When I look back at my many childhood memories, I realize that my Abuelita (Spanish for "Grandmother"), Alaida Rodriguez, was there for all the important moments of my life. She was there during my Kindergarten graduation, my first trip to Disney World and all my birthday parties. She went to my high school graduation and even my Senior prom. She wrote me letters during the six months I studied abroad in Paris. She traveled to Washington, DC for my college graduation and burst into tears of joy when Bill got down on one knee and proposed to me during my graduation party. She went to my wedding and came to visit me in Chicago a few times. She even Skyped with us while we were in Kazakhstan adopting Dylan.
I am very lucky to have had Abuelita with me during those pivotal moments, but of even more significance to me are the everyday moments we shared together: the lullabies she would sing to me while she rocked me at night before bedtime; the stories of the old man who stole children's clothes while they bathed on the river (which both fascinated and terrified us at the same time); her delicious, delicious cooking; the sweetness of her beautiful soprano voice rising in the air as she sang her favorite song, Torna a Sorrento; the rhythmical shake of her shoulders as she danced her way around the house, asking "Do you think I'm a good dancer?"
Abuelita always liked looking her best. She took pride in her appearance and never left the house without lipstick or earrings. She loved parties and social ocasions, but she was also very giving and loved to help everyone around her. For years, she walked from her apartment to the nearby Veteran's Hospital and helped take care of Alzheimer's patients as a volunteer. She was willing to give everything she could to those in need, even if it meant she would go without for a while. Her joy in life was to please others, and she happily spent hours sewing us outfits or making our favorite meals. She was so sweet that all of my friends also called her "Abuelita." To this day, I think most of them don't even know her real name.
My grandmother was always very spiritual. I think it is very appropriate that she chose to depart this earth on New Year's Day. That day represents a rebirth, to leave aside the suffering of the past year and start anew with a heart full of hope for a better future. For Abuelita, New Year's Day must have seemed like the perfect day to start her journey to the beyond, to leave aside the years of sickness and lying on a bed, and to once again be a free spirit, just as she always liked to be.
I have no doubt that - just as she did while she lived - my grandmother will always be with me throughout the rest of my life. Although I may no longer be able to hug her, or look into those beautiful blue eyes she had, I know that her spirit will always live within me. Therefore, I will not utter any parting words. Instead, I choose to end this homage the same way I always said goodbye to her whenever I saw her:
Bendicion, Abuelita. Te quiero mucho.