The aguacatero still walks through our neighborhood every morning pushing his ramshackle cart of fresh produce and announcing, “Aguacates! Mandarinas! Manzanas de oro!” He has no idea that he’s calling out to one less person on our street. He has no inkling that Federico passed from this world to another just 14 days ago.
It’s been two weeks. Two weeks filled with long and lonely hours for the family to process. To grieve. To figure out what “normal” looks like. To try to make sense of it all. It’s been two weeks since a wife and a daughter and a sister had their entire world turned upside down in a moment.
It all happened so fast. Scott and I were working in the house, and Noah was playing in his room. Our neighbor called; she asked Scott to come quickly because Federico wasn’t doing well. Scott jogged across the street and into a small room to find a few people crowded around an unresponsive Federico. When Scott came back, he calmly and quickly pulled the car out into the street. They wanted to take Federico to the hospital – he’d possibly suffered a heart attack. I called for Pamela (our resident CPR/medical queen) and briefly explained what little we knew. While she sprinted down the four flights of stairs and two blocks over to our house, I sat with Federico’s sister as she cried out for her brother. The men in the house carried him out to the street. Pam arrived and instructed them to get him flat so she could begin CPR. The men laid Federico in the back of our jeep, and Scott tried to wait for Pam to stabilize him. As Scott stepped out of the car to see if there was anything more he could do, a friend of the family jumped in the driver’s seat and zoomed down the street with the back door wide open, risking both Federico and Pam falling out! Kurt drove Scott to the hospital to find our vehicle.
Time slowed to a crawl. We brought Federico’s great-niece and nephew to our house to play with Noah while his sister rocked in the chair on her porch, crying and hoping for some good news. I watched as she received the phone call that he had passed. I could almost see the weight that she felt as she nearly fell to the ground in heartbreak. I went to her and held her hands as she repeated, “Angela, mi único hermanito! My only brother! My little brother!”
In that moment, I felt nothing but inadequacy. I wanted to do something to help. Say something to make it better. Carry some of the pain for her. Instead, all of the Spanish that I’ve learned over the last five months left me. As she cried in my arms, all I could say was “I know, I know.” At one point, I think I told her that we should pray, but no audible words ever left my lips.
Eventually, Federico’s wife and 16-year-old daughter returned from the hospital. My feelings of helplessness did nothing but grow. But I sat there with the daughter and hugged her and stroked her hair as she wept. As more family and friends arrived, I slipped out the gate and walked back to our house, praying silently that I hadn’t overstepped boundaries by being there – praying that God would bring them the peace and the strength and the comfort that no one on this earth can give.
Here we are, two weeks later. I don’t hear the crying as often. Friends and neighbors are gradually moving back to their normal routines.
The street vendor still petitions for people to buy the avocados and oranges he has to sell each morning. Life continues on.
I’ve been thinking recently about that bittersweet yet beautiful section in Ecclesiastes 3 that is often read at funerals.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…
What a reminder that we are often subject to changes in life over which we have no control. I began flipping through the rest of Ecclesiastes, and I was struck once again by the simplicity and truth of Solomon’s closing words:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Revere God and remain faithful. That’s Solomon’s conclusion. The entirety of humanity – the whole duty of man – is centered on an unchanging and faithful God.
Federico’s wife and daughter came to see us last night. They tried to talk about normal, everyday things. And they tried to talk about Federico and their family. They tried to thank us – for what, I’m not sure. It didn’t matter what they said. I could see the sorrow that filled their faces as tears slowly spilled. They turned to leave, and we told them that Noah was praying for them every night before bed. We asked them to have dinner with us when they were ready.
What a testament these two ladies are to their Savior. In spite of the pain and the numbness and the questions, they are choosing to remain faithful to the Faithful One who is the constant in the midst of chaos.