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  • Writer's pictureJulie Quiroz

Life

3.10.24 New Moon


A few weeks ago, in divine mystery, I lost my father and my brother on the same day.


My father was very old, but steady and active for so long that we’d come to assume he would outlast us all.


My brother was much older than me. While he struggled with Parkinson’s for years, none of us expected this now. 


They were both alive as I flew back to Michigan. I learned of my father’s passing during my connection in Newark. When I arrived in Detroit, a kind Uber driver from Iraq took me to my brother. There, a few hours later, a handful of my family members encircled my brother as he took his final breath.


My father’s life, like that of many immigrants, centered on his work and making it in the US, which took a toll on his relationships with his children, especially my brother. They had not spoken in a decade.


Days after his passing, my family pulled together a memorial for my father, who left no instructions other than cremation. He saw himself as a survivor of repressive colonial Catholicism in his homeland of Ecuador, so we were left to invent a ritual. With most of us having flown in, we planned a gathering for a few days later, before we’d all need to depart. We thought we’d spread my father’s ashes in the woods he loved, but a bureaucratic glitch meant that would need to come later.


Instead we told stories. A few dozen of us in a sunny living room in Michigan, another dozen or so on zoom from my cousin’s house in Ecuador and other spots across the country.


I call it the stone soup of funerals, and it was beautiful. As a semi circle formed, my sister nodded me to the front to facilitate. I brought up the cassette player that my sister found, and played a few minutes of the interview I’d recorded of my father in 1995 – a tape that sat in a basement, untouched, unheard, and unrecognized until the day after my father passed. 


Then people spoke and listened. For nearly three hours, that was all we did. Remembering how my father once stopped the car with all of us in it, just to look at a flower we’d passed by. Remembering how he loved science and Mozart and good bread. Remembering how he always stayed close and supportive to his sister and family in Ecuador. Remembering how he could dance.


All we had were stories, and they were enough. In fact, they everything.


I flew home. 


A week later I flew back.


My brother believed deeply in God. He listened with wonder, curiosity, and respect for my spiritual journey, so different, but so resonant, with his. Years ago we prayed together at a picnic table, each in our own way and our own words, pledging to be there for each other always, no matter the distance.


I learned a new story when my brother passed. I heard from my daughter how that first day I was in the hospital with leukemia, my brother and sister-in-law took my daughter and her friends for ice cream. On the darkest most frightening day of my daughter’s life, my brother was quietly, simply, kindly there. I’m sure he made her laugh that day. 


My daughter and I held each other as we stepped forward to my brother’s grave. We knelt together, scooped loose earth into our cupped hands, and gently released the soil onto the urn of my brother’s ashes.


Later, at the church my brother attended for decades, my daughter and I stood in the family receiving line after the service. I didn’t know most of the people, but felt how deeply my brother had touched them. My brother lived his faith and it showed. 


My brother cared for his grandchildren as babies and walked loyally and selflessly with them as they grew. He took homeless families into his home. He welcomed queer youth into his church. An immigrant himself, my brother treated all newcomers with respect and compassion. For years he ordered one brand of beer because that’s where his daughter worked. 


My brother listened to people when they spoke. 


And, of course, everyone remembers how he danced.









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