To many, the Day of the Dead in Mexico and in Mexican and Central-American communities in the U.S., is a chance to celebrate life. The lives of those who have died but are not forgotten. BuzzFeed staffers remember those who had an impact on them.
This past summer, my abuelito Pastor Hernandez passed away. He came from a little village in Mexico called Aljojuca, a couple of miles south of Mexico City in the state of Puebla. He was a barber and everyone in the neighboring towns would visit him for a cut. In his heyday, he played in a cover band, often touring cantinas throughout Mexico in the ’50s and ’60s. He was a father of nine kids, most of who would go on to pursue a better life in the U.S. In his last days, after sensing his health was failing, he would often go to the cemetery and talk to my grandma, my late abuelita Conchita, whose tombstone laid next to his reserved plot. He would talk about his day and end every conversation with, “I’ll see you soon.”
In his final hours, as my grandpa laid resting in bed, my uncle went up to him and whispered, “Are you ready to see mom?” He held on as long as he could. Finally, he gave in and answered, “Yes.” My grandpa passed away on a Saturday morning. I like to think he’s somewhere holding hands with my grandma.
–Norberto BriceÃ±o, BuzzFeed staff writer
I never got to meet my grandfather Ramon Chenlo. He passed away months after I was born after battling a long disease. My mom was told, while pregnant, that her father was probably not going to make it through her pregnancy, but he did. I was told since I was very little that he waited to meet me before letting go and that that made him my guardian angel. I was also repeatedly told that I remind people of him which in a weird way makes me super proud but also always, ALWAYS, makes me cry uncontrollably.
I wish I could’ve met-met him and hear all the life stories he had to tell. I wish I could’ve seen with my own eyes the similarities that those who met him see. But at least I ~know~ I have the best person ever looking over me every step of the way.
–Conz Preti, Editor, BuzzFeed EspaÃ±ol
This is my grandmother, my mom’s mom, Hipolita “Pola” Elizondo. She is the second woman I loved besides my mother. I spent a good deal of my childhood at her house and most of our family gatherings were there. She passed away a few years ago due to health complications and I was a pallbearer at her funeral. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. It’s weird to think that when someone is dead you will never, ever see them again. Two years ago at a Dia de los Muertos celebration in San Antonio I made a sugar skull in her honor. It’s still at my parents house back in Texas. If I can someday become half the person she was I will consider my life a total success.
Te amo y te extraÃ±o, Pola.
–Javier Moreno, BuzzFeed staff writer
Maria Dios, who I knew as DoÃ±a Maria, passed away Sunday, Oct. 19. My godfather’s mom, I didn’t know her well, but I knew she was a strong woman. A woman who changed my life simply by bringing her son JosÃ© to this country from Spain. I realized what I wanted to know most was who she was in Spain, why she came here and what she did. The book of people’s long lives come to a close, but the chapters that make up the story are what makes it all worthwhile.
My godfather told me she tended a farm her mother owned. “Vegetables were planted and potatoes and corn fields as far as the eye could see,” he said. And why did she come? “She wanted me to have a different life, to go to school — most of the people in my family are fishermen — to go to school and make something of myself.”
So she came to the U.S. and worked in a toy factory and then in a garment factory. You know when clothes would show that it was inspected by #29? Well, she was #29. She used to inspect clothes and get rid of the rejects.
And as is often the case, she was a strong-willed woman because she was both his mom and dad.
“It’s very difficult to pick up and go to a foreign country, when you don’t know the language and have to get a job. But it was all because she wanted to make a better life for us,” he said.
And she did.
–Adrian Carrasquillo, Editor, Latino coverage; BuzzFeed News reporter
Although not a relative, nor a friend, nor someone I’ve ever even met, Robin Williams left an indelible mark on pop culture and continues to be sorely missed.
It’s difficult to mourn someone you didn’t truly know, but I think a lot of us felt genuinely sad, and a very real loss upon hearing of his death, and that he had been suffering, quietly, behind closed doors. There was something universal in Williams’ work — themes of family, of being an outsider, of being misunderstood, of being hurt and overcoming that pain through grace and forgiveness. There was a sweetness to so many of his iconic roles, even as they were also tinged with a very real sense of sadness. In taking on these roles, he invited us to participate in the process of feeling pain (the pain, say, of being estranged from your children, of losing a family member, of fighting back against mindless authority, of descending into madness, or the very real pain in simply growing up) and coming through to the other side of it. He offered us not only catharsis, but a sense that we weren’t alone in our feelings, that the world held so much suffering, true, but also limitless beauty and possibility.
I hope that he knew that, on some level. I hope that he felt it even during his darkest moments, like a streetlight through the fog. I hope that he knew how much his family must adore him, how much his friends must miss him, and just how much he meant to so many people. And I hope that, if you’re going through something similar, that you feel this, too. There is always good, in you and others and out there in the world. Always.
