My aunt's name was Tere. It's easier to pronounce correctly if you can roll the "r." She was the first of eight children. Only 15 years younger than her mother, she had no real childhood, as she had to help raise most of her brothers and sisters. She also cared for numerous foster children, of which I was the last.
She made sure I had something warm to eat when I came home from school. She worried when I was late and was the first person I saw when I get home.
The only good part about being sick was the Vicks ointment she rubbed on my chest. She'd also do this thing where she rubbed an egg over my body as she prayed the Apostle's Creed three times. Anyone of Mexican descent should know what I'm talking about.
She did all this for someone whose only relation to her was being her sister's godson. She never asked for thanks. Her love was unconditional, and her smile and laughter were contagious.
She had a strong character and a strong will, but along with that came high blood pressure and poor circulation. From 1990 to 1996 Tere suffered four strokes, congestive heart failure and a mild heart attack. Each time she went to the hospital, she came back home a little slower, more and more of her left behind in rehab.
I responded with impatience, yelling and an unwillingness to understand that she just wasn't the same person anymore.
1996 was a hard year for her. She returned from her stays at the hospital and to regain at least part of what she'd lost, but after her fourth stroke, she came home unable to walk and bedridden. Her eyes turned glassy and seemed permanently fixed on something towards the ceiling only she could see.
I helped my godmother take care of her sister more than I ever had before. I was the only person who could get her to eat.
After her last return from the hospital, she was only home for about a week when her right foot started getting cold. Gangrene had set in. At the hospital, the doctor said our options were either to have her leg cut off at the knee, or try to make her as comfortable as possible.
He told us she probably wouldn't last three days, and, in her weakened condition, she would not have survived the amputation. If she was going to die, there was no reason to make her suffer any more than she had.
I waited until the last minute to thank her and tell her I loved her. By that time, she was in a coma and could not open her eyes or speak, although her vital signs would pick up when we talked to her. I finally told her before she died, a year ago Nov. 11, but not when she could look me back in the eyes as if to say, "That's all I wanted to hear."
I feel she was home that last week for a reason. It was to let us take care of her the way she'd done for us. But nothing I did in that one week could ever repay her for what she had done for me. She was my second mother, and I loved her.
Christmas is a hard time for my godmother. She remembers her mother, who she lost to lung cancer 14 years ago, and her father, who succumbed to pneumonia in 1991 at age 94. Her sister's death hit her pretty hard. She can't get into the Christmas spirit and wonders how I can. It isn't that I don't think about them. It's just that when I do, I tend to get depressed.
I set up the lights every year because I hope that, wherever they are, they can see them. I used to take Tere outside when I was done, to show off my work. I miss the look she'd get when she saw the house aglow with twinkling lights.
As we get together with our families this Christmas, remember not to take them for granted. And don't wait until it's too late to thank your parents and tell them you love them.
De La Garza is a junior political science major.