She walked in the room and knew he was not there.
She scoped the four walls and saw many, many faces, save for one – his.
In a language all her own she called out his name and he did not answer.
The room and its contents of grieving adults, stood still and silent.
It was the first moment since his passing where absence had entered the room and announced its bitter arrival.
The little girl’s cry for her elderly neighbor-uncle-grandfather figure was palpable in the hearts of all who witnessed the look on her face.
She knew. She paused. She hesitated to walk further into the room because he was not there.
He was not there.
He is not here anymore.
As I look back on that moment last night, twenty-four hours into what is one of the most poignant moments of my adult life, I can finally acknowledge that he is gone.
My Tio Rogelio was not a father figure to me. I never saw him that way. He was too much of a lovable, approachable human being for me to see him as a staunch parental authority figure.
He was my uncle. He was my Tio. He was the Tio. As my father’s little older brother, he’s the one I remember carting us to movies, ice cream parlors, bowling alleys and skating rinks. We could usually convince him to take us anywhere.
He would forever be the ‘go-to’ uncle.
Later in life, as he took on the role of ultimate survivor in a family of many siblings, we all, nieces and nephews alike, along with his two sons, made time to share in moments with him. At any given family function you would see any of us making sure he had a good drink, a good cigar or a forbidden morsel of food. Just as we could convince him to do anything for us, he could convince us to do anything for him. He was our Tio Rogelio. Many of us dispensed the Tio part and called him Rogelio – one single name for the well known celebrity in our family.
And so I go back to last night where we witnessed the intuitive nature of children recognize the lack of energy and presence in a room and I make a wish for my own life – on the day I am gone, may my absence be as powerful as that of this man of small stature who graced our lives with his wit and charisma. May I leave a lasting, positive impression on the many hearts who enter my world and may I cast as great a shadow as the one left by my Tio Rogelio’s passing.
And, wherever his soul may be today, I hope he can hear our calls of praise and respect and grief just as vividly as those of the little girl named Valentina…