To Speak On My Mother’s Death

COVID-19 and its Effect on an Immigrant Family

July 2020

I cannot tell you the exact day. We are at the height of the pandemic. When I tell my mom that so far, everything is ok for us in Houston, she tells me to continue to be careful. She tells me since she doesn’t go out she is ok, but she fears for my father. He wears a mask, but he is the only one to go shopping. I tell her that I can assist by using apps to have groceries delivered. I check the house for supplies. I look to see if they need masks or hand sanitizer. So far, every place is in short supply, but I give them what I know was meant for us at my house. My mom almost refuses to take the PPE I give her. She refuses help with the groceries and says they will figure it out. She thanks me. “Ay mijo, pero que vas hacer para Jasminne y la niña?” Jasminne tells her we have enough at home. My father is busy playing with my daughter. At the end of the visit, my mother gives my wife, my daughter and I una bendición. It will be the last blessing en el nombre de todo that I will ever receive from her, that and a kiss on the cheek. It will be the last time we share any physical space together. My mom lets out a laugh as Luz María yells out, “Te quiero mucho,” as we walk out of the house. It is the last time I hear her laugh.


August 25, 2020

I call my mother today and I am now watching the weather. She tells me that my father is feeling under the weather but is better. I talk to him and he says he was in bed sick for one day. He took some over the counter stuff for sinus issues and he has been fine for the last few days. The news hits that two hurricanes might make landfall near the Texas Gulf Coast. I worry about them and let them know that if things get bad, I will come down to get them and we can all rest here at my house. My mom has a phlegm-filled cough. “No, no mijo, we will be fine, besides whatever your father had, he gave it to me. I am resting in bed, with a cough and I feel ok, but if it happens to be this thing, then I don’t want to risk you and Jasminne and the baby. Cuida la baby.” And then those plans are over. I tell her I love her. I ask if I need to bring them anything and she says no that they are fine. She asks if we need money. I tell her no. “Kiss the baby for me.” We hang up. I keep watching the skies, but nothing happens

i am only allowed to see her for thirty minutes shove me in gloves a gown a mask all taped up wrapped up


September 2, 2020

I talk to my mom on the phone and she is super hoarse. She barely has any strength. She tells me she had to go to the emergency room the day before because she was running a low fever and had diarrhea. She had a UTI and the doctors sent her home with meds for that. She says she also hasn’t been able to get a hold of her doctor to refill prescriptions and she is now out of meds. She says she feels weak because of withdrawals. I don’t question any of it. I ask her if she needs me to bring her anything. No. I insist on calling her doctor so I can figure out what is going on with the refills. She agrees. I spend the next full hour on the phone, trying to call the pharmacy and the doctor’s office and they say they have already filled the prescription. I call home and tell my mom that it is done and that I will call the pharmacy to make sure they have her meds. She tells me thank you and she wouldn’t know what to do without me. I am relieved. She says she needs to sleep and I tell her to rest. She tells me she loves me and we hang up.


September 5, 2020

My dad found a few more pills in the bottles for all her meds. She’s been taking them and resting. But today, I get a call from my father. My mother has fallen out of bed, slid out of bed, and he can’t get her back up for her to lay back down. He says she is too weak. I ask him if he needs help and I will come right over. He says not to worry, that he will call the family friend that provides care (meals, light cleaning). I tell Jasminne that I will need to head home. 45 minutes into the drive, as I get to League City my father calls. An ambulance has arrived and they are taking my mom to the ER. He says that the paramedics would like to speak to someone who knows English and can translate. The paramedic lady says that my mom is super weak but responsive. She might have had a stroke because when asked standard questions after a fall (protocol) she gave incoherent answers, which means they must take her to the hospital. My dad will stay with her on the way to hospital. I will drive there. I hang up. I don’t know what’s happening.

September 5, 2020 (still)

I find my father in the family waiting area. He tells me about how weak she has been, that it is a stubborn cold that won’t go away – that she was a little short of breath since yesterday and that she requested to sit up in a chair for a bit to catch her breath. He helped her to a chair and then she slid down from it onto the floor. When he tried to move her, she became even more unresponsive. His shirt is covered in sweat. He is worried. We talk about Luz. I tell him about how she sings and dances with Jasminne.

He tells me he gave Mom the cold he had. I don’t doubt what he says. And hour later a nurse walks out and tell us that my mom did indeed have a stroke, and “Oh, she also tested positive for Covid,” like it is an aside. I am stunned. I ask her to explain if the doctor knows how long she had it. She says they didn’t tell her that. I ask, “Now that we know its COVID-19, why didn’t she get admitted the day she came in for the UTI? She could have had it then.”

The nurse looks at me. “It’s hospital policy not to test people who come into the emergency room until they are admitted.” I ask what to do to see if my father has COVID. She says she doesn’t have that information around her but that “you all can choose to get tested or not.”

She is a nurse in the only hospital system in Galveston. I ask where in the hospital I can take him to go get tested. “They don’t do that here.” I ask her then if we need to quarantine. She says yes. I ask her if my dad can go see my mother. She says yes. He goes. He is with her for 30 minutes.

I call home and tell Jasminne what has happened. I have spent the last 3 hours with my father in close proximity. I cannot come home. I will have to quarantine with him here in Galveston. I will need to get tested as well. When my dad comes back out, he says my mother insists on leaving. That she feels better and she wants to go home. He tells her she should stay, that if she falls, they can give her medicine and can help her. She agrees. He tells her he loves her. She tells him she loves him. It is the last kiss they share. He leaves with me.

