It was a cold morning in November 2013 when for the first time in my life, I saw my mom looking tense while on the phone with my grandfather. Usually, she would pick up the phone to call him and their conversations would be full of laughs and jokes. This time was different. She was worried and she was sad. Mom learned that day that my grandfather was very ill.
Suddenly, he started to lose weight. He had lost 10 pounds in less than two weeks. He had no pain, but his stomach could not hold anything. The next thing I knew, my mom was making trip plans to go and visit him.
His name was Carlos, but he loved it when people called him “Papa Pollo.” He was 71 years old when cancer knocked on his door. Mom was the second of four children, and was very close to him. He lived in Ecuador, not the United States, which made it hard to visit. That summer we traveled to Ecuador and spent lots of time with him. We went on a trip together and had so much fun. They were so nice to each other that it was easy to tell how much they cared about one another.
By the time he was diagnosed, it was already too late. It was hard to see my mom crying on the phone every day. She traveled to Ecuador several times while he was sick but that was not enough for her. She wanted to be there every day for him, but she couldn’t.
Little by little, things started to change at home. Mom was so focused on my grandfather’s health that she started to lose interest in the things that she used to love doing. Homework time was something we enjoyed because it was our time to spend together. Not anymore. She would sit next to me but her mind was blank. She stopped dancing. She stopped going to the gym. She stopped going to my soccer games. All she wanted to do was to talk with “Papa Pollo” on the phone as much as she could.
Things got worse when Papa Pollo refused to talk on the phone anymore. He was not doing well. He had started to give up. Mom couldn’t understand it. She was mad and sad because that was the only way she could connect with him. She was losing her dad but I felt like I was losing my mom as well.
I started to not care about school and my grades began to drop. For the first time in my school life, it was like she didn’t care, and that hurt my feelings. Losing or winning a soccer game didn’t make a difference to her. That was not my mom. Nothing seemed to make her happy anymore; she had turned into a sad, angry lady. No matter what I did, I could not get her attention.
I had to start doing my projects and studying for tests without her guidance and assistance. That was tough for me. I was 11 years old and I needed my mom with me, but she wasn’t there and I could not understand why. I don’t know if I felt resentment, pain, or a mix of both.
Seven months after that morning call, Papa Pollo left us. He fought for seven straight months before losing his battle. We went to his funeral. It was hard to come back home from school and see my mom in so much pain. She ended up in the emergency room. That day I could finally understand my mom’s behavior. Seeing my mom in a bed made me understand how she felt about Papa Pollo. For a moment, I thought I was losing her for good. That was exactly how she felt when she learned that her dad was very ill.
Maybe I was selfish or maybe I just didn’t understand what was going on. There are no books that teach you what to do when this type of event touches your life. I wanted to help her, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what to tell her to make her feel better. She was depressed and because of that, I got depressed, too. She cried, I cried. She got mad, I got mad. I just didn’t know how to handle it.
She is doing much better now and there were lessons I learned from it. This situation forced me to be more independent. I took control of school and did very well. I learned to respect other people’s feelings and I understood that not always it’s all about me. Papa Pollo left me with a lesson learned: to be strong and to be understanding.