Untitled in Two Parts

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My frequent visitors may recall, my friend’s Mom died December 23,  2010. I wrote a post on Dec. 8th, as my friend, Andrea HT, headed to NC to be with her Mom before she died. No formal memorial/burial took place immediately following the death of my friend’s Mom. She and her Dad decided to wait for warmer weather, brighter and more colorful days to remember the life of Valentina Hartford.

Part I
Recently, my family and I returned from Hillsborough, NC, the location of the memorial celebration. The word ‘celebration’ follows the word ‘memorial’, because the purpose was to celebrate the life of Valentina. The celebration took place on a farm off Highland Farm Road. Though the gathering took place in the middle of June, the weather was pleasant.

The heat and humidity that seems to be a constant during the summer, eased its grip on this particular day. Pop-up thunderstorms, another common occurrence in the summer, were non-existent, and the farm offered a picturesque setting, complete with a rustic barn and a worn red tractor in the pasture.

Notice the clear blue skies prior to the setting sun.

Though not an ounce of Irish blood flowed through Valentina’s veins, she wanted her memorial celebration to resemble an Irish wake.  Keeping with her wishes, a tent was set up, where the guests gathered to nibble on goodies, indulge in adult beverages and talk about how Valentina touched their life. While the adults ate and drank, the kids ran around in the fields, catching grasshoppers, chasing dragon flies and watching the fish in the Koi pond.

During the celebration, Valentina’s husband, Andrea, Andrea’s husband and several others, including Valentina’s two sisters, shared special stories about Valentina. Through laughter and tears, memories and music, Valentina was with all of us.

Another request Valentina made before she died was that the memorial celebration take place with the setting sun providing a beautiful backdrop. The sky was clear most of the day, and if you know anything about sunsets, you know the best of sunsets need clouds. With clouds, the colors of the setting sun are enhanced.

Just as Valentina requested, she had her sunset. And though the sky was clear most of the day, the clouds gathered around the setting sun, as Valentina’s friends and family gathered to celebrate her life. The end result was was a beautiful and brilliant sunset for the beautiful and brilliant Valentina.

A beautiful sunset, per Valentina's request.

Part II
While the people gathered to celebrate the life of Valentina Hartford, my heart was filled with love for people I barely know and rarely see. Valentina and her sisters touched my heart the instant I met them. I remember the first time I went to Andrea’s HT’s house and met her parents. Her Mom and Dad were loud and friendly. They were cut-to-the chase people, who made you feel at home in seconds.

Valentina's -ahem- younger sister, Oriana, 'saluding' her sister's sunset.

I first met Andrea’s Aunts (on her Mom’s side) when I traveled with Andrea to Albuquerque, NM to visit her parents, who had since relocated from MD to NM. Andrea and I spent Labor Day weekend in 1997 with her family. Princess Diana died that same weekend. I remember all of us gathered in front of the television, mourning the loss of Princess Diana.

While visiting with Andrea’s parents, Valentina’s two sisters and a niece paid a visit. Within seconds, the house was full of song, laughter and love.

As I mentioned earlier, during the memorial celebration, people were given the opportunity to share their own memory or thoughts about Valentina. My heart wanted to speak, though I was nervous. After one woman stood in the back, admitting her shyness, I realized I, too, could stand in the back and speak from the heart. So, I did.

I started off by letting the crowd know my family rocks. I told them that I love the fact that my family is loud, obnoxious and crazy. We are opinionated, stubborn and funny. Rarely, I said, did I find myself envious or jealous of other families, because – arrogantly – I believed I had the best family. Then, I met Valentina and her sisters.

Valentina and hers sisters were loud, obnoxious, funny and crazy good fun. Born and raised in Chile, Spanish is their natural language. Listening to the three of them chatter back and forth in Spanish is incredibly entertaining, in part because I haven’t a clue what they are saying – but also because they speak so passionately. I cannot help but smile. And then there is the singing ….

I don’t know the names of the songs/music that played at the memorial, nor do I know the name of the songs/music that was streaming throughout the house during family gatherings. All I know is that these sisters would huddle together and sing – loudly. And sometimes… sometimes they would even get the words right.

During the celebration, Valentina’s husband made the comment that his wife’s English improved with time. Immediately, one of Valentina’s sisters shouted, “Your Spanish hasn’t!” We all laughed. And, while that may be a silly example, because I know the sisters – it is to me, the epitome of their brilliance and beauty… their in your face kind of love, support and respect for each other. Yes, I would have loved to have been a part of that family.

After a majority of the people left the memorial, the remaining friends and family started dismantling the tables, folding the chairs, and cleaning up the leftovers. The music continued to play in the background, and the sisters continued their serenading. Though it was getting late and my boys should have been heading to bed, I could not pull myself away from Andrea, her Dad, Valentina’s sisters, and nieces. I didn’t want to leave.

Eventually, the cars were packed and it was time to depart. One more song was played, by request of Oriana, Valentina’s sister. Don’t ask me the name, I don’t remember. What I do remember is watching Oriana, Priscilla and Bob (Valentina’s husband) huddled together singing (sometimes singing well) to the song that clearly held a special meaning and place in their heart, honoring their sister/wife.