I spend the next hour and half trying to figure out where to get him tested. There is no spot in Galveston for testing that we have been informed of. I call a number on a flyer that my dad got from a fire station where he saw free tests given the weekend before. We park at the fire station. He gets out and in his broken English he asks if they are still doing testing. A firefighter runs inside and grabs a flyer. My dad says thank you, comes back to my truck, hands me the flyer and tells me to call that number. I have been Googling on my phone for free testing sites and have to remember that Galveston is nothing like Houston. Everything I find is “by appointment only.”

We head home. In the truck, we agree to a system for our quarantine. He will live downstairs and I will inhabit the upstairs, like it used to be. Like it used to be but isn’t. She is alive. At least she is in the hospital. I do not know what to focus on. All I know is they both need me right now.

Upstairs in my old room, I dial the number and a woman answers. I ask if they have available times for testing – she says yes. I ask what times they have available. “You just tell us when you want to come in.” I am now frustrated because “by appointment only” is a bureaucratic posture instead of free testing. I say we will be up in 20 minutes. I grab my dad and we rush off.

We have to leave Galveston and head to Texas City to a clinic. I cannot imagine what someone who doesn’t speak English or doesn’t have a car or doesn’t drive goes through to get the help needed with this. We get there and I immediately begin filling out his paperwork. It has been over 30 years since the last time I have had to fill in anything or translate for my father. In a matter of 4 hours, I am exactly back in an old position: I hold everything when my mother is busy. I now have my mom’s checkbook with all her credit cards, and ID cards. I fill in all the details for his appointment. I add my phone number as the contact. If they contact him, they might not have someone on hand to speak and explain things in Spanish. They take him in back and give him the PCR test.

I am told to check his online app for results. I say thank you and we leave. I drive us home. My father talks to me about how long he was sick; about two days with what he thought was sinus problems. He took Tylenol once and after two days, he was fine. A week later she was ill. He keeps asking if he did something wrong. I tell him no. I tell him it was the people in the neighborhood who didn’t give a damn. We drive the rest of the way in silence.

When we get back to the house, it is now 8pm. He hasn’t eaten. I go and get us food. We sit silently alone in separate parts of the house. I spend the rest of the evening creating his app profile and adding my email so I can access it for him. He doesn’t write. He does not read. He lives in a world that has never included the internet. I am reminded of why I left Galveston County. I am reminded of how much of a second-class citizen it is to grow up in a place like this. I am reminded that once, I lived by clutching at straws. I am still here.

I call Jasminne and tell her what has happened since last we talked. I tell her good night. I tell Luz good night. I call my dad and tell him goodnight. I cry. I cry because my mom is alone and my dad is alone downstairs and I am alone in my room and I can’t do anything but sit here. It is one of the longest days of my life.

my brittle mother struggling her head hangs low her breathing lower


September 7, 2020

I have been in contact with the hospital and they are taking good care of my mom. They explain that they are giving her blood thinners to ensure another stroke doesn’t occur, and they are treating the pneumonia brought on by COVID-19. She can reply to simple yes/no questions. Her memory is still shot. Staff ask her who is the President. She says Bill Clinton then corrects herself. They ask her what year it is, and she says it is 2011.

I am reminded of the last time. I was 15, a freshman in high school. It was a massive stroke. It would take more than a year for her memory to come back. I took care of the taxes and the bills. At the time my father was a heavy drinker. That week she was in the hospital, he didn’t have a drop of anything. We didn’t fight. We didn’t speak. We just worried over her. That is not like now. I tell him everything. It is difficult to paraphrase what has happened to her for him — both her bodily response to the stroke and to Covid and the medical plan to help her; her oxygen intake, the plans for physical therapy, the blood thinners, the antibiotics for the pneumonia. He says thank you a lot. He is on the phone constantly keeping our family in the Rio Grande Valley and in Mexico up to date. It is only 11:00am.

I make an appointment to get tested for Covid. I make it in Houston so that I can use the drive time to think a bit. In the years after my mom’s first stroke, I promise myself to never be caught off guard again – if it ever happened, I would help with the mental support she would need to get her mind working again. I take my test and drive back. I spend the rest of the day looking through Facebook and Instagram and my phone to look for photos.

Later that night, I receive an email with a message to check my father’s health app for his results. He is still testing positive. The message recommends that he test in seven days. Before I go to bed, I call him and tell him he is still positive. He is shaken by this and instructs me to stay away from him. I tell him not to worry, that though he is testing positive, the time has passed for him to show signs of illness. “Ay, tu pobre mama.” I tell him I love him. I go to bed. I think about my poor mother, all alone in a hospital.


September 8, 2020

I will send her photos. I call the hospital around 3:00p and ask if we can send her a few things. The nurses say yes. I am relieved. I work to create an album of photos that my mom can look at – to give her something to focus on – she is so alone. The nurses say it helps to phone call every day, but “fair warning, if she doesn’t recognize you, that’s ok. It takes time for the brain to heal.”

My father is focused on the guilt of her illness. He paces the house, talks about how he has no clue how he got the virus. He heard all the symptoms on the news, remembered they said the lack of taste and the lack of smell were indicators. He repeats, “Pero siempre iba con la pinche mascarilla.” I ask if he can remember ever being around people who didn’t wear a mask. He says almost everyone in town is maskless, especially in their neighborhood. “Blame them,” I tell him. He shakes his head. His eyes well up with tears. He doesn’t cry. “Tu mama es fuerte, se va aliviar.” We are yelling this from the stairs in the hallway.

