Eulogy for Papá Chepe

Today my family laid Papá Chepe to rest. I couldn’t be there for the wake and funeral. I wasn’t there to sing alongside dad, Lori and Danny nor there to pray the Rosary. I didn’t get to see Adrian serve as a pallbearer and didn’t get to hug my mom as she crumbled in tears. I couldn’t hug my tías, tíos and primos and share funny stories over a bowl of menudo. But I was there to see him just six weeks ago and that makes me feel at peace.

Still, my parents knew I was sad I couldn’t attend. To help me feel included, my mom and dad asked me to write the eulogy as they know how much I love to write. I was tremendously honored and drew on Papá Chepe’s own words from our interview as well as one of my mom’s favorite stories.

Lori read the eulogy and added some words of her own. We couldn’t sing together this time, but this was close enough.

***

I love the hat

When I started writing this eulogy I focused on the facts of José Ureño’s life – or as I knew him, Papá Chepe. The first draft was filled with many dates and numbers. 1920 – the year he was born in Ciudad Juárez. Two – his age when his parents, Apolonio and Cecilia, moved back to their native El Cargadero. 1943 – the year he married Antonia Saldivar.

José Barrios Ureño

1944 – the year he first came to the United States to work as a bracero in Salinas. Eight – the number of children God gave him.

Ureño Saldivar family, 1968

Familia Ureño Saldivar

1956 – the year his older sister Margarita sponsored his immigration. Three – the number of homes he had in El Cargadero, Tijuana and East LA. 71 – the number of years he was married to Antonia before she passed away. 96 – his current age.

Cousins being silly

Those numbers and facts are important, of course. But they don’t tell enough of the story of José Ureño’s life and why we loved him so much. Nor do they illustrate how much he loved his wife Antonia and the beautiful large family they were blessed with.

Tu sonrisa se te ve muy bien...

They do not tell us about his smile that reflected a personality full of joy and happiness. They do not tell us how much he loved God and the strength of his faith. And they don’t tell us how much he gave to others.

These stories, I hope will tell you.

Six years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Papá Chepe and record a conversation about his life. He told me about how he came to marry Antonia. From a young age, he had always admired the Saldivar family for their kindness. Many years before, Apolonio worked for Leonardo Saldivar and Juan Saldivar, Antonia’s grandfather and father. One day, Sr. Saldivar asked Apolonio why he always wore the same huaraches. Apolonio responded, “Why, these are the only shoes I own. I can’t afford anything else.” Sr. Saldivar told his son Juan to buy some good shoes for Apolonio the next time he went to Zacatecas. The Saldivar men kept their word and Apolonio got new shoes. José learned this story at a young age and thus knew Antonia was from a good family.

60th anniversary

But courting her was not easy. She didn’t have much time for boys with housework and caring for her brothers who saw her as their mother. Plus, she had great respect for father. In those days, girls didn’t come out to flirt with boys and José couldn’t just send her a text message. The only way to see your sweetheart was to wait for her at the bailes. Messages were passed through the girl’s trusted male relatives, like a cousin or brother. And even if you did go to visit her, it wasn’t guaranteed that you would get to see her. This happened to José once. He rode his horse two hours over the hills to el Rancho de Aguas just to see Antonia. But when he arrived, Antonia came to the window to say she couldn’t come out to because her father was home. And so, José rode all the way back to El Cargadero. He told me this is why he likes the song “La Feria de las Flores” which has a line “en mi caballo retinto, yo he venido de muy lejos.” It was quite the romantic gesture and even though she couldn’t see him that time, he won her heart. Antonia and José married on January 30, 1943.

