Once Halloween passes fall really starts to set in and holidays quickly approach. While I love the feeling of the holidays, they also bring a sort of sadness to me as I think about the way my holidays used to be when my grandpa and my cousin Daniel were still alive.
I think that many people struggle with this same type of sadness during the holidays, and I am sharing my experience in the hopes that I can comfort others who are struggling with these feelings. It is okay to miss your loved ones, especially during the times when they were the most prevalent in your life. But don’t forget, it’s also okay to enjoy the loved ones that are still here with you and cherish the memories you make with them each year.
My cousin Daniel was only 16 years old when he passed away. I have now lived more of my life without him than I did with him, but the memories I carry of him still feel like he was just here.
In my family, all of my first cousins were girls except for Daniel. My grandpa used to call him his prince because he was the only boy. Even though he was surrounded by girls, he still played with all of us and made it a point to make each of us feel included in whatever activity we were doing as a family. He was the closest thing I ever had to a brother and I loved it.
He had a beautiful smile and the kindest heart. During the holidays we would often drive to Reno, Nevada, where he lived with his sister and my uncle, and he would call and write letters to express his excitement about our next visit. We would arrive to snowballs and video games and I loved every minute of it.
One of my favorite memories of Daniel was playing video games with him. From Super Nintendo and Mario Cart to Playstation and Resident Evil, he loved video games and he was so patient with me when we played. I could sit with him for hours just watching him and not even playing. It was like watching a movie where he was the director. Last year I received one of the Super Nintendo NES systems, and I have to admit that I definitely teared up when I started playing Super Mario Brothers, but it was a comforting feeling and a wonderful memory.
Daniel passed away on July 26th, 2000, after sustaining fatal injuries in a car accident. I miss him every single day.
My grandpa, aka my Tito, was the first and most prominent father figure that I had in my life. He was one of the sweetest and kindest men I have ever known.
During the holidays, especially Christmas, my Tito would help with tamale preparation. His job was to knead the masa so that we could spread it on the corn husks. He moaned and groaned about it like he did many things we asked, but he was always looking out for “his girls,” and always agreed to whatever we asked of him. I can remember saying, “Tito, Can I have $5 to go to the movies with my friends,” and while he was grumbling and mumbling something under his breath, he was also taking out his wallet and to give me the $5.
When my older sister started school, it was important to my mom that she go to a private school. The tuition was expensive, but something she considered a priority. The school, however, required parents to give work hours each month, and my mom didn’t have time to work the required hours because she was a working, single mom with three kids. Parents could pay a fee in lieu of the required hours, but my mom couldn’t afford to pay that fee on top of the tuition.
My Tito had worked most of his adult life at General Motors in Van Nuys, California, and he retired in his early 60’s. Since he was home, he volunteered to work my mom’s hours for her. It worked out great for my mom because my Tito could take my sister to school and work his hours and then bring her home.
My Tito was a very hard worker and was extremely charismatic. So much so that within two months of his working the required “volunteer” hours, the principal and staff and students loved him so much that the principal offered him a full-time job as the groundskeeper and maintenance man for the school. He ended up working at that school for 11 years until he passed, while both of my sisters and I attended. He helped my mom pay the tuition for all three of us, and he worked the volunteer hours on top of his work hours. I’m pretty sure a good portion of his paycheck went to our tuition, and I know that most of his time was spent doing something for our benefit either at school or at home. It was a very proud moment for our family when the school payed homage to him by naming the football/activities field after him, “Ralph Solis Field.”
On March 21st, 2001, he passed away after a short battle with cancer, and only eight very short months after my cousin Daniel’s passing.
I have one memory of him that I can still picture so vividly from right before he passed. We were sitting at the kitchen table and he started to cry. I walked over to him and put my arms around him and said, “Tito, what’s wrong?” He then looked at me and said, “I’m just really going to miss my girls. I wish I could see you all grow up.” No one had told my Tito that his cancer had spread, but he knew deep down his time was limited. I said to him, “Don’t worry Tito, it will be fine.”, and he just looked up at me and said, “I know, I just will miss my girls.”
I Know They Are Together
Recently I was sharing my feelings of sadness with my mom and just talking about some of our memories of the two. My mom told me one of her last memories, which was a huge comfort to me.
A couple of days before my Tito passed he was bedridden and on hospice care. At one point my mom went into his room and he said to her, “Where did Mijo go?” Knowing he was talking about my cousin Daniel and thinking maybe he had forgotten that Daniel had passed away, my mom said, “He isn’t here, Dad, ” to which my Tito replied, “He was just right here at the edge of my bed.” I firmly believe that Daniel was there with my Tito to welcome him into heaven.
Making New Memories
In the past seventeen years since losing both of these wonderful men, my family life has changed immensely. I am now a wife and an auntie, and I love making memories with my family. They will never replace the ones I had with my Tito and Daniel, but I share many of them with my husband and keep those memories alive with my family.
As I mentioned earlier, it is okay to miss your loved ones that are no longer with you during the holidays. Cherish those memories, talk about them and share them with others who knew them, keep them alive in your hearts, and most of all, work hard to make and enjoy your new memories. You know that’s what they would want you to do.