I check in on my wife. I speak to my daughter. I explain what I can to my dad. I even talk to my boss. I am in every direction. I don’t eat this day. I am now wrapping my brain around the hurdles: she is an elderly woman, recovering from both a stroke and Covid. This is a reality and I can manage nothing else. But I have to.

I go back to my room. I create an online album of photos and get them printed at Walgreen’s. I print 10 photos: combinations of photos of her and my father, her and I, her and my daughter, her and my wife and I, but photos that all have her. I write notes on the back – instructions almost. I write things like This is you and your husband. His name is Pedro, or Este es una foto de ti con tu nieta, ella se llama Luz María. I do this on all the photos.

I prepare the photos in the car. I write in a permanent marker. I take a few phone calls. I speak to family and a few friends. I stare at the Gulf. I cry in the car. I cry in the car. I can do nothing else. I go home.


September 9, 2020

I am in regular communication with the medical team.

I speak to the charge nurse. There is improvement daily. She still has pneumonia and is still recovering from the stroke. She is eating and responds in short sentences. I ask if she is communicating in Spanish or English. I laugh as if it is a victory; a Spanish speaking nurse says that he speaks to her in Spanish and then in English and she replies according and correctly. It is a good sign that the damage is minimal. If she does not know the word in one language, she finds the word in the other.

I ask when I can deliver the photos, I am told any time is good. I deliver the photos at around 4. I go home. I give my dad the update and he immediately calls family to let them know the good news. I light a candle in my room. I have hope.

no one should dim like this her lips and fingertips dark a cobalt i’ve never seen before i whisper to her a tremble


September 10, 2020

I finally speak to the doctor. He tells me they are using the latest treatment – a high flow oxygen treatment that is forcing oxygen into the lungs. He says this is a 50/50 shot. He is cautiously optimistic but still has to run a few tests. They are going to do a few more scans to see how bad the pneumonia is and to check to see if she has any brain bleeding. For now, she is relaxed and comfortable. As we end our call he asks, “Was your mother by any chance a nurse?” I say yes and he chuckles, “that explains it.” My mother asked the doctor to see her chart and any lab requests and gave a verbal verification of a DNR – a Do Not Resuscitate order. He says “I mean its morbid, but it lets us know who we are dealing with. She don’t mess around, does she?” No. “If she is 86, then she is old enough to be an LVN, right?” I acknowledge his assumption and inform him she worked for the same hospital system for 35 years. “Well, if she keeps it up, she’s gonna do fine. They don’t make nurses like that anymore. She might fumble around for other words, but she didn’t fumble around her medical knowledge.” I thank him.

I cry at this. It reminds me that my mom is all right, that they got a taste of the demanding Mexicana I grew up with. I keep it together on the phone as the doctor asks if I need anything else. I ask to speak to the charge nurse again.

I speak to the nurse and ask if my mom has seen the photos. It is the last bit news to see if she has her wits about her enough. The nurse says that yes, she got all the people in the photos correctly and knew their names and she laughed and pointed to the picture of my daughter. “This is my angel, my Luz María.” Then the nurse asks, “Are you her son? You are doing such a good job thinking so fast on this – this was the most correct thing to do to keep her brain work up and to keep her spirits up. You are a good son.”

I hang up and I sit there. I hold my breath for a moment until the room starts to spin and let out a long sigh. My eyes water, and I don’t think I have ever heard anybody ever tell me this. My heart aches after this. I realize I am tired. I get myself together and I yell for my dad to come to the stairs. I sit on the stairs and tell him everything they told me. I tell him everything they told me except the part about me being a good son. That part doesn’t matter. What matters is that she is doing better.


September 11, 2020


September 14, 2020

We have full routines now which include an afternoon quick call from my dad to my mom and me talking to nurses about her condition. She sleeps a lot and if she continues to improve they will remove the high flow oxygen and place her on a normal oxygen treatment. Her x-rays show she still has pneumonia and they are continuing to treat it with antibiotics. I ask if there is anything else that can be done. I am told that if she continues at the pace she is at, she should make a full recovery. I do not hang on the words. I say thank you.

I read late at night – grab medical articles from the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, the UK, Spain. I keep reading the same thing. Elderly people have a 50/50 shot at this – they either make it past the need for the high flow oxygen treatment and make a full recovery or they get past the high flow oxygen treatment and their bodies give out and they crash out and succumb to the virus. I am preparing for all things. How do you prepare for all this? How do you prepare to be alone? I grew up an only child. My mother is alone. This is no way to prepare.


September 15, 2020

I call the hospital a little after 11 am and I am told that the doctor is going to call me real soon. I hang up. He calls me with news at 1pm. My mother has taken a slight downturn. She is suffering from a brain bleed due to the blood thinner they have given her to prevent another stroke.

The doctor says her speech is a little slurred and she is just really tired and will probably sleep more. I ask what are next steps in her treatment, and he says they are going to stop the blood thinner to see if the brain bleed will stop on its own. The doctor says her breathing is holding solid and they will still plan to remove the high flow oxygen regardless of the brain bleed. It is now a waiting game. I thank the doctor.

I go and tell my dad what is happening. He thanks me. He is worried and says “pero esta comiendo?” and I tell him yes, she is still eating and responding. He nods and sighs. His phone rings – it is his sister, my Tia Rosa in Atotonilco El Alto. I am thankful someone is there to take his mind off it. He can focus on the updating. I sit on the porch for a while. I drive around the seawall for a while. I go back inside. I sit in the room in silence for a while – it finally dawns on me I will finish my quarantine time in three days. I immediately think “good, I can get back home” and then a sudden rush of guilt overcomes me. I cry at the thought that my father will be alone in the house for the first time without any support, any assurances of the future. I fear for him, I fear for my mother.


