Part 4: The final February with mom

Promise me that you’ll live your lives. For me. For the family. Promise me.” ~ My Mom.

It’s 1 p.m. on February 25, 2021 and we just finished “kidnapping” my mom from Abrazo Hospital. She’s now resting comfortably and in good hands with the ER doctors and nurses at Mayo Hospital.

A team of doctors – about six of them – quickly attend to my mom, evaluate and order every test imaginable. A team of nurses, one for each doctor, quickly put in their doctors’ orders via iPads.

I step aside to watch doctors and nurses swirl around my mom’s hospital bed, giving her their undivided attention. I see the hard looks of concern in their eyes. I’ve caught a couple of them shake their heads. As in, “I can’t believe the condition she’s in.”

So many questions start to swirl around in my head. How did she get so sick? How long has she been sick? Did she know she was sick? Did she know and didn’t tell anyone?

My Mom, My Wonder Woman

And then it hits me, it really hits me. My mom is really sick.

I flew into Phoenix on Feb. 20, but Abrazo Hospital, citing Covid precautions, wouldn’t allow visitors, not even family. So this is the first time I’m seeing my mom in a year and a half. She looks incredibly frail and weak. This is hard to take in.

I had lived my entire life as if my mom was immortal. I heard her say, “I’ll always be here for you,” so many times that I took it literally. I had never entertained the idea that I would someday have to live my life without her.

My mom was only 4-feet, 11-inches, but she stood so tall. All my life, I saw her as an incredibly strong woman, my Wonder Woman. She had a big personality with a loud, hearty laugh. She was bigger than life, at least to me and my brother, and she was a force of nature.

She once went whitewater river rafting with friends in Colorado. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is… because she couldn’t swim!!! Yet she threw on the life vest, tied herself down to the back of the raft and in her words, “Just went for it.”

My initial reaction went something like this: “Mom, are you crazy! You can’t swim! Why would you do that?”

Her response? “Hey, you only live once.” That’s right, my mom said YOLO.

My mom, Rickey Henderson and me.

Here’s another example. She once dragged Baseball Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson across the room to meet me. I repeat… She dragged Major League Baseball’s greatest leadoff hitter and baserunner across the room. She then handed her purse to Henderson’s wife and said, “Here, hold this.” His wife chuckled and happily took a photo of us with her husband, “The Man of Steal.”

So to see her now in this state is a reality I’m not willing to accept. Yet, here it is, punching me in the gut and slapping me in the face.

Missing tests from Abrazo Hospital

“What tests did they do at Abrazo?” The doctors have asked me several times now. I repeat what I was told by Abrazo. Ultrasound. MRI. Colonoscopy. Liver Biopsy.

“We’re having trouble getting all the test results from Abrazo. Are you sure they did a liver biospy?” I repeat the list again. Ultrasound. MRI. Colonoscopy. Liver Biopsy.

The second liver biopsy was a bone of contention with Dr. Ponduchi. She repeatedly told me how they needed a second biopsy. How they needed to biopsy a different area of the liver in order to “get a better understanding of what’s going on.”

The Mayo doctors came back in. They said they had received everything from Abrazo. The results for every test I listed were now in their hands. Except for the liver biopsy.

Finally, one of the doctors pulls up a chair, looks me in the eye and says, “We don’t think they ever performed a liver biopsy. Can you repeat for us, one more time, what they told you?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The didn’t even do the first biopsy!

Yet, Dr. Ponduchi was adamant about doing a second biopsy. What kind of bullshit game was she playing? Why would she play with my mom’s life like this?

“It’s become clear to us that the first liver biopsy was never done. So, we think it’s best we start from the beginning,” another doctor explained.

“Unfortunately, for your family, you’ve gone a whole week without seeing your mom, and basically, it was a week wasted because you didn’t get any answers. What we do know is that your mom is very sick and now we’re going to find out why.”

“So she lied to me? Dr. Ponduchi lied to me?” I ask the doctors.

They paused and looked at each other before one doctor finally says, “It looks that way, yes, based on the information you’ve provided and the fact that it’s not in any of the records they’ve sent over.”

