My family has gone through many challenges over the years, and this year proved to be quite intense. Two of my brothers passed away (one in May, the other in August), after battling cancer. As these things go, each member of my family is dealing with these loses in their own ways.
Like many men, my Father absorbed his grief somatically (in his body) and spent many months in increasingly debilitating pain. This effected his ability to sleep, move, sit, walk, and keep food down. As a result he lost quite a bit of weight, and at the age of 81, these symptoms have greater consequences. As you can imagine, I was pretty scared. I’ve only known my dad to be a strong man who never let anyone or anything get in his way. To see him in so much pain and to hear the distance in his voice was terrifying.
Months of Dr. visits and tests resulted in some understanding of what was going on, and provided information on what he could do to get stable. He has degenerative disks in his spine, which causes the nerve pain, and stomach ulcers that kept him from being able to eat.
These last few weeks have been a gradual improvement and I am really thankful that my dad still has fight in him. This is how I’ve always known him. This is how everyone who knows him, knows him.
So what do tamales have to do with all this?
Per last years “Vegan Tamales” post, you’ll read that making tamales is an annual Christmas tradition for my dad. This year, as October came around, I would hear my father say, “May God give me life so that I can make tamales this year.” Due to his physical pain, I figured he may make a small batch this year instead of his usual dozens. Boy, was I wrong.
The Saturday before Christmas, despite his physical pain and decrease in energy, my Dad managed to make 20 dozen tamales. Making this amount takes a lot of time and energy, so when he told me this, I was a little concerned. “Wow Dad, how are you feeling?”
Without hesitation, he replied, “Como un TIGRE!!” (Like a tiger!).
That response is my Dad in a nutshell.
It was good to hear his familiar self again after so many months. To hear my Dad’s energetic response filled me with pride, gratitude, love, and much needed happiness.
After losing two of his sons, this annual tradition was all he had to look forward to. It may seem trivial to some, but for him, making tamales is his way of paying respects to the poverty he grew up in, and showing gratitude for the prosperity he created.
This is what tradition and culture can do. It can give us a sense of normalcy during times of loss, and allows us to live from a place of agency when we feel vulnerable. It allows for some joy to grow in our hearts, and makes way for healing. For this, I am grateful.