September 17, 2020

I call the hospital in the morning as usual and the nurse tells me that things look good and the doctor will call me later on with the results of the x-ray from yesterday. They need to check on the brain bleed and today will let us know how she is doing.

The doctor calls me back at around 2pm and informs me that stopping the blood thinner proves correct; the brain bleed has stopped. He asks me if I have had a chance to talk to her and I tell him no. He tells me that if I want, I can talk to her in about 10 minutes. That they are finishing up a late lunch. I don’t know what to say to prepare. I don’t know what I should say. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t have time to worry about it – the time passes by so fast, I totally forget that I have said goodbye to the doctor and the phone is ringing again. It is the nurse and she asks me if I want to speak to my mom and I say yes. I smile and the nurse says “Ok Chevy, its your son on the phone” and I say hello and her a faint “hi mijo!” And I choke up and I tell her “hey mom, I love you. Don’t worry, I am taking care of dad. He is ok.” I hear a faint, “thank you mijo. And I love you.” I tell her to go rest and to get better. I don’t tell her to hurry up and get better, I don’t want to pressure her. I tell her that we miss her and she says she misses us too.

Her voice sounds muffled, like something is in her mouth. It dawns on me, that is the result of the stoke – it has affected her speech a bit. The call is quick – the nurse gets back on the line and says that she has eaten well and by tonight, she will be out of ICU and into a regular room. I tell the nurse thank you. I go tell my dad I finally got to talk to my mom. He smiles and says “se va a mejorar, vas a ver.” We go back to quarantining. I forget to tell my dad happy birthday. It is today. I don’t think he notices it is his birthday.


September 18, 2020

It is the early morning. I call the hospital and speak the charge nurse. She tells me that my mom did ok through the night and is able to switch between English and Spanish – the nurse overnight is a Spanish speaking male and he was able to check her language capabilities first in full Spanish, then in full English and then in Spanglish – she was able to carry on a short conversation with him before she went to bed. The nurse tells me that they doctor is going to call me in a little bit to inform me about good news.

I wait about an hour and am told that since my mother has been holding steady and if she continues to hold steady for the day, they will move her to a recovery center, and we will be placed in contact with a a hospice care provider, specifically set up for elderly Covid patients. The hitch is that it is located in Baytown, TX. It is the only spot that has space for her. The doctor says that if she remains strong enough, they will keep her on the oxygen regiment and do 3½ weeks of physical therapy to help recover from the stroke – “only time will tell when she can kick the Covid pneumonia.” He tells me that the hospice care folks will contact me when they have her set up in her room.

I go to tell my father and speak again to the nurse to see if I can arrange one last call between them before they move her. The nurse tells me that yes, they can see to it. My father speaks to my mother around 1pm that day. He talks to her and he says that she is smiling and he tells her what is happening and she says it is good and he remembers her saying “no te preocupes por mi, cuida a la niña.” He says they talked for 10 minutes. It is the last phone call they will have together.

I spend the rest of that day, from the time he is on the phone with my mother, on the phone with the hospice care center – they send digital documents for me to sign and email back. We talk over insurance numbers and I am provided with the phone number for the center and the reassurance that they will take round the clock care for her and I can call at any time day or night to talk to her. I ask what kind of physical therapy will they have her take part in. I am told it will be light walks and stretching exercises.

It is 9pm when I receive the call from the recovery care center that they have her situated in her new room. I am lost. She is so far away from us. She is in a strange place. I ask if there is anybody on staff who speaks Spanish and I am told no. I try to sleep that night and all I can do is sit up and stare at the wood paneling. I watch the sun rise.


September 20, 2020

My father and I are both negative. I have been able to move back to my house. I feel guilty for this. My dad says not to. That I need to help Jasminne with the baby, that it is ok.

I call him today. I ask if he is ok with me bringing Luz down to see him. I think it will help us both to keep occupied while mom is in the hospital. He says no. His voice cracks a bit. He wants to cry and says “no, no, no, dejalá alla. Me da miedo por ella. Esta pinche infermidad, no, no, no, major no vengan, estoy bien.” I have her say hi to him on the phone. She giggles. He giggles. I am slightly relieved.

I think about the fact that all of this – this is bittersweet. We are left with few choices: either fight to get her to stay at the hospital where she was, where she could receive better care, but also risk catching something else or keep her in Baytown in an elder care facility amongst routines she isn’t accustomed to. I am not sleeping much. Everyone where she is at has Covid. I call to check in on her. She is sleeping and went for a walk around her room with the nurse earlier in the day. They say she is stable. I call home to tell my dad and he is grateful.


September 21, 2020

September 22, 2020

I receive a call this morning very early, around 7:30 – they got blood work back from my mom, from blood drawn on Sept. 19th and my mother has been rushed to Baytown Methodist Hospital. Her platelets are very low – like a double-digit number. They are going to give her a small dose of steroids to see if it helps. Tonight will be crucial. If she responds, even in the slightest, it is a good sign. It is Thrombocytopenia – if prolonged it will cause internal bleeding. She is still testing positive for COVID. She still has pneumonia. She is now completely back on the high dose oxygen she was on when back in the hospital in Galveston. I don’t even know how to explain this to my father. I can’t even think of the word for platelets, for Thrombocytopenia. I don’t have time to cry. I just need to tell my father, go change a diaper, and finish writing two more lessons for 8th grade Unit 2, both about direct and indirect characterization. My mind is on none of this. All I can think of is my mother swimming in and out of consciousness, maybe in pain, maybe not able to breathe right, maybe alone. So alone. I cry because I don’t want her to feel any pain. I get it together, then I bawl for 5 minutes quietly in my office. I tell my wife what is happening. We are silent for a moment. I Google “platelets” in Spanish – “plaquetas” — and I call him.

