I had three months with her. Not just once-a-month worth of three months, but once-a-week’s worth of three months. I watched her live and I watched her die. I watched her sitting up on her little couch, watching tv and talking with me and I watched her laying down, breathing heavy and hard, eyes closed and hand limp as I held it.
She was the strongest woman I ever knew. Even when she was sick and hurting, she looked at us with her big, beautiful, brown eyes and smiled her beautiful smile, calling us by our names and thanking us over and over again for helping her. “Thank you, Sophia, thank you.”
I had three months with her. Three months to grieve; three months to watch the sting of death work its way into her body and three months to grieve its ugliness. Three months to remember the goodness and fullness of this woman’s life. Three months to thank God for her and thank Him that He carried her through life and would carry her through death. Three months to eat popsicles with her, watch Fixer Upper with her, and watch her smile at all the pictures of her family that lined her room.
Two weeks ago I held her hand, as the only one in the room with her, and wept and thanked God for her life. “Thank you, God, for taking this little woman out of Cuba and bringing her to his land. Thank you for sustaining her and keeping her through the death of her husband and son. Thank you for being her husband and protector. “
The woman who had no family to stand by her in her hardest days, back when her husband had died and he barely knew the language and didn’t have a job; that woman was surrounded by people in her last days; surrounded by family who adored her.
He gave us so much in the life of Zenaida Luciano. She was a fighter; a spicy little cuban woman with enough personality to fill the state of Minnesota, and enough love to fill it all over again.
Two months ago, we took two hours and rifled through her earrings, necklaces and lipstick. Finally, after I found just the right jewelry and lipstick for both of us, she looked me up and down and said, happily, “you looks nice.” You get praised like that from Grandma and you take that in and soak in it for a few weeks. I straightened her blouse, fluffed her hair, applied lipstick to her and put in some of her favorite earrings. We took a picture together and she wondered why no one was coming to see us; looking all pretty like we did. She was tired, worn down and on medication, but she still looked like a little queen. She still acted like one too; gracious and thankful and yet full of spice and her quick wit.
Two days after her passing, I drove down her familiar street one last time. I looked up into the sky that she had looked up into so many times and watched the same airplanes she had watched. I turned on the same kind of music she would have listened to – the salsa-inspired kind, rich with trumpets and claves and all the jazz feels; the kind that makes you want to swing and shuffle and dance just like she did.
Thank you for the music, grandma. I see pictures and colors of your life in every one of these songs, and in every moment I dance to them. You taught me to see the colors of music and you taught me to love the beauty in this world.
Eighty-eight years of Zenaida Luciano. What a life. What a lady.