom and Alejandra were waiting at the lobby door.
That night, my anxiety was at its peak. I slept for two hours and could not go back to sleep. My behaviour was rather erratic and walked from one place to another. It was a cold and gloomy day. I checked my email, as I had sent a manuscript for a poetry book I am working on. A proposal came from a publishing house in Spain. They were to send the contract for myself to analyze and review. I had a conversation with an editor via the phone and then I went for a walk.
I went to City Place in Springwoods Village, and through my walk I stared at the trees. Visions of heaven ran through my mind as I saw the leaves with multiple colors. Is he walking through a garden? What is he dreaming? I wondered. Maybe he was at a beach, or back in Guatemala? Could he see God and his angels? I wondered.
I came back from my walk and asked my mom if she had heard from the hospital. She said they had said the same thing, nothing new. I then showered and later tried to watch a documentary on Netflix titled Lorena Light-Footed Woman. I saw about 25 minutes of it until I began to sob, as I thought of how much my dad would have enjoyed that documentary.
I decided to then stop watching, and instead I opted to go out and pick up the mail. My mom’s friend, Hilda, was outside greeting me with a smile and some burgers. I opened the door for her and told her I would be back shortly. I picked up the mail and came back. Hilda sat down in the dining room, a seat away from me and I began to sob uncontrollably. She hugged me and told me everything would be fine. Her touch and her soothing voice brought me peace, as I see her as an extension of my grandma. I ate my burger with tears in my eyes, but happy I could share that moment with Hilda.
She left my house a couple of minutes after that, and with an odd sense of peace, my anxiety and fear came to an end. The hospital would call my phone this time. The nurse that was taking care of my dad told me that based on her experience, my dad only had a couple of hours left. I said I understood, she said we could either disconnect him or keep him on the ventilator, either way he wasn’t gonna suffer, she assured my family and I. We agreed to keep him on because that is what we would have wanted.
The nurse told us only two people could see him. My sisters and I discussed who would be the one to see him before he passed. After a conversation with my sister Gabriela, she decided to let me go. (I must say, I will always thank her for this).
When picking up my sister Alejandra, the bus 70 would pass us by. That was my father’s bus, he was a bus driver for Klein ISD. I mentioned that he was probably saying bye to us, as if coincidence was granting us this gift. Do we put a meaning to things or do things have meaning?
We then proceeded to go to the hospital. As we were en route to the hospital, we noticed the sky turning orange. From a cold and gloomy day, there was some sort of ethereal gift.
We arrived at the hospital, my mom and I checked out at the lobby and then proceeded to go to my dad’s room. There I would put on the proper attire to go into my dad’s room. I would put two masks on, a face covering and a purple gown that had gloves in it.
I spoke to him first. I held his hand, and told him I loved him again. Not that I hadn’t on multiple occasions before, but I needed to share that with him one more time. I told him about my plans and the offer I had in Spain. I promised to always take care of my family and follow my dreams, just as he would have wished for me to do so.
I went around the bed and saw my mom as she spoke to him. Her make up came running down, although she had all the medical attire one could still see her puffer vest and the striped long sleeve she was wearing. She dressed up and did her make up as if she were to go on a date with him once again.
She sobbed and told him she loved him. She had never cheated on him and had always been there for him through the good, the bad and the ugly and even through a distance, they would speak on Facetime. She had gone to the parking lot on another day and he said to have seen her through the parking garage that faced the Christmas tree.
That night, as we remembered him vividly through Alejandra’s living room, the phone rang as soon as both of my nephews fell asleep. My father had passed. We were all to go see him, as we had agreed with the medical staff.
Once again, we went into his room. My sisters would touch his hands, and Alejandra would caress his head. I’d do the same, I wanted to kiss his forehead, but I didn’t. As one can still pose a threat for other people, and you just never know with this virus.
My father’s death definitely left a mark on me. As we were really close to each other, we would always talk about politics, love and life. In one of our last conversations, we discussed the topic of understanding, as it has never really been my forte as I sometimes tend to be impulsive. To love people it is necessary to have imagination and to look beyond their flaws, as people will always fail us, but through love and understanding one can save oneself from despair.
Understanding our emotions and feelings requires us to explore those things we are sometimes too afraid to speak of, and only by analyzing these things they become sort of less scary. The exploration of these then becomes rather eye opening as opposed to being depressive.
My dad might not have gotten up from that bed yet I still believe in miracles. Is it because I am naive? Is it because my mind wants to believe in something more powerful so that I may find validation?
Life in itself can seem meaningless and pointless. Getting up each and everyday, doing the same routine each and everyday, getting closer to death day by day. Only to be forgotten a century from now, no one will remember our names nor our actions. We seem to be tiny particles in a vast universe and therefore why should we even bother?
In the words of Albert Camus, “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
In other words, despite the struggles in our daily lives, we may find pleasure in the small things. When we don’t focus so much on the self, we might begin to appreciate things differently and not give into the banal and the vain. The small things and the acts of kindness become rather and act of courage and love. In an age where vulnerability is seen as a weakness, I believe it ought to be our strength because as humans we are often fully equipped with virtues as we are with flaws.
On a last note, I had a dream last night. As I laid in a hammock, my dad approached me with a blue shirt and gray pajama pants with blue stripes. He stared into my eyes and told me “One should not be scared of death”.
Now, I ought to live, a life filled with love, care and understanding, as that is the life my dad taught me.