He cannot understand everything I am saying. “¿Pero sigue bien, no?” and I tell him, “We don’t know. Right now, she is still too weak, but it doesn’t look good.” He tells me not say that. That I have to have hope, that she will come home and I agree and I tell him I am sorry. He says ok. We hang up. It is only 12 noon. My God, this day should be over.

i count seconds in between her breaths her brow knows what pain is


September 24, 2020

Today is the hardest day. Today the doctor called and requested that I call my father and we do a three-way call. I am informed that there is nothing else they can do for my mother. My mother twice had signed her own DNR – Do Not Resuscitate forms. Once at the hospital in Galveston and once at the elder care facility. The doctor says he would have suggested putting her on a ventilator, but knowing her DNR information, there is nothing else. He tells me in earnest that this is a moment where doctors have to consider the “risk v. reward” of care. He says that there is no single medicine that they can give my mother that will provide long term healing. Anything they do will risk more harm. If they give her any more medicine for the pneumonia, they risk another stroke or a heart attack. If they give her the steroid any longer for the platelet support, they could risk her kidneys. It is a no-win situation. The doctor says my father will need to make the decision: does the hospital continue to provide care to her detriment or will they release her to the elder care facility. I ask what happens to her if they take her to the elder care facility. He says they will make her comfortable as possible, providing all the oxygen she needs and provide her with morphine, which will allow her to sleep.

I give the doctor my dad’s house number. It dawns on me all at once:

  1. My father will defer to me to make the decision.
  2. I did not think to call him beforehand to prep him for He does not deal well with heavy issues. He has never handled any kind of crisis well. It is why he always turned to drinking.

His cellphone rings and I begin speaking. I tell him that the doctor wants to talk to him and that I will translate. I want to cry. My heart breaks. I feel an ache in my throat as I speak. I translate exactly what the doctor told me previously. My father goes silent for a moment. He speaks to me and tells me to ask the doctor if we decide to let her be released, can she come home. I pause. My eyes well up with tears. My wife is seeing my face. I am in my office, and she is sitting on the futon behind me. She is in tears. I didn’t even realize that I put the conversation on speaker phone, so I wouldn’t have to hold it. My hands are trembling. I ask the doctor what my father asks. The doctor says unfortunately not. Because she is still COVID positive, they cannot risk her infecting anyone else. I add that if she goes home, she would likely infect him and he would be at greater risk for illness. I verify with the doctor and he says that I am correct. I feel like I have betrayed my mother. I feel like a failure.

“¿Que piensas?” he asks me. I tell my dad that I don’t want my mother to suffer any more, that she needs rest, that this is all so much for her poor little body. I tell him they’ve been poking her with needles for well over three weeks or more. I tell him, we need to let her go rest at the elder care center. There is nothing else to do. “Yo hago lo que tu dices mi’jo.” I translate to the doctor. My mother will no longer receive medical care from the hospital. She is now labeled as “hospice care.” I don’t think my father fully understands that this is the end. We end the call. I do not call my father. I sit in my office and cry with my daughter in my arms. She doesn’t know what is going on, but she hugs me and says “esta bien, dada.” It is 1pm.

I want to cry right there but remember we can’t waste time tell her i will take care of dad and the baby


September 24, 2020 (still)

It is now 3pm and the elder care center says that the hospice care company will be calling me to arrange for payment and other details. I am confused and ask what arrangements? And I am informed that because we have “requested” that my mother be placed in hospice care – it changes the kind of medical care provided to my mother. Her medical insurance (Blue Cross/Blue Shield + Medicare) won’t pay for her hospice care and her room & board at the elder care facility. I tell her I was unaware of this, as I assumed this was all under the same form of care. I am told it is not. I ask, well since she came in having it all covered under insurance, what changed. I am told “This isn’t California,” and that Texas didn’t take advantage of the added supports with Medicaid or Medicare – that that would have actually worked here. I stop the caller and ask “Wait, what are we talking about here? That if I don’t pay for her room and board for the elder care facility, since the insurance will no longer cover it, you would put my mother out on the street in a what, a wheelchair and an oxygen mask and a tank? What if I don’t have that kind of money? Are you telling me this is policy?” The lady on the phone doesn’t say a word for a few seconds. She takes a deep breath and says “Unfortunately sir, yes.” I am speechless. The coldness of this system. I am defeated. I am angry. I am calm and I ask for the daily rate for room and board. She tells me it is $160 per day. I tell her I will call the hospice care folks and arrange payment.

I call home and tell my dad what needs to happen. He tells me that I can come pick him up and we can go pay in cash. I tell him to not worry about it. That I have the bank information. He tells me to go ahead and pay for it. I ask him if he wants to pay for a week? He says yes. He asks when they are moving my mother. I tell him that I haven’t called the hospital yet to find out, but that as soon as I do, I will let him know.

I call the hospice care company and tell them that I already spoke to the elder care facility. The lady is very nice and explains what I have already been told. I am fed up. I tell her that all of this is bullshit. I tell her that my mother worked for 35 years as a nurse and not even her hospital insurance will support her. The lady on the other end says she understands and that agrees with me. I thank her. I provide the payment. I am exhausted. As we hang up she tells me that she will call me back to let me know when my mother arrives at the elder care center.

