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.
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.
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.
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.
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.