I want to drive back to Abrazo Hospital and confront Dr. Ponduchi. But I can’t. I have finally been reunited with my mom and I’m not letting her out of my sight.

Four-year-old me with my Wonder Woman.

To be continued…

Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y también mi terapia.

I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.

Part 3: The final February with my mom

“You just keep going, mija. Breathe, just breathe, and keep going.” ~ My Mom.

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 24, 2021

I wake up exhausted with swollen eyes and half a plan. It’s not really a plan, it’s a goal: Get my mom out of Abrazo Hospital.

I spend the day calling the hospital. Case Managers. Supervisors of Case Management. Patient Advocacy. Hospital Administration. And, yes, my mom’s hospital primary doctor, Dr. Ponduchi.

Here’s how that went… Case Management told me to call Patient Advocacy who told me to call Administration who told me to call Case Management. “Oh hey, have you tried calling the doctor?”

Are you kidding me!!!

The doctor is definitely dodging me. A nurse finally confirms this.

Now what? Where do we go from here?

My stepfather is livid, but has no idea what to do next. My brother feels helpless. I’m all of the above and I feel like we’re running out of options.

I’m bent over silently, scream-crying in the doorway of my mom’s bathroom, when my daughters (32 and 20 at the time) walk in and do their best to console their mom.

Then, my oldest daughter reminds us of something. We come from my mom, Gloria Galindo. Nana Gloria to them. We don’t fucking give up!

“We’re all in agreement, right?” my oldest daughter asks. “We do whatever it takes to get Nana out of that hospital.”

We’ve made a pact, come hell or high water, we’re getting her out of there.

Just breathe, mija, just keep going.

I’ve got the 5th floor nurses’ station on speed dial and start calling. And calling. And calling. And calling.

I don’t reach Dr. Ponduchi until the early afternoon. I’m convinced the nurses were sick of my phone calls and cornered her.

She immediately denies my request for a transfer to Mayo Hospital. She insists that the next liver biopsy will give them more information.

ADVOCATE (verb): to support or argue for (a cause, policy, etc.), to plead in favor of

I start thinking of other potential advocates. So, I call Medicare. They tell me we have the right to have her transferred by the hospital and we also have the right to take my mom to another hospital ourselves.

Medicare also tells me to call back to file a complaint against Abrazo Hospital and Dr. Ponduchi after we get my mom to Mayo and get things under control.

I call Dr. Ponduchi and relay the message from Medicare. She denies our transfer request again. I tell her we’re on our way to my mom’s primary care doctor to get her help in advocating for my mom’s transfer.

We’re in the lobby of my mom’s primary doctor’s office when Dr. Ponduchi calls me. She says, “I’ll discharge your mom tomorrow. You can pick her up and do whatever you want. Take her to Mayo Hospital or wherever, but I’m not approving a transfer from this hospital.”

It’s 6 p.m. I spend the rest of the night calling medical transport services, checking on availability with less than 24 hours notice and getting quotes. I finally find one I can afford around midnight.

The medical transport is confirmed. They’ll meet us at the hospital at noon, but we have a one-hour window to get whatever paperwork signed and get my mom out or the medical transport will leave.

I’m now dependent on Dr. Ponduchi discharging my mom in time. I can’t sleep.

THURSDAY, FEB. 25, 2021

I arrive at the hospital an hour early and sit in my car with my stepfather and youngest daughter. I call my mom’s nurse three times to ask if the doctor has discharged her. She has not.

The medical transport driver has arrived and we now have an hour to get my mom out of this damn hospital. The clock is ticking.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we’re not allowed to enter the hospital without being added to “the list.”

I call my mom’s nurse one more time and, in so many words, I tell her: The medical transport is here. I have less than an hour to get my mom out of this hospital. If I have to make a scene in the lobby, you will see this on the evening news and I’m naming names. Do I need to start calling TV stations?

She says, “Give me 15 minutes.”

My stepfather and I are finally allowed to enter the hospital along with the medical transport driver and the gurney.

As we’re in the elevator, it dawns on me that my stepfather hasn’t seen his wife in almost seven days. I haven’t seen my mom in a year and a half. She was admitted on February 19 and it’s now February 25.

