My Tito died a week ago, last Tuesday. I knew he was going to die. When I asked my father, a doctor, how long he had to live, he said maybe a week. My mother told me over the phone, as I was walking to a Lebanese place in the West Village. Later, my husband and I went to a concert at the Village Vanguard. The group performing — the Donny McCaslin Quartet — was also processing a kind of grief over the death of a loved one: their latest collaborator, the brilliant pop star David Bowie. There were times that the band leader couldn't speak, couldn't articulate his feelings about a certain song because of that loss. I felt that. And when his group played Bowie's beautiful, haunting "Warszawa," tears streamed slowly down my face, and I was thankful that it was sort of dim and that no one was looking at me anyway. Tito probably didn't know who David Bowie was, but he loved music, and he loved jazz — talking the ears off of the Afro-Cuban musicians who played at Victor's Midtown during a Father's Day brunch, requesting tunes, singing along, transported to some faraway place, some mythical, lost Cuba that no longer exists. I needed to listen to music that night — and it made me feel better.
I remember when my sister, Becky, got married. I was, with my other sister, Natalie, supposed to give a speech. And the best man said he was intimidated to talk after me because I was "a writer." But I gave a terrible half-of-a-speech. In fact, I barely said anything, and I rambled, and I felt terrible. Because how are you supposed to encapsulate everything that this person — whom you have known almost your whole life, since before you were 2, who is your best friend/kindred spirit/bosom buddy and who knows all those embarrassing, humiliating, shameful versions of you you try to exhume/suppress/forget — means to you. You can't. It's impossible. It's easy to write (or speak) about ... I don't know ... what a Bjork song means to you or the profundity of lingerie. I can pinpoint the moment I fell in love with David Bowie and how he changed my life, which I just wrote about after his death, a week before my grandfather's. But I can't do that with my sister, or with Tito, because they've always been there. How can I write about these people I don't know at all, or these inconsequential, removed things, with such passion and lucidity, yet can't adequately convey how much my family members, or my friends, mean to me.
I thought for a second, after that concert, that maybe these things can't be expressed in words, but only in the wailing of a saxophone, or the sad, dulcet tones of Bach Cello Suite. And I thought, then, after hearing this music I would maybe be OK, that after this little burst of sadness I could selflessly just celebrate the long life my grandfather had, be grateful that he didn't have to suffer too long, remember those good times. But, I would be alone in the bathroom and start sobbing, or hear a favorite funereal hymn and lose it. Or, my father would ask me if I wanted to say a eulogy at the funeral and I would panic or draw a blank or just be overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the task. My cousin and my uncle and my father ended up giving beautiful speeches. Yet, I want to try, too, because my grandfather meant so much to me, so here goes: