The night was bittersweet. Grandma spent her fourth night at the hospital; she was getting ready to die.
My house was crammed with over-weight aunts, balding uncles, self-conscious cousins, and long lost friends who had come together to support each other. As is common in my family gatherings, the women cooked and gossiped in the kitchen, the men drank liquor incessantly in the back yard, and the children ran around the entire house screeching like broken-down ambulances. I hung out in the living room with my girlfriend and stared at the snow on the television screen. I smelled an underlying fear that oozed out of the kitchen, traveled through the hallway and into every corner of the house. Fear penetrated the walls; it was what connected us. We waited for the phone call which would come at any minute to tell us that Maria Adela Quintero had passed away at age ninety-six. Shortly thereafter, the sound of hearts bursting would clash with the moans of daughters and grandchildren. We all waited, but the phone call never came.
I could only imagine nana lying in the hospital bed peacefully asleep. You would not know that she had suffered two heart attacks in the last few days just by looking at her. Her heart gave too much throughout her life and now it was exhausted. At age fourteen, Adela ran away from her parent’s farm in Mazatlan, Mexico to be with the man she loved. She valiantly gave birth to fifteen children, but faced the misfortune of burying five.
When my mother and my uncle Juan came to the United States, they brought grandma along with them. Uncle Juan would go out and drink with his friends until dawn, and grandma would spend the whole night on the couch waiting for him to get home. Grandma always worried about anybody and anything. If nana was not worried, it was as if she was not living. I am convinced that a lack of pigmentation was not what turned her hair an ashen grey; it was her constant concern over life.
Grandma spent the last of her ninety-six years volunteering at a local senior citizen center. She had already done more than enough to raise her own children, plus my sister and me. Now grandma aided fellow peers who found it difficult to feed themselves, walk on their own, or hear the winning Bingo numbers. Yes, grandma gave too much of her heart during her lifetime and that is why it surrendered.
When the phone call ultimately came, fear wandered out of the house and left a cold vacuum of grief behind it. As expected, the sound of hearts bursting filled the vacant space, as did the moans of daughters and children. The sound of screeching ambulances, however, never did cease and instead mixed in with the others creating an atomic Boom! Ah, that must be what an empty heart sounds like when it has nothing more to give.