WE FINALLY SEE MY MOM

When we finally get to the 5th floor and step into my mom’s room, the three of us gasp in horror. We’re in shock at the conditions. It’s dirty, dingy and cold. There’s something sticky on the floors.

And then we see my mom.

We weren’t ready. Nothing could have prepared us for this.

It was dark except for this ONE light right above my mom’s bed that was obviously torturing her. She was covering her face with the back of her right arm.

And then we see the bruises. On her arms. On her chest. On her neck.

There were bruises from fingers to her shoulder. We have the right to advocate on behalf of our loved ones. If we don’t, who will? Please fight for them!

We call out to her and my stepfather runs to her side in tears. I run to other side and tell her we’re taking her out of this fucking place.

She begins to cry uncontrollably and grabs my arm, pulling me closer to her. What she says next still haunts me.

“Oh my god, thank you for saving me, mija. Oh my god, I thought I was going to die here.”

We look for her cell phone. We finally find it in a box out of her reach along with the family photos we dropped off. We check the hospital phone – the one we called dozens of times – and it’s turned off.

As I step aside to handle the paperwork with my mom’s nurse, another nurse walks in. She appears to be someone with authority.

I JUST CALL “THEM” MARIA

This nurse tells my mom that she’s leaving and to stop crying. She adds, “OK, Maria, you can stop crying now.”

When my stepfather tells the nurse that my mom’s name is Gloria and not Maria, the nurse dismisses him with the back of her hand and says, “I know, I just call them Maria.”

Them???

My stepfather explodes, “Her name is not Maria, you piece of…”

I cut him off and shove him into the bathroom. I remind him that we’re this close to getting my mom the hell out of here so calm the fuck down.

The medical transport driver finally gets my mom onto the gurney. I check the time. Our one-hour window is closing.

As we head for the elevator, I can’s shake this feeling. It’s fear. I’m afraid that at any moment someone could try to stop us. Like, physically stop us. I’m afraid someone will go to jail today because we are not backing down.

Just breathe, mija, just keep going.

The slowest elevator in the world finally takes us to the first floor and we can now see the automatic doors. We’re almost there.

Every single person we pass seems to know what’s going on. The admittance clerk. The COVID mask/sanitizer clerk. Both security guards. They all whisper the same thing to us, “You’re taking her to Mayo Hospital, right? Good, good.”

THE CLOCK IS TICKING

We finally pass through the automatic doors. My mom has finally been freed from this fucking place. But there’s no time to celebrate, the clock is still ticking.

My daughter rushes to her grandmother’s side. “Hey Nana, it’s me.”

My mom can’t believe it. “Is it really you? Am I dreaming?” She looks at me for confirmation. I tell her it’s true, it’s her youngest granddaughter. Yes, all the way from Florida, she’s here to see you.

My mom is crying uncontrollably again, tightly holding on to her granddaughter when the medical transport reminds us that we’re running out of time. “We gotta get going, folks.”

My stepdad is at my mom’s side in the medical transport. My daughter and I are right behind them.

We’re finally taking my mom to a good hospital. We’re finally taking her to see some good doctors. We’re finally going to get a diagnosis. She’ll finally get the care she deserves. And she’ll finally better.

Only four of those things turn out to be true.

To be continued…

Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y también mi terapia.

I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.

Abrazo Hospital left my mom’s beautiful hands bruised, her fingernails dirty.

Part 2: The final February with my mom

“There will come a day when you’ll have to make some really hard decisions. Remember to be strong.” ~ Mom.

I was 5 years old when my Tío Manuel was in a car accident. I told my mom once that I remembered the night of the accident, vividly, but that I couldn’t remember anything else. She filled in the blanks…

The injuries from the car accident had left my uncle in a coma. There was no brain activity, according to the doctors. There was nothing left to do except to say goodbye and take him off of life support. My grandmother couldn’t do it. 

It was my mom who made the decision to remove her brother from life support, to let go, to let him rest in peace. It was the hardest decision she’d ever made.

