In 2015, there was a holiday commercial for a German supermarket that went viral. I don’t recall where I was the first time I saw it, but I remember my guttural reaction as tears sprung to my eyes and my stomach churned.
The commercial starts with an elderly man listening to his voicemail as his children leave messages about how they will not make it for Christmas this year, but they would try again next year. He sits down to eat his holiday meal alone.
The scenes that follow show despair and grief as family members receive messages that their loved one, that elderly man, has passed away. In the midst of the crazy day, children running, employees shuffling and heavy traffic – they receive the message of his passing in different forms. A text message. A phone call. An invitation to the funeral in the mail.
They stop everything and reorganize their schedules.
They fall to the ground alone.
They pack last minute suitcases.
They stare at old pictures and reminisce on memories.
And they embrace each other dressed in black suits and black dresses when they meet outside of their loved one’s house. No words were spoken. Their body language tells the story as Neele Ternes’s “Dad” plays in the background. The haunting lyrics add to the heartache that is swelling in the chest of the audience:
There goes a day, there goes a week
So many goals I had to reach
The more I did, the less I cared
The more I miss the love you shared
If life is a song, somehow it`s sad
I don`t know the words without you dad
You`ve been on my mind all the time
And I’m missing you
Home used to be just some walls that I knew
But the truth is that home means nothing without you
The family walks in together, bracing themselves for further grief. I imagine there has to be regret over not coming sooner, over waiting until it was too late to say good-bye.
They walk inside the house and there is a long wooden table set for a holiday dinner with a single taper candle lit on either side. The daughter swallows hard in an effort not to cry. The audience can see the lump in her throat. The music starts to pick up as the grandfather walks out of the kitchen and into the dining space. The daughter gasps and yells “papa!”
The grandfather stands as though he might be ashamed of what he has done and he addresses them all when he says, “How else could I have brought you all together? Mhm?” He blinks hard and looks down to the floor.
What follows is pure, unadulterated joy. Like children opening presents on Christmas morning or seeing parents watch their first born say their first words or take their first steps. There are hugs and laughter. There is eating and drinking. There is the making of memories that will be cherished forever.
The commercial ends with one caption in the middle of the screen as the camera zooms away from the family celebration that spans generations.
“Time to come home.”
I cry every single time.
It does not matter how many times I watch it or that I know how it will end. I imagine myself with their grief and I cannot stop the tears from falling.
I don’t care much for the Superbowl and I don’t apologize to anyone who finds that statement blasphemous. It’s just not all that exciting for me. I didn’t grow up on American football and I couldn’t care less whether or not the gold pants or purple pants win. (And yes – I mostly differentiate teams by the color they are wearing.)
2017 Superbowl is one I won’t forget though and it had nothing to do with blue pants vs. white pants.
It wasn’t because it was the first time in sports history that the Superbowl went into overtime. I didn’t even finish watching the game.
And it had nothing to do with Lady Gaga. While she was no Beyonce, she did a solid job. You couldn’t catch me flying through the air or jumping off of surfaces the way she did.
2017 Superbowl will be forever engrained in my memory because of the text message I received as I left my partner watching the game in overtime and started getting ready for work the next day.
Sunday. January 29th 2017 8:39PM. My old man sent this picture text message to myself, my sister, my partner and two cousins.
The caption read: Your grandfather.
The next text message read: He fell and it was bad. He was in the hospital twice.
My parents promised me that he was going to be okay, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what if that wasn’t the case.
I kept thinking about his brother, my querido Tio Niño, who had fallen from a coconut tree in Florida a few months ago and collapsed into a coma that he never woke up from.
I kept looking at the picture. His bruised face and closed eyes looking like Tio Nino in his coffin – too close to death for comfort. His lifeless body and the absence of his usual smile made me sick to my stomach.
I kept coming back to the question he would ask me every time we spoke on the phone.
“Cuando me vas a visitar mija? Quiero verte.”
My answer was always the same. “When I get the money together papa. When I find the right time.”
There is no right time. That’s what I learned.
With the emotional support of my partner and my parents, I booked a flight for myself and my sister within three days of receiving the picture text message. I was going back home, to the Dominican Republic, to see my viejo in the house my father was raised in for the first time in five and a half years.
Papa Chucho picked us up from the airport with his brother, Tio Andres. His smile was back and his face and sprained arm looked and felt healed as he embraced us each individually.
As we climbed into the red truck after placing our luggage in the back, I heard Papa joke from the front seat, “Me voy a caer mas en el futuro para que vengan a visitarme.”
I was quick and sharp with my response. I did not like that joke.
No more falls please.
A lot of people in the states asked me how long I was going for when I mentioned my trip.
“Three days” I would respond. “We get there Tuesday morning and leave Thursday night.”
9 out of 10 times my response was met with surprise and criticism about how that wasn’t enough time.
A lot of people in the pueblo of Bonao asked me the same question.
“Tres días,” I would respond. “Llegamos el Martes y nos vamos el Jueves.”
The response was similar although in Spanish and I would say the criticism and disapproval slightly decreased to about 7 out of 10 times.
By the end of the trip I was tired of answering the questions around why our trip was so short. Because it’s what we were able to do while managing our finances and our time. That’s why. I wanted to print out the reason and glue it to my forehead with picture symbols for anyone that might not be able to read the words.
On my last day there, standing barefoot on the cool tile floor towards the front of Papa Chucho’s house, I was affirmed of my decision. A friend of the family stopped in to say good-bye and instead of asking why, she made note of the change in my grandfather once he heard we were coming.
The cool breeze came in through the open door and moved around us both as she spoke, “Él está tan contento. La gente siempre encuentran el tiempo para ver a uno cuando se mueren. Que bueno que uds. encontraron el tiempo ante de que algo así pase.”
I felt warm all over, like when I was sitting on the boulder at Rio Yuna in Papa Nicio’s backyard, that someone finally got it. She understood.
Anne Frank has this really somber quote that I find myself coming back to from time to time. She said, “Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude.”
It’s easy to live with regret running deeper in our veins than gratitude. I think it is natural human inclination to get caught up in the day to day and forget about what and who really matter.
Or maybe it’s a New York thing. I really don’t know. I have a friend who moved to Portland and tells me she’s going to write a blog titled, “A Recovering New Yorker.” Regardless of why regret seems to be so much stronger than gratitude, what I do know is that I am not interested in that kind of life.
I want the people I love to know that I love them before we die. I want them to feel loved and appreciated, especially when it comes to the older patriarchs and matriarchs in our family. I never want them to feel ignored or forgotten. They have done too much to contribute to who and where we are today.
So this week’s trip was a move in the right direction. I went back home – to Bonao, Dominican Republic, for the first time in too long.
I did what I could. I stepped out on faith and I spent three loving days with my maternal and paternal grandparents. I have no regrets today.