From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

I’ll Always Remember You

I watched her as she lay there, propped up in the bed by sanitized hospital pillows and covered by numerous white sheets and blankets. Her body was swathed in the unattractive, thin material of the hospital gown. The hospital bed, with all its railings, made her look like a small bird in a large cage.

I had expected her to be sitting up, laughing and talking to the nurses in her broken English and requesting her beloved rice and beans and café con leche. I wanted to hear her say, “Hola, Norma.” I wanted to talk to her about my day. Instead, I saw a tiny elderly woman with a quizzical, frightened expression in her eyes. She looked at my face, trying to place me. The more she struggled to remember me, the more her eyes would mist.

It was only yesterday that I had been in this very same room, but a different woman had occupied that bed. She was the woman I knew, who knew me—not this frail, scared and confused woman on the verge of tears.

At first I thought it was as simple as just telling her who I was. I thought that she would laugh and say she remembered me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. It only added guilt to her confusion, and it just made her eyes (and mine) mist even more.

I couldn’t bear her discomfort or the pain of that unconquerable struggle, so I changed the subject. We talked about minor, insignificant things like the weather, gradually shifting the conversation to all the cards and flowers in the room. She agreed that they were pretty, but sadly admitted that she didn’t know who they were from. I read to her from the cards, but she didn’t recognize the names of any of her children so, emotionally worn, we talked about the Jell-O on her tray.

The afternoon passed as we made small talk, trying to ignore the pink elephant in the room. I had planned on just a short visit, but the child in me found it hard to leave without some type of acknowledgment from her. So I lingered until visiting hours were over. As I was leaving, she said, “Norma came to see me yesterday.”

I kissed her good-bye and said, “I know, Mom. And she’ll be back again tomorrow.”

Norma Oquendo

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