“You have to be strong. Do you hear me? Mírame,” she ordered. Look at me. She locked eyes with me. It was her way of letting me know she was serious. She went on to remind me that hard decisions awaited me in life and that I had to be prepared to take them on.

I had no idea what my mom was preparing me for. Until she got sick….

The following is Part 2 of The Final February with My Mom. You can read Part One here.

Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021

I’m finally able to reach a nurse around 7 p.m.  I record our conversation and take notes. I use a 6×9 Mead notebook that I find in my mom’s office, the kind where the pages flip at the top.

The nurse hints at cancer but can’t tell me why because she’s not a doctor. She says she doesn’t want to lead us astray, but she wants us to be prepared for the worst. I ask if the liver biopsy is still scheduled for the next day. She has no idea.

My head is spinning.

I ask to speak to a doctor; she says she’ll have one call me back. We never received a call from a doctor.

The conversation with this nurse sends me into a tailspin. It’s the first time the “C” word is mentioned. I can’t breathe, I’m light-headed. When I finally catch my breath, I start screaming, “No, no, no! This can’t be happening!”

My mom has now been in the hospital for three days – alone. We’ve had no communication with her today and the hospital won’t allow even one visitor. We’ve checked other hospitals; they’re allowing at least one visitor per day. 

We drop off a small box at the front desk with family photos and her cell phone charger. I check my cell phone. The last text message from my mom was from the previous day. It just said, “I.”

I can feel my mom slipping away.

Monday, Feb. 22, 2021

I send whatever recordings I have at this point to my cousin, she’s a nurse at a different hospital. She translates for me because I don’t speak this language. She gives me suggestions on follow up questions, I make a list. She advises me on nurse shift changes and the best times to call. All of this proves to be extremely helpful. 

Finally, around noon a doctor calls, he’s a gastroenterologist. He says things looked pretty normal during my mom’s colonoscopy. This comes as a surprise. We were unaware that she was having this procedure.  Not one nurse in the past four days mentioned a colonoscopy. She was under anesthesia, and we didn’t even know.  He said another doctor would be calling soon. This other doctor never calls.

When I reach the day nurse, she tells me that in addition to the colonoscopy, they did the liver biopsy, but it would take several days for results to come back to the hospital. My mom has already been in this hospital for four days and now we have to wait another 4-5 days for the biopsy results.    

I’ve been calling the hospital every day, advocating on behalf of my mom, but it’s not enough. Aside from the gastroenterologist, no other doctor has called us.   

I need to get my mom out of that hospital.

Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021

They’ve put my mom in restraints. This breaks me. The image of my mom being tied to a hospital bed just breaks me. 

The notes from the night nurse say that my mom had been acting confused, that she didn’t know her name, and that she tried to pull out her IV. The nurse I’m talking to says she’s surprised because my mom is sharp as a tack.

I beg the nurse to remove the restraints.

She then tells me that they’ve ordered a second biopsy. I ask why. Why would you do another biopsy without having results from the first one? This conversion goes in circles. 

I’m done with this hospital.  

After spending the day talking to Medicare and Mayo Hospital and getting advice from my cousin, I now know how to get my mom out of that hospital, but I need Abrazo to initiate the transfer. The first step is to make the request.

I call the nurse on shift to notify her: I want my mom transferred to Mayo Hospital. I tell her to stop the second liver biopsy and all other tests. 

She says she has to notify my mom’s primary doctor at the hospital. Wait, what? This is the first I’m hearing of a primary doctor, but this is the doctor who’s been overseeing my mom’s care. Allegedly. 

I finally get the doctor’s name: Dr. Mirela Ponduchi.  

My mom has now been in the hospital for five days. We’re nowhere close to a diagnosis and we have yet to hear from my mom’s doctor, Dr. Ponduchi.

This is where the fight begins.

To be continued

Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y también mi terapia.

I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.

This is the 6×9 Mead notebook I used to write down notes, names and questions. I keep the notebook on my office desk.
My mom and her brothers. My uncle Manuel is sitting next to my mom.
My mom and her husband, Jose, the love of her life.

The final February with my mom

“When you feel like something is off, it probably is. Go with your gut.” ~ My mom.