Papá Chepe and his older sister, tía Antonia

Papá Chepe was a very giving and generous man. He and Mamá Toni helped so many with no expectations of getting anything in return. They both knew that they had been extremely blessed. It was this giving that he was most proud of late in life. One day he was in church here at St. John Vianney and heard Padre Roberto speak about the needs of Hogar Calasanz, an orphanage in Tijuana. They were running out of space for all the children. At the same time, José and Antonia hadn’t been able to sell their home in Tijuana. So he decided the best thing to do would be to donate the home to the orphanage. The only thing he wanted was for the home to be called San José.

La casa amarilla (yellow house)

My mom tells me a story that illustrates Papá Chepe’s great faith. Many years ago, El Cargadero was plagued with a severe drought. Many of José’s peers hired well-educated engineers to help them find a place to dig a well. Papá Chepe entrusted God for this. He built a well in the garage of his home of El Cargadero.

Papá Chepe checking up on something

The well was an abundant source of water. It never dried. Other Cargaderenses would come to José and ask him which engineer had helped him find water. José’s answer, was always “El de arriba” (the one from above). His peers didn’t believe him and accused José of being selfish and not sharing his good fortune. But that just made José repeat himself. It was God who helped him. And because it was God who helped him, he would always share the water from the well with anyone who asked. As we’ve said, Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni were very fortunate but also giving.

Cuatro generaciones

A few weeks after Papa Chepe’s stroke in January 2014, I learned that San José was the patron saint of a Happy Death. It’s said that since San José was with Mary and Jesus when he died, he died happy. In that scary time when we didn’t know what was going to happen, this knowledge calmed me as I knew how devoted Papá Chepe was to San José. But that was not Papá Chepe’s time to go. The stroke brought our family closer together. It showed us that the selflessness and love he had always shown in caring for his own family came back tenfold.

chepetonidisney

In the days before and after Papa Chepe’s passing I was reminded once again of San José. Papá Chepe led a happy life filled with family and love. As he took his last breaths, he was surrounded by his family, those who loved him so, so much. And soon he’d be with Mamá Toni again. What couldn’t be happier than that?

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Papá Chepe and Undying Love

I wish somebody had told me love does not die, that we can continue to receive and give love after death.
From “Resurrections”, by Sandra Cisneros in A House of My Own: Stories From My Life

Papá Chepe

Papá Chepe passed away yesterday afternoon.

He took his last breath surrounded by family. We knew his passing was imminent but expected to have a few more days. Lori says it was quite peaceful and I want to believe he had a “happy death” as he was a devotee of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the dying and a happy death.

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I’m like my family, at once devastated and at peace. Can we really be sad when we had him so many years? As cousin Nancy put it, it feels selfish to want him here with us forever. It’s only fitting that he should rest after 96 years and reunite with Mamá Toni.

Mom and Papá Chepe are not the kind to pass up dancing

I’m finding solace in the knowledge that I got to visit just a month ago when we already knew his health was declining. While I was in LA he was alert and in good spirits. He ate the delicious food my mom and aunts made. He met Archie and even took his turn watching over Archie while I ate or played with Xavi.

Meeting baby Archie

On the night before we left, I said goodnight and goodbye to Papá Chepe. Our flight the next morning was early and we wouldn’t want to disturb his sleep and make him emotional. I said adios and went and cried in the room where I was sleeping. I knew it was likely that that would be the final time I would see him.

Meeting a newborn Xavi

Honk honk

Xavi helps Papa Chepe with his writing exercises

But just as that memory is fresh and raw, I have so many other beautiful memories with him and Mamá Toni. I feel so lucky that we got to dance to his favorite songs and I have an interview recorded whenever I just want to hear his voice. I have my family and their memories, always filled with smiles and laughter. I have my posts here and photos and the love that does not die.

Mama Toni and Papa Chepe

I know I will never cease to feel Papá Chepe’s immense love. I still feel it from Mamá Toni and I know that my family will continue to be watched over by them, nuestros angelitos.

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Forty plus one

I wrote these thoughts yesterday morning. I now realize there’s a few similarities between what I wrote on Xavi’s due date and what I feel on Bubble’s due date.