I call my father and tell him that she will be moved later on tomorrow. I tell him to be ready for when I call, that I will call him as soon as she is in her room.

I do not eat this whole day. I forget to ask if my mother ate anything. I call the hospital to ask. They tell me no, “but she did drink a little water.”

i catch a light billow out of her mouth she moans my mother cracks open white hot that bright day i run tell the nurse


September 28, 2020

I receive a call from the hospice care company. They tell me that “it is time.” I am to take my father to go see my mother one last time. He will only have thirty minutes to be with her. He will need be covered in PPE head to toe. He may not touch her. He can sit with her.

I drive down to Galveston to get him and then we travel to Baytown.

On the way up, he tells me the story about how bad her migraines used to be before I was born. That once, she had to be hospitalized for them. He tells me that that was the scariest time for him. He didn’t know what to do, back then, they didn’t have as flexible visiting hours and he would have to go home nightly and sleep in the bed by himself. He said he would wonder how much pain she would be in and that he thinks about this now. I ask him when did the migraines stop and he laughs – as soon as we found out she was pregnant with you. She never had another migraine. “Fuiste un pinche milagro para tu madre.”

When we get to the elder care facility I walk my dad to the front door. I ring the bell and when they answer, I tell them that we are here to see Eusebia Mendez. They let my dad in. I tell him to take his time. I tell him to sign in if there is a sign-in sheet and ask for help to put on the PPE. He goes in. I wait in the truck.

I look around the space and the area where the elder care center is. It is an unassuming street. There are no fancy stores, not even a Dollar Tree nearby. There are no potholes in it either. The elder care center is just there – holding all the Covid elderly within its walls. Today is a bright day. There is a slight breeze. It is the most time I have spent out of the house in the last few weeks alone.

After about forty minutes, my father comes out. He tells me that they are allowing me a 30-minute visit with her. I am surprised. It catches me off guard. I don’t know if I am ready to see what she looks like. I don’t even know what to imagine. I do not ask him anything.

He tells me that a nurse will help me with all the PPE materials. I go.

I ring the bell and I am let in by a nurse and we walk past a wooden cafeteria area. This would normally be used to feed elders’ meals. All the tables are pushed to the left side and stacked and all the chairs are pushed over to the right and stacked as well. It looks as if this place was slowly abandoned, but I know its not. It just feels like a place of abandon.

We walk past this space and come to a set of double doors, the nurse says there is another nurse waiting on the other side, and she will help me get dressed. She leaves. I pull the double doors open and am met with a zipper sealed transparent plastic “wall”, the nurse on the other side unzips it and let me in. She is in PPE and tells me to keep my mask on and to put on the PPE – It is a full gown and pants, shoe coverings, gloves, a K95 mask and lastly, a protective visor.

She tells me what I have heard before:

I am not to touch my mother.
She is wearing a mask for oxygen.
She can hear me.
I should not try to hold her.
I should keep my visor and masks on at all times.

She walks me over through the rest of this COVID “wing.” There are at least three other elders in this space. It is dank. It is dimly lit. It is everything I feared. There is a man in a wheelchair staring off into space, face unshaven, his mouth agape. He is just outside his room, I think. We walk past him. The nurses show me into my mother’s room. She says that she will come by in 30 minutes to escort me out. I tell her thank you. I walk in. She has been here for a few days and there is no sunlight for her. Nothing for her to see or do. She is there, sitting upright. Her head hanging a bit low. She has a few pillows behind her. My poor mom’s forehead is frowning. She is trying to fight, to breath. I don’t speak. I don’t even know what to say.

Many years ago, my mother told me the story of the moment they brought me to her and left her alone with me in the hospital room when I was born. She said she unwrapped my swaddled body and checked me out, counted my fingers and toes, looked to see if I had any bruises and kissed me on my forehead. I remember this and think to do the same, as best I can. I reach out to fix her gown. I look to see that the tubes from the oxygen machine aren’t causing her chaffing. I check to see if she has socks on under the blankets. She does – purple Totes, the thick ones with the floor grips on the bottom. I rewrap her feet. I look at her, her chest and neck and head moving with the hopes of catching a big breath. She is fighting to breathe. I look again and keep examining her. My eyes fall upon her left arm — a purple and a blue I have never seen on her. It looks as if she has been beaten with a bat. I notice all the bruises are in certain points and I realize this is where they have been sticking her for IVs, for the morphine, for the blood draws. I almost cry.

I take a breath. “Hi, Mom,” and her eyebrows shift up. She can hear me. She moans. I haven’t ever heard that from my mother before. It nearly breaks me. She reaches up and brushes her mask off her face, and I freak out. I didn’t know if I should put the mask back on her myself or get a nurse. I see that her lips are chapped as if she hasn’t drank any water in quite a while. I run to the nurses station and inform the nurse that my mother has taken her mask off. They will send somebody in to fix it. I feel defeated. I want to throw a fit, but Lord, how do I rush people in a space where everyone is dying? There is only one name on the whiteboard for the nurses on duty. I walk back to my mother’s room and sit.

I defy the order and hold my mother’s left hand. We wait for what seems like an eternity and the nurse comes in. I quickly let go. The nurse says hello again and puts the mask back on. “Every once in a while, we have to come back in and readjust the mask. She is always taking it off.” When she walks out, I cry quietly. My mother never opens her eyes. I know it means Mijo, get this shit off of me, I am tired of this mugrero.

I cannot wipe away my tears. My mask is all fogged up, so I calm down a moment. I hold my mom’s hand again and tell her in a quiet voice, “It’s ok, Ama. It’s ok to rest and go if you need to. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of Apa, and the baby and Jasminne. No te preocupes. Descansa.”

In my head I tell a god that I rarely pray to anymore to just take her if He was gonna take her. No one should be in this much pain. Llevatela, para que ya no sufre.

I want to give my mother a tall glass of water. I want to hear her laugh or scold me or tell me not to worry. I wanted to hug my mother one last time, but this virus does not care. So all I can do is caress her face and tell her thank you. The nurse comes by after a bit. I tell my mother “Sleep mama, sueña algo dulce.”

I walk out of the room. The nurse walks me back to the holding space and I take off the PPE. I thank her. She phones the other side of the hall and tells me to go ahead and wait for the other nurse to walk me back to the front entrance. As I leave, I ask the nurse how many patients have come through here and died from COVID. “Too many,” she replies through tears. I insist that I please be the one first notified when my mother passes. I will need to translate anyways if they intend to call my father, so it might be better if they just tell me. The nurse agrees.

The drive home is mostly silent. We drive through all of Baytown without a word. Drive through Texas City on Hwy 146 and merge on to I-45 when finally, my father speaks. He says that he doesn’t give a damn. He didn’t follow instructions. He gave her a hug and gave her a massage and heard her moan. He told her to rest and that he would make sure to say hi to Luz Maria. He talked about how bad she looked. That he took a comb out of his pocket and combed her hair back. I don’t say anything. He tells me we have to keep praying “Dios me la va regresar a la casa, vas a ver.” I stay silent. He asks if I think she will die, and I tell him she has suffered long enough. No one should have to be in that much pain. My dad is silent. He speaks just as we crossed the causeway back to Galveston. “Le intregre la muerte a tu madre, no hay nada mas malo que eso,” His voice cracks. A single tear comes down his face and he quickly wipes it away. I am about to cry and tell him not to do that. I tell him he didn’t know what this virus was. I tell him that I know he did his best to protect her. I tell him that I lay the blame on all the Trump-loving white people in his neighborhood who didn’t bother to wear a mask when they interacted with him. I tell him that I knew what could have been worse – having to visit the both of them in a place like that, that I could have lost both of them. He gasps and winces and yells out, “Oh no, mijo,” then covers his face with his hands for a moment. I just shut up again, afraid I would lose my shit and wreck the damn truck. We were both a mess.

When we get to the house, I park the truck. I tell him I will make him some lunch or order lunch. We end up getting fried chicken. But we really don’t eat. We just sit there. He keeps saying to watch and see, that she will get better. I don’t have the heart to tell him that the nurse already told me that she hasn’t had a bowel movement in two days. It was the end. Her body is slowly shutting down. I insist on staying with him, but he fights me on it and tells me to go home. He is tired and is going to pray the rosary  then make the family round of phone calls and let them know what was going on. Eran las cinco de la tarde.

I spend the evening pleading for some priest to provide my mother with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. She grew up Catholic and was a life longer member of her church. I am still angry at this- no one lifted a finger from my mother’s church – St. Patrick’s Church in Galveston – to provide a priest to administer this sacrament, not virtually, nor physically. No one would drive to Baytown. No one would call and give a blessing. No reason was given. I post on Twitter in full emergency mode to request if someone knew any priest in the vicinity to go. Friends step up, and a priest from out of state called in and a priest from La Virgen de Guadalupe Church in Baytown did the same. Catholic Church rules state that they cannot administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick over the phone, but they can give a blessing. It’s the best we can do.

her lungs are giving out i can do nothing but watch the night sky cry all the way home a few days later a nurse calls says my mother is in the stars
i correct her


September 29, 2020

My father’s second COVID test comes back negative. He is in the clear. I tell Jasminne that we should go see my father. Yesterday was awful. I am afraid for him to be alone. I am afraid I will get to the house and find him full of liquor. We gather Luz María, a few toys and we drive down to Galveston. It is the first time my dad has seen Luz Maria in over a month and a half. They play and she watches cartoons and he offers her cookies and she looks around the house, looking for “’Buelita.” I tell her that her grandmother is sick and resting in a hospital. Luz María says ok and goes back to being a 2-year-old. When we leave that evening, my dad says thank you for bringing her over. I tell him that I don’t want to leave him alone. He tells me he is not alone. He tells me that he will pray and that I should pray and that everything is going to be fine and my mom will be home soon. I don’t fight him. I just say ok. Luz gives him a hug and a kiss. Jasminne does the same. We drive away. Luz falls asleep in the car. Jasminne falls asleep in the car. I cry quietly.

I spend the night looking at the stars. I don’t get much sleep, I just keep staring at all the stars.

make her live forever a song una nebulosa una reina una guardia un leyenda una corona una diosa


October 1, 2020

It is around 6:30pm in the evening. I’ve been playing with Luz María all day and she is watching Moana on the living room TV. It is the part of the movie where the grandmother’s spirit slips away and transforms into the spirit image of a devil ray. Just then, Luz María turns around, runs to me, jumps into my arms and hugs me real tight and says “Todo esta bien, dada.” And she pats my back. A moment later the phone rings.

It is my father. He tells me in a cracking voice that my mother has passed away at 6 o’clock. My first reaction is anger.

I am angry that the goddamn elder care center didn’t think about how this news would affect my elder father. I am angry that I didn’t get to tell him first. I had already planned to get the call, then quietly go to Galveston and be with him to tell him. But I let it go. I just let go for a moment and I ask him how he is feeling. I tell him that I am on my way down to see him that I don’t want him to be alone. He tells me there is no need. He needs time to call family. He needs time to be alone. I tell him that mom is now at peace. He tells me to be strong “se nos adelanto, pobrecita tu mama.” I tell him I love him. We hang up.

With Luz María in my arms it dawns on me, my father has never lived alone, not once. My mother is gone. There will be no more posting on Twitter. There will be no more blessings from her. I will always hear her voice in my head. Jasminne is right next to me, and I tell her, and she begins to cry. She calls her mother to tell her that my mother is gone, and she cries as well.

The rest of the evening I talk to my mother’s side of the family, telling them that she is gone. I am somewhat relieved. She is no longer in pain. Late into the night, I receive phone calls from my dad’s side of the family in  Mexico, Nebraska, and California. It is good to hear all the voices. They love my mother so much. I finally cry.

I decide that night that we will visit my father every Sunday – something I should have done with much more regularity when my mother was alive. I spend time with my family. I look at my daughter and she is blowing bubbles and giggling. She will forget about her grandmother. It will be my job to ensure she doesn’t.

I think about how my mother had to fight even towards death. She knew little peace in her life. So much fracaso in her life. I lived my life in a way that would bring her and my father pride.

They only grew up with such tristeza, such harshness, I wanted to bring them, her, joy. This is what always made me happy. I knew that at the end of the day, if I didn’t cause my parents to suffer, then I was doing something right. I wanted my mother to pass away an old woman in her sleep, not drowning from a virus. The last moment with her was bittersweet. I am glad I got to see her once last time, but that moment will also haunt me for the rest of my life I think.

The rest of the night is a blur. I sit outside and look at the sky, thinking of all the songs my mother sang.

this is what i will do walk around the highway i am a broken astronomer sing an old tune i’m so lonesome i could cry


October 14, 2020

I have already begun the arrangements for my mother’s passing. We call the elder care facility and they release the body to the funeral home. We received the ashes in a box on October 6th.

I am with my dad when it dawns on me to ask my dad about the phone call from the elder care facility the day my mom died. I ask him if he had any problem understanding what they said. He says no, that the person who called him spoke Spanish. I look at him perplexed. I tell him that they told me that they don’t have any Spanish speaking staff.

He tells me it was the nice lady “que limpia el lugar, era ella que me llamo.” I am stunned. I ask him to clarify, it was the Spanish speaking janitor who called the house, asked to speak to my father, delivered the news of her death. He says yes, then goes on to say that the lady stayed on the phone and said three Hail Mary’s with my father on the phone. Then she asked him if she should call anybody for him. He thanked her and said no, that he would call me to inform me. I ask another question – I ask him about the day we went to see her just before she died. I ask him, who told him about how to put on the PPE and the rules and he said it was the same woman. I shouldn’t have been stunned.

This business and racist Baytown, about as racist as Galveston, won’t think to hire bilingual staff, decides to have the janitor to do the heavy lift of translating, engaging with job responsibilities the woman isn’t even paid or trained to take on. I am grateful for this woman. I wonder how many more times she has had to do this.

night winds whisper to me out in the starlight my mother is a nebula where all the stars are born


My family relied on the kindness of strangers, from a bilingual nurse, to a Spanish speaking janitor to a whole Spanish speaking parish to provide for my mother. I am forever grateful and reminded that I come from this existence. The immigrant experience is this – always having to make due when nothing official works. The immigrant body will have to work around, harder, with compassion; durisimo, but with keenness. We are always left to fill in the gaps and look out for one another, adjusting as we need to.

I shudder to think about what would have happened to my family if I didn’t have command of English. I shudder to think what has happened to any family who didn’t have access to English. How many people died at home? How many people didn’t have access to support, access to health care, access to mental healthcare? How many of us are walking around the world with all this weight, this trauma, all this loss, bottled up, because we cannot share it in a language you can understand? Losing my mother to COVID-19 was made worse because of people’s inability to support a family who didn’t speak English. This is what isolation looks like. This is the worst part of a quarantine.

This is a choice. This is the insult. This is carelessness of a system and a society. I think about what it means that I am bilingual, that I live in two worlds. That I will always live in two worlds. I am always translating thought and feeling and moment and some days, it is too much.

I carry two households now. I tend to my future and comfort my past. I do this always in two languages. I am always moving between these worlds and I think of my mother, her words in my ear: “Mijo, we cannot stand still, sigue adelante mijo, else all is lost.” Yes ma’am, Ama, yes ma’am.

In the days after my mother’s death, I asked folks on Twitter to join me in celebrating her life by putting up yellow flowers in their homes. And oh my, all I received for about two weeks were Twitter images, cell phone photos of yellow flowers. Puro amarillo everywhere. I think my mother, wherever she is, laughed at the sight of this, laughing through her teeth, giddy, happy for such abundancia, for such joy, for such light. And that is how I will think of her. Always holding flowers, always shining bright.



Note: The Offing Publisher Ashaki M. Jackson solicited “To Speak on My Mother’s Death.” Writers interested in submitting to Enumerate should submit following the guidelines on Submittable.


It felt for me like so many of mom's habits, hovering, overprotective.

My Mother's Name

When my mother said my name, not one of the three syllables was diluted or mangled, assimilated or Americanized.

Barking Dog Nocturnal

The coyotes didn’t show themselves, no matter how hard I searched. Some nights my mom came into my room and stroked my hair before I left to search them out.