As I watched the three share this special moment, I felt as though I was intruding on something sacred and intimate. Yet, the moment was so pure, that I was unable to turn away. Priscilla’s daughters stood side by side with their arms around each other, watching and listening. Andrea watched, while her husband captured the moment on video. Tears welled up in my eyes, tears of sadness and tears of joy. The loss of Valentina is great, but the love she left behind and the love that remains between her sisters, nieces, husband, daughter, etc. is bigger than anything I have experienced.

I am so thankful I was invited to experience such a wonderful celebration. Bob, Andrea, Oriana, Priscilla, Jackie and Pamela … thank you, so very much, for letting me be a part of your family, if only for a night. I love you all.

A picture is worth a gabillion words. Oriana, Valentina, Priscilla and Andrea HT.

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20 thoughts on “Untitled in Two Parts

  1. Beautiful thoughtful post. Now this one made me tear up. My heart is full that you know such a family. It’s not about the stuff we have, but the stuff we experience, recognize and love in others. We are blessed…and…”Salud”.

  2. This is such a beautiful, thoughtful entry. It ties, too, to things I was thinking about this morning (which then translated themselves to an already written entry for next Thursday). I was thinking about my mom’s private memorial, in my sister’s mother-in-law’s house. I wondered what songs I would want played at my own memorial celebration but was only able to land on two.

    I like the idea of a “memorial celebration.” Actually, it reminds me of how I asked my just-younger sis if she’d do something (since forgotten by me) at my memorial, should it happen sooner than I wished. She got upset with me at my use of the word memorial, and corrected me, “Life celebration. How could we do something somber to remember you? No way. Not that it’s relevant since it’ll be decades . . . ” Funny that I’d forgotten that till now.

    My non-bio “Grampa G” didn’t want any kind of memorial but said that, if we had to do one, he’d prefer it to be celebratory. So my just-younger sister, her husband and I wandered from bar to bar en route to our designated “farewell” spot and shared drink after drink with him. It was so hard to blow out our candles and say that farewell, but . . . healing, too, to make him a part of all those memories we were celebrating and to do so together, with smiles instead of sobs, as a passerby said a cheerful hello and we moved back toward a world full of the knowledge he lives on in our hearts.

    Wow, this has turned into quite a comment. My apologies. It’s been on my mind today, so I think that’s part of why I’ve gotten so carried away. Good to have the “celebration” part affirmed, I think, as I grapple with these thoughts. Thank you for sharing this love.

    • I am glad you enjoyed this, Deborah. And, I am glad the words helped to affirm a ‘celebration’ of life. The tears and sadness come naturally with the death of a loved one. I find celebrating the life, helps to ease the sting – if only for a millisecond (or less).

      Thank you for your thought’full comment. 🙂
      ~ Lenore

  3. What an incredibly moving and beautiful post, Lenore. How blessed you are to know and love such a friend and family. I love the idea of a celebration of one’s life. My dad’s funeral was a blur and very somber, to the point I felt like I was suffocating. But later that week, we gathered for Thanksgiving, just me and my brothers and my mom. We talked about him and the funny stories from the past. We laughed a lot and cried a lot. I feel that it is very important to try and celebrate a loved one’s life after they pass, as much as you miss them.

    • Thanks Darla. The celebration was very upbeat – though five months had passed since Valentina died. That’s not to say anyone is ‘over it’ or no longer grieving, but the shock has lessened, you know? Though I do believe laughter is a wonderful thing to have during funerals and memorials, perhaps when the funeral seems to immediately follow the death, it is too hard. Like you said, you and your family gathered during Thanksgiving – after the news had set in ..

      In other news, Oriana told me she officially considers me to be an adoptive niece. So…. I am finally part of that awesome family! Yes, very blessed! 🙂

      ~ Lenore

  4. That’s a great piece Lenore. You really brought the day to life.
    It is a great lesson you have illustrated to celebrate a whole life rather than mourn a day’s passing.
    Great great post!

    • Thank you, GMom. Thank you very much. I believe the celebration was so bright – in part – because of the wonderful family. You just can’t douse a bright light, you know? Peace to you, my friend. ~ Lenore

  5. Linda Hartford Huggins

    Thank you Lenore, I was so sad not to be able to be there, and you have given me a little glimpse of what it was like.

    • You are welcome, Linda. I had hoped to post more pictures, but – as you may have heard, Andrea’s camera hard-drive failed. If any of the pictures are recovered, I plan on adding a few to the post. I was happy to meet your sisters, though I am sorry I did not get a chance to meet you. You were missed. Thank you for reading, Linda. ~ Lenore

  6. Andrea HT

    Thanks Lenore for your beautiful words and thank you for making the trip with your family to celebrate her life. I think the celebration was exactly what my mom wanted. It’s been 6 months and it’s still hard to believe she’s gone.

  7. Priya

    How very beautiful, Lenore. Just as you are grateful to have been a part of this experience in person, I am sure all of your readers, me included, are grateful to have had the opportunity to read such a vivid description of it. Thank you!

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