I seem to have skipped the nesting phase. I didn’t have it big with Xavi either, but there was definitely more prep in readying our home.

I’m glad baby didn’t come over the weekend. Xavi’s babysitter was out of town. She’s our plan for when I go in to labor. We don’t have a backup. Unless, of course, baby comes once my parents arrive.

My mom and dad will be here in a week!

I went on maternity leave just as the fall semester was starting. The transition from summer university life to fall has always rankled me and I’m not sad to skip it.

Despite being on leave I’m still doing work from home. A busy summer meant getting work done but not planning as much as I needed to for leave.

I have a prenatal massage today. I double checked with the spa to make sure that I wouldn’t be charged for canceling late if I do go in to labor.

Currently reading A House of My Own: Stories from My Life by Sandra Cisneros and it’s amazing. I’ve already cried about three times. She feels like my wise tía and such a poet in the sense that she writes what others feel.

Part of what bummed me out about Xavi being a week late was waiting through important days. I thought it would be SO cool if he was born on Papá Chepe’s birthday. As the patriarch of a big family he had no birthday twins and it was time for at least one.

Added today

Lots of people ask me if Xavi is excited about becoming a big brother. Before a few days ago, I’d say I didn’t really know. And if he was excited, it wasn’t expressed the way he typically shows (jumping, eyes lighting up in that “oh, boy, oh boy!” sense).

But I think the efforts we’ve been making have helped. He has books about becoming a big brother and having a baby in the home. He’s seen the apartment start to be populated with baby things. On Saturday, he attended a “siblings are special” class at the hospital. We pushed it by scheduling the class just a few days before my due date, but the previous date didn’t work for me due to work. Xavi got to tour the labor and delivery ward again (he went with us the first time we toured), saw a real newborn in the nursery, made a birthday poster for baby, and got to practice helping change a baby’s diaper.

40 weeks

During his recent speech therapy appointment his therapist brought a baby doll. She told Sean that Xavi did really well feeding the baby, brushing hair, hugging and singing baby songs. He was very sweet and gentle.

He’s also started doing a baby act. He does a “wah waaah” cry if we mention a baby and wants to be held in a cradle position. I ask him what baby needs. Diaper change? Feeding? Cuddles? A nap? And he just laughs.

And at a recent baby shower, he gave a 2 month old baby a gentle hug unprompted.

Yesterday, Sean and Xavi went to pick me up at the spa. Xavi asked Sean if they were going to the hospital to get me and baby.

He still doesn’t say, “yes” if you ask if he’s excited. But I think he is.

As for how I’m feeling? No signs of labor starting — that’s what people really want to know. And okay, but uncomfortable as one would expect a woman to feel late in pregnancy. I took long walks while waiting for Xavi but won’t be doing that because it’s hot and humid. Plus, I’m just not that comfortable.

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Enough: On reaching milestones

When he first smiled as a tiny baby, I remember thinking, this is amazing. It was enough. And then he laughed and I wondered, how did I ever know how beautiful life could be before I heard his laugh? And then he clapped and showed his approval when I sang and my heart felt like it was going to burst. It was the best compliment I’d ever received and I wondered how I even knew he liked the songs before he clapped and smiled approvingly.

Each of these little milestones floored me at the time. They were all enough in the sense that I didn’t think, “I can’t wait until he’s doing X.” In that moment, they were exactly what I needed and wanted as a new mom. My son was happy and healthy and, like the nursery song goes, he was showing it with his clapping and smiling. And yet, when he added something — words, songs, dances, expressions, his own jokes — it became even better.

How does it just keep getting better? This is the way it’s designed to be, right?

