Ritual Confessions

March 8, 2008

Message (end)

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 4:46 am

Nothing could have been more natural than for Beatriz to fall in love with my brother. I’ve seen it so many times: people grasp at romantic attachment in the face of death for so many reasons. Desire is an affirmation of life. It’s a desperate distraction from the unendurable. And my brother must have represented so many different archetypes: the healer, the savior, the man of the family. But like every other aspect of this hospital vigil, it was painful to watch. My brother loved Beatriz as Giovanna’s mother, but his feelings for her went no deeper than that. Besides, he had been with his girlfriend, Nan, for some time already. Beatriz never declared her love for him outright, but it was unmistakable. In this as in so much else, I was terribly, desperately sorry for her.

Giovanna died on April 27th, 2004. Nan accompanied my brother to her funeral.

“She’s not very pretty,” said Beatriz wretchedly to me, soon afterward. “They don’t seem like a very good match.”

Our friendship didn’t last long beyond Giovanna’s death. Beatriz would make plans with me and then show up flagrantly late, or not at all. She wouldn’t return phone calls or e-mails. I knew better than to take it personally. One other person she’d been very close to during Giovanna’s illness was their favorite nurse, Kelsey, who had since moved to California. Beatriz had made plans to visit Kelsey at her new home, and in light of these impending travels, she struck up an internet romance with a stranger who lived in Kelsey’s new city “since I’ll be going there soon.” Afterward, she reported that she’d spent the entire visit with her online beau, blowing Kelsey off entirely, and that understandably, Kelsey was furious with her.

So again, I didn’t take Beatriz’s behavior personally, and I knew she was wild with grief and probably not accountable for anything she did, but neither did I wish to continue this relationship indefinitely. After a while, my contact with her lapsed and neither of us made an effort to revive it.

And then, several days ago, her voice spoke to me from one of my cell phone messages.

“Hi, Elissa, this is Beatriz, Giovanna’s mom… I was thinking about you today and I saw your phone number and I’m just calling to see how you’re doing… it’s been a long time but I never forgot about you… you were a very important person in Giovanna’s life, and so was your brother, and I always have you people in my heart. So when you get a chance, if you have time, give me a call…” and she recited her phone number, which hasn’t changed.

The day I received this message, Jen was still here. After that, Charlotte and I were both ill. Charlotte stayed home from school most of the week and I was woozy, congested and fatigued. I wanted to call Beatriz back at the right time, when I could be fully present and lucid and engaged.

It’s too late on the east coast right now, and tomorrow is Nick’s birthday. I imagine I will call her back on Sunday. But I dread it. There will hardly be any way to avoid the news that I have my own baby girl now. That my brother married Nan. That she’s expecting their first child this month. I don’t want to have to tell Beatriz any of these things. I can only pray that she’s in a relatively good place herself — that somehow, she has good news of her own. At least I’ll also be able to tell her, with complete honesty, that I think of Giovanna all the time. And that, for whatever it’s worth, my grief over her suffering and passing has taken on a whole new dimension.



  1. I think the fact that she contacted you after all this time may mean that she is in a better place than the last time you were in touch with her. Life goes on. I know it’s difficult but be happy about your wonderful little girl and your brother’s happiness. Share it. If she’s a friend, she’ll share it too. I’m sure she doesn’t expect that your life has stood still. She probably knows that life has gone on for everyone, including her.

    Pain and grief do strange things to us. Losing her only daughter must have been devastating for her. But she may well be in a better place. Make the call and if it’s at all weird, end it. This might be the closure she needs…to know that you’ve all gone on but you all remember her and her daughter.

    And a most happy birthday to Nick! I guess I better go look for something in a black hole or some place like that. 🙂

    Comment by Corina — March 8, 2008 @ 10:12 am

  2. Oh, I didn’t see that coming about Beatriz and your brother … so complicated and painful.

    I think Corina’s words are very wise … she has to know that life goes on. However, I think it would also help her to know how well you remember Giovanna … and that you remember Giovanna as a person, not as a sick child. That, I think, is the tragedy of having a terminally ill child; for many people, the child becomes inextricably interwined with its illness, to the point that the child doesn’t seem to have a personality or reality separate from suffering. It’s a bit different with adults, because adults usually have a life prior to their illness which helps establish who they are, separate from the illness. But with a child … it’s hard to make that distinction. Anyway, I’d say don’t be afraid to share your family’s news; if Beatriz is a friend, she will rejoice with you, even if that joy tugs at her own heartstrings. And let her know that you saw Giovanna as a whole person,if it comes up … that you remember her, and not her illness. I think it can make a difference, to know how beloved people live on in memory.

    Comment by davidrochester — March 8, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

  3. She may need nothing more than to “touch base” with someone else who loved her daughter. It may be a difficult call, but you won’t be doing her any favors if you’re not honest. Then again, I have no doubt you will handle it just fine.

    Comment by Shawn W — March 10, 2008 @ 3:55 am

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