–Alex Alvarez, BuzzFeed staff writer
My dad, Rudy Lima, used to greet everyone by calling them Tigre, so everyone called him that. We would be out on the streets and you would hear, “Â¿QuÃ© pasÃ³ Tigre?, “Â¡Hola Tigre!”, “Â¿QuÃ© onda Tigre”. He was a legend. When I had to make the tough decision to move here to America, I had to leave my dad behind. My parents were divorced, and things were complicated, so I had to make the hardest choice of my life and say good-bye to my dad. Leaving him meant I was leaving the man I looked up to the most. He was my hero, he was the person I was the closest to, and the person I wanted to make proud the most.
After arriving in the States, I hated everything about this country, and after a year I missed my father so much I decided to go back to Guatemala. While I was there, I begged my dad to let me stay with him because I missed him more than anything in this world. With tears in his eyes, he told me loved me and that because he loved me, he knew I had a chance for a better life if I came back to be with my mom in the States.
He was that type of father. Even though being away from my sister and I was slowly killing him inside, he put our future well-being first. Somehow he knew that in the long run we were better off. He was a great father. He taught me how to be strong and self-sufficient, and he taught me that kindness, love, and respect are the most important things a person can give to another.
It has been seven years since he passed away, and not a day goes by without me remembering everything that he taught me. I miss him so much, but I feel comforted by the fact that I know he is looking over me every step of the way. My only hope is that I am making him proud through my achievements I’ve been able to accomplish because he let me come to this country.
I love you and miss you my guardian angel, my daddy, my tigre.
–Jessica Lima, associate editor, BuzzFeed EspaÃ±ol
When Gustavo Cerati passed away earlier this year, it hit me much harder than expected. He had been in a coma for years, and although I still held out hope that he would recover, I knew his prognosis looked bleak. Cerati had done so much over his career as a musician: He led a popular band (Soda Stereo) to stardom, he evolved musically with Soda, and he launched a successful solo career that was as strong as Soda Stereo. Cerati’s music, especially his solo work, marked many stages of my life as a young adult. His death not only made me lament that he left us too early — he was only 55 — but it was also a bittersweet reminder that the carefree days of my youth were long gone.
–Omar Villegas, BuzzFeed editorial fellow in Los Angeles
There is a lot that my grandmother, VovÃ³ Mafalda, taught me and there’s a lot I’m still hoping to learn from her memory. She was quietly audacious — driving fast in her little car well into her eighties — always perfectly coiffed, and more stubborn than anyone I’ve ever seen before. But the lesson that I remember about her every day was how much strength and resilience she showed as her body slowly faded from her control.
While I was in college and living with VovÃ³, a degenerative stroke disorder slowly began to sap away her ability to move. Her brain — the one that spoke fluent French and could toss out a quick-witted response in any situation — was entirely functional, but her body eventually shut down around it. As she struggled to communicate it felt like our connection blossomed: She would look at me and I would just know that she needed a glass of water, or she wanted to change the channel, or that she needed to be helped to the restroom.
When she was nearing the point in her illness where she couldn’t speak, I walked in as she was working with her speech therapist. At that point, she communicated by using a board with letters to spell out what she was trying to say. You could see on her face how hard it was, how much concentration it took for her to tap out the letters to spell the things her brain would no longer let her say. “Julia understands me,” she said. I’m not sure three words have had as much significance since. Knowing that there is a part of me that might have a glimmer of my VovÃ³’s strength inspires me to work hard when I’m faced with a difficult situation, and for that I’m grateful every single day.
–Julia Furlan, BuzzFeed audio editor
A few years ago, I went to visit my dying grandfather RaÃºl Medina Mora in Mexico City. We chattered for a while about my decision to leave the country and become a journalist and a writer instead of a lawyer or a politician — the traditional professions of my family. When the time came to say good-bye, he asked me to bring him a pen and a copy of Don Quixote, his favorite book.
As I watched him struggle to remove the cap of the pen, I suddenly saw him as he must have been when he was my age. We had both been terrible students at excellent schools. We had been told that we inherited a duty — and we had hated it, and sought refuge in books, and realized that writing could be both our revenge and our salvation. But then our paths diverged: I fled to New England, where my past had been forgotten; he stayed in Mexico, where his future had already been written. He must have been just as scared of his grandfather as I was of him.
My grandfather took the book from my hands and began to write something on the first page. He then gave it to me, his hands shaking. The pen fell on the sheets, spilling blue ink over his bloated abdomen. His face grew softer. The wrinkles of his forehead relaxed, and for the first and last time he appeared to me as nothing but a man.
–Nicolas Medina Mora, BuzzFeed News reporter