I don’t know why I’m doing this – writing this out chronologically – only that I need to. Part of me still can’t believe that the events leading up to my mom’s death unfolded the way they did. Another part of me doesn’t want to forget.

The “why” isn’t that complicated, I guess. I started writing this blog for me. My therapy. Mi terapia.

Everything you’re about to read is on auto replay in mind every single day. I don’t know what my mind is searching for. Maybe it’s just a constant self-critique.  Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda. A mental picking of the scab.

Friday, Feb. 5, 2021

“Call me when you can talk. I’m having medical issues.”

That was her text message. On the phone, my mom would tell me that her annual bloodwork showed a potential problem with her kidneys. Her doctor ordered an MRI to be done the next day.

The topic of conversation turns into chisme and she updates me on my brother’s dating life. She gets in one final dirty joke before hanging up. A few minutes later, she sends me a meme via Facebook Messenger. That’s my mom!

Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021

My mom goes to Abrazo Hospital’s Central Campus for the MRI. She sends me several messages via FB messenger, giving me hilarious blow-by-blow details about what she’s witnessing at the hospital. A rude woman at the front desk, but my mom likes her eyelashes. A big man with huge boobs (I’m not making this up). “They’re even bigger than mine!” she tells me.

My mom is still joking ar ound. That’s good!

The MRI showed “masses in the liver,” but they send her home anyway and refer her back to her primary doctor. I’m confused by this decision.

Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2021

Something is wrong. My youngest daughter is next to me as we FaceTime with my mom. Her eyes keep darting away from the phone, she can’t stay focused. When she looks back to the phone, she seems surprised to see us, like she forgot she was talking to us. When she starts to talk, she can’t complete a sentence.

A few minutes later, I FaceTime with my oldest daughter in Texas. She’s in tears. She had a separate call with my mom via FaceTime. She saw what we saw. Something is wrong.

Feb. 18, 2021

“I don’t care anymore,” my mom tells me on the phone. She had missed an appointment or mixed up the date of the appointment. It’s not clear. She blames it on “foggy brain” and says her mind is mush. “I’m just so tired,” she tells me over and over again. But the “I don’t care anymore” comment? That’s not my mom.

Friday, Feb. 19, 2021

I call my mom early in the morning to remind her she has an appointment with her primary care doctor. She doesn’t answer. I call my stepdad. He says my mom didn’t tell him about the appointment. He rushes to get ready and gets my mom to her appointment. Her doctor takes one look at her and says, “She’s jaundiced, get her to the hospital now!”

My mom calls from her cell phone. “I’m being admitted,” she tells me. She can barely talk. My stepdad calls me from the parking lot, he was thrown out of the hospital. Due to Covid, Abrazo isn’t allowing visitors. He was told a doctor would follow up with him later in the day. No one from the hospital called.

My mom is alone.

I book flights with my daughters for the very next day.

Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021

I’m back in Phoenix at my mom’s house. No one from the hospital has called. She’s now been in the hospital, alone, for 24 hours.

I start calling the hospital. I finally reach a nurse around eight o’clock that night. She says my mom is experiencing shortness of breath, she’s also very week and can’t sit up on her own. They’ve scheduled a liver biopsy for Monday.  

I ask why no one has called to update us with any of this. She doesn’t answer. She’s silent.

I go back to the biopsy. Monday? Why can’t the biopsy be done before then?

“We don’t do biopsies on weekends” was the answer. This seems crazy to me!

I ask to speak to my mom. The nurse puts my mom on the phone, and we talk, briefly. She sounds scared.

I think my mom is in the wrong hospital. I start recording every conversation with hospital staff.

To be continued…

Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y también mi terapia.

I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.

I took this screen shot from a video chat with my mom and my granddaughter/her great-granddaughter, Emma. This is one of the last video chats before my mom got sick.

Letting go of my mom’s house

I’ve been putting this off. I wanted to be in a better and stronger head space. I wanted to write this with my head held high. I wanted to make her proud.

The truth is my shoulders are slumped as I write through my tears. I’m riddled with guilt, and I’m overcome with shame.

I let my mom down.

There is no shortage of reasons for the guilt nor the shame.