One day I’m singing the lullaby and then the next he’s singing along. One moment I’m leading bedtime prayers for his grandparents and other family members. The next he chimes in that he wants to pray for his iPad and Grandma Eula’s iPad. While Sean suppresses giggles, I call him a joker. Xavi doubles down with the banana, banana, banana, orange knock-knock joke. But it’s only the orange part, his favorite. When he clamors for songs from his favorite musical, Hamilton, I object because cabinet battles get him too riled up, not something conducive to bedtime. So I go with the lullaby, “Dear Theodosia.”

As I sing “and you’ll blow us all away, some day, some day” he joins in. It’s harmonious and perfect. He’s a good little singer. He gets it from his grandpa, my dad.

And I thought, this is amazing. He’s no longer a baby, but it’s still the best feeling. I know from just three years and a week into this that there will be many more of these moments (si Dios quiere), but they’ll catch me off guard. My response will likely be the same. I’ll be awed, amazed and bursting with love and pride.

I don’t yet know what it will be, but it will be enough. It always is.

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Xavi is three

dodgercap

Xavi has been in speech therapy in Ithaca for less than a year. However, Sean and I have already met with a number of professionals in early intervention who consistently ask us to describe our son. The last time we did it was in a meeting with school district officials as Xavi’s impending third birthday meant he would age out of early intervention services through the county health department and his speech therapy would be handled by the local school district.

“Tell us about your son. What are his strengths? What does he like doing? What does he need to work on?”

grandparents2

Despite having to answer this question in some way, a number of times, the inclusion of “strengths” threw me off. I suspect Sean felt the same as he was silent longer than me. I read and write evaluations all the time at work, but didn’t want to feel like I was doing the same for my son.

Still, I answered.

metroexpo

I told them that at five days shy of his third birthday, Xavi was still enamored by all things related to trains (“toot toots”). He’s expanded his fandom to other forms of transportation. He loves anything that moves. Cars are fun to play with, he loves to ride the bus and gets excited when he sees the diggers at the construction sites around town. He asks to go to the airport too.

splash

I told the two women who work with the school district, our current coordinator of services with the county and Xavi’s new speech therapist (his first one in Ithaca moved away a month ago), that Xavi likes books and puzzles. Since his exponential word growth began in March – same time he began going to a small group home daycare full-time – he’s added in singing. He sings “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” stealing my job as we go through the bedtime routine.

fathersday

He’s very affectionate and loving, he gives the best hugs and sloppy kisses. He’s friendly and very good at remembering all the people in his life who love him tremendously. He’s taken more to pretend play with his toys. He loves bubbles, running and jumping on the bed, in puddles or on dad. Sean added that he’s great with directions and can probably lead you to any train table in Ithaca as well as Dunkin Donuts.

Xavi the Hamiltot

I forgot to brag that he knows his alphabet, can count to ten, knows his shapes and that he’s a Hamiltot, a toddler who has joined the Hamilton fandom (“Hamilwin” to him). [Look at my son! Pride is not the word I’m searching for, there is so much more inside me now!]

grandparentsmay

I noted that even though he is WAY more verbal than he was at this time last year, he can improve on his pronunciation. For example, he says “pip” rather than “chip” despite having no problem with “cheese.” The speech therapist called this fronting and stopping. Although Sean and I understand him about 75% of the time, he’s intelligible to those who don’t know him about half the time. When he talks to himself during play time he’s even less intelligible.

When we finished, one of the school district representatives, “Wow, you really know your son. He’s lucky to have such involved parents.”

mothersday

Really, I feel lucky to be Xavi’s mom, to get to see him grow and change – while still being just as cuddly as ever – in everything from hair to speech to having a little brother or sister.

***

3rdbdaycake

Today is Xavi’s third birthday. We celebrated over the weekend in Long Island. My mother-in-law invited family, neighbors and friends from church. When it was time for the cake, Xavi was so excited. He even sang “Happy Birthday” along with his guests.

The only downside was that we were rained out, but I don’t think Xavi minded because there were balloons, new toys and cake.

Happy birthday, Xavi!

Most photos by Sean [Flickr]. See his favorites from the past year on his blog.

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