I shouldn’t have moved out of state… I should’ve visited more often… I should have known she was sick… I should’ve taken her out of that horrible hospital sooner…. I should’ve given her a better memorial service… I should’ve found a way to keep her house.

Yeah, that last one. That last one has me begging her for forgiveness. I find myself mumbling, “I tried, mom, I tried.”  

My mom was so proud of me. Not “a mom is proud of her kid” proud. It was more like “a mom is proud of her rocket scientist kid” proud except that I’m not a rocket scientist.

All this high praise for her daughter must have really sucked for my brother (I’m sorry, bro.) and it must have been incredibly annoying for my cousins.

She recited my resume of accomplishments so often that it made me uncomfortable. I moved out of state seven years ago, but I knew the bragging was constant. I knew this because she told me.   

You see, my mom put me on the highest of all pedestals. So, to fail at this, the one thing she wanted most, the one thing she wanted to leave to family… To say I’m shattered is an understatement of the highest order.

Nana Gloria’s house

This wasn’t the house I grew up in. It was Nana Gloria’s house, the house my kids grew up in. The backyard that my kids played in. The backyard with all the plants from Home Depot and wall hangings from Mexico. The kitchen with all the magnets on the fridge. The pantry with almost every conceivable flavored coffee. The Arizona room where she hosted my baby shower. The Arizona room where I told her I was getting a divorce because my first marriage had fallen apart, and I needed her help.

And there was the fountain in the back patio. When my kids were little, my mom got a kick out of letting them get completely soaked in their diapers from playing in the fountain water and then handing them over to me.

Two days before she died, she told us to make sure to let her “babies” – her great-grandchildren – play in the fountain. Let them get wet in their diapers and take pictures, she instructed. The day after her memorial service, we did just that.

Trying to save my mom’s house made me sick. Literally, sick. I had insomnia. Then came the panic attacks. I started scream-crying when I was alone and silently scream-crying in bed when my husband was asleep. I punished myself with food and guilt.  

This was over the course of six months. Meanwhile, the bills were piling up. The mortgage company wanted an answer. Buy it, sell it, or we take it, they said.

We chose to sell it.

Losing another piece of my mom

We just couldn’t afford it. The loan had to be big enough to pay off the mortgage, pay off all of my mom’s creditors, and pay out equity shares to my stepdad, to me and to my brother. There was also a matter of my mom’s ex-husband who potentially still had a claim to some equity in the house. (This last scenario ended up being moot, but it wasn’t cleared up for months.) And then there was Aqua Finance. They convinced my mom to buy a $12k shower when she was sick (she just didn’t know it yet) and then put a lien on her house after being notified of her death. There was also a chance that the house wouldn’t appraise high enough.  

The morning of Christmas Eve, I got the call. My mom’s house had sold. It was so… final.

I sat there, in my daughter’s home office in Texas, silently scream-crying. The pain of losing another piece of my mom was almost unbearable. I finally composed myself enough to call my brother and then my stepdad to let them know.

I then had to walk into the next room and tell my kids. Nana Gloria’s house was gone.

I don’t think I need to go into details here so let’s just leave it at that.

I tried, mom. I tried. Please forgive me.

Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y también mi terapia.

I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.

My mom’s house at Christmastime.
The fridge with all the magnets.
The fountain where she encouraged my kids to get wet in their diapers.
My mom loved her back patio and her plants so much.
My mom had these wall hangings throughout her back and side fence.
One of the many metal wall hangings that she picked up in Mexico.
One of my favorites, also from Mexico.

Messages from my mom in my brother’s dreams

My mom visits my brother in his dreams. He says they’re so real, so vivid.

This doesn’t happen to me so I’m envious. So yeah, sucks for me, but the coolest thing happens after my brother has these dreams. He calls me and describes each one in such detail that I can see it like a movie in my head, frame by frame.

Our mom most recently visited him the night of Jan. 8, his birthday. What a gift for my brother! He called me early the next morning to tell me about it.

In his dream, they’re back in our mom’s house, in her home office. “She looked good,” my brother tells me. “Nothing was wrong with her, and she had all this energy.”

He described our mom as happy, energetic, and chatty. That’s exactly who our mom was in this world. Maybe more importantly, he said our mom looked healthy. If you’re new here, our mom died of cancer on March 14, 2021.

She told my brother, “Call your sister. Tell her the tamales are on their way to Florida.” Sadly, this isn’t true. There are no tamales on their way to me in Florida… unless someone in my family wants to send some my way. (Hint, hint.)

She told him again, “Call your sister, call your sister!” My brother, who doesn’t know anyone’s phone number by heart (who does nowadays), picked up the phone (in his dream) and dialed my number correctly. He said it felt so real that he was excited for me to answer so he could put me on the phone with our mom.

If only this dream had been real….

If only my brother had been able to really talk to her…

If only he could have really put me on the phone with her…

While my eyes teared up (like they’re doing now) and the sadness of missing my mom draped over me once again, my brother looked at this so differently and in such a positive light.

“Mom’s happy,” he told me. We think that was the message. She’s happy and she wanted her son to call his sister to let her know. Message received.

I was so grateful he shared his dream with me, so grateful for our conversation that morning. Thank you so much, brother. You have no idea how much that meant to me. I love you, brother.

Mom, thank you for visiting my brother in his dreams, especially on his birthday. Please don’t ever stop. Te quiero mucho, mami.

Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y también mi terapia.

I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.

Phantom smells trigger real memories

After the flour, salt and baking powder have been mixed together, and you’ve mixed in the manteca, and you’ve added in the water, and the dough has come together as you knead it with your hands, there’s a slight but unmistakable scent. La masa.

It was the smell of wet dough that caught my attention. I swear I could smell its stickiness.

I was sitting in my living room when the smell of slightly damp tortilla dough hit me. It was so real, so present. I turned around, half-expecting to see someone making flour tortillas in my kitchen. My heart was hoping to see my mom.  

It wasn’t the smell of flour tortillas on the comal (griddle). It was la masa, the dough. And it reminded me of my mom and grandmother, Nana Carmen.

Suddenly, I was five years old again, standing on a kitchen chair, making tortillas in my Nana’s tiny house on Taylor Street in Tolleson, Arizona. In fact, I can still smell it. As I sit here, typing these words, the aroma is so real that I keep looking back into my kitchen.

I’d give anything to look back and see my mom. Anything in the world.

These phantom smells trigger real memories, and they play tricks on me… on my heart.

For a moment, you think it’s real. For a moment, you forget your mom is gone. For a moment, you turn around, expecting to see her in your kitchen, but she’s not there, and she never will be, ever again.

Maybe someday, these phantom smells, these memories will be received with open arms, even a smile. For now, it just feels like a cruel, cruel joke.

Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y también mi terapia.

I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.

2014: My mom took this pic as she watched three of her five granddaughters (center) make tortillas for the first time.

First Thanksgiving without mom

The plan was I’d fly in from Florida, and she’d fly in from Phoenix. We’d meet in Houston to be with my daughter and grandchildren – my mom’s granddaughter and great-grandchildren. Or maybe everyone would go to Phoenix and couch-surf at her house.

We were supposed to be together.

That was the point. To be together. For Thanksgiving. In 2021.

Those were the kinds of plans we made last year when we were kept apart by Covid. We’ll be together again. Next Thanksgiving.

But then cancer. Everywhere. Suddenly, our mom was gone.

We were cheated, robbed, from having her with us this Thanksgiving and every Thanksgiving. And every holiday and every birthday and any day of any significance in our family.

And this, I can’t get over. I can’t forgive. At least not yet. Maybe never.

When a piece of wood splinters, you can’t really fix it. You can hold the two pieces together, and they sort of fit, but there are these little pieces of wood that splinter off completely.

The best you can do is wrap some duck tape around it and hope for the best.

My family is now like that piece of wood. Splintered into several uneven pieces. The pieces aren’t even in the same area codes. Arizona. Texas. Florida. New York.

This piece of wood – aka our family – will never be the same. Ever.

On one hand, it’s a testament to who my mom was. She was larger than life. She was the matriarch. La mera mera.

Who are we without her? How does a splintered family stay together? Who has the duct tape?

My brother and I did our best to stay connected over the holiday – our first Thanksgiving without mom. He shared pictures of his bacon-wrapped turkey and we shared funny stories during our video chat about his gravy and my stuffing. (I forgot to make it.)

But we were missing the most important ingredient: Our mom.

Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y también mi terapia.

I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.

Me and my brother with our mom on Thanksgiving in 1977 (I think).
My brother’s bacon-wrapped turkey.

Mom’s red Altima

The email from the probate folks looked like just another email on the surface. It was anything but. It was a punch in the gut, informing us that yet another piece of my mom is gone.

My mom’s car has been sold. With that, a piece of her identity is gone.

It’s as if more proof that she existed is slowly being erased because the pain we’ve endured since she died isn’t enough. It’s fucking torture.

Everyone who knew my mom knew her car: the red Altima. She loved that car. It’s the car she used to deliver Avon orders. It’s the car she showed up in to countless family get togethers (at least an hour early and always the first one there). She listened to her favorite radio station in that car, Mega 104.3, and danced in her seat while doing her signature shoulder shimmy.

It’s just a car. Why does it hurt so much? Memories. That’s why.

Memories of her picking me up from the airport. Driving us to breakfast at one of our favorite spots. ¿Que quieres, mija? Menudo. Chilequilles. Machaca.

But my best memories of my mom in that car? Our convos. Forever our convos.

My mom’s red Altima.

Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y también mi terapia.

I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.

Día de los Muertos: Honoring My Mom

Growing up, I remember grief being expressed very privately in our family. My grandmother, mi Nana Carmen, kept private niches of loved ones on her dresser. When I asked about them, she refused to talk to about it.

That’s not who I am. I talk about it. I express it. I write about it.

I’ve been tangled up in all these feelings over the last eight months – the loss, the grief, the leftover love. I’ve needed a way to express these feelings. More importantly, I needed a way to honor my mom. It led to me creating my first altar, una ofrenda, during Día de los Muertos.

My mom with her feet kicked up, drinking her cafecito in Rocky Point, Mexico. This is mom in her element.

During the process, I talked to my mom and listened to her favorite songs. I even kicked my feet up on my desk and enjoyed some cafecito just like she used to do. I burned a candle that smelled like arroz con leche.

It’s believed that the souls of the our loved ones return to visit us during this time. I think that’s why I played the music and burned the candle. If it’s true, and I hope it is, I wanted those familiar smells and sounds to lead my mom’s soul back to me.

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Oct. 28: “The first candle is lit to help guide and receive lost souls.”

I started the altar with some photos and her favorite coffee mug. Yes, that’s my mom dressed up as Elvira for Halloween. I was 15 and she used my teeny-bopper bra to create that cleavage. The bra was ruined after that, I had to toss it.

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Oct. 29: “The next candle is lit and water is placed in honor of the abandoned and forgotten souls.”

The center photo is a framed memorial card that we passed out at her service. It reads, “My mind still talks to you. My heart still looks for you. My soul knows you’re at peace.” It was written by my oldest daughter.

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Oct. 30: “White bread is placed for those who passed without eating.”

On this day, I added a photo of my Nana Carmen and my Tía Lupe. There was something about the bread. My earliest childhood memories of our food, nuestra comida, come from their kitchens.

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Oct. 31: “Pan de Muerto and fruit is added for our ancestors. “

On this day, I added more family photos: my grandfather, my great-grandparents and my uncle. Why the pear? My mom loved pears.

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Nov. 1: “More food is put on the altar as we remember the spirits of our loved ones and prepare to welcome them.”

On this day, I added a concha, Mexican sweet bread, some chocolates and more fruit.

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Nov. 2: “Souls of our loved ones come to visit us and eat the offering placed on the altar.”

Here’s a look at the ofrenda in its entirety. On the last day, I added a signature piece: a shadow box with a photo of my mom from her last birthday. At the bottom, it says, “Recuérdame.” And the Cherry Coke? That was her favorite and it’s the one thing she kept asking for near the end.

Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y mi terapia.

I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.

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