My grandmother (Ita) recently passed away a few weeks ago in September. She was 93 years old and had suffered the last decade with dementia and silent, undetected strokes. All the while, she remained loving, full of life, funny and giving. My mom, upon reflecting on Ita’s life, reiterates how good it really was.
Ita was from Puerto Rico and moved to Pennsylvania in her late 30s. She spoke little English at the time and worked in greenhouses to support her five children. She was under five feet tall but she was strong and enduring. She loved to dance, travel, fight with telenovelas, clean and cook for her family. She made the best rice and beans, even if she did put pork in them. Her later years, Ita had a tiny apartment where my mom lived to take care of her these last 6 years. It was small but it was inviting and smelled like savory and perfume. Ita loved her perfume and makeup. Every day she woke and dressed up pretty, even if she wasn’t going anywhere that day. She knew that secret about being your best for yourself.
Even though Ita didn’t have a “career” or did world-standard big things, she left a legacy for me. She was so forgiving, non-judgmental, caring and persevering. Her life has taught me that there is greatness in the smallest acts of kindness and love. She loved her family unconditionally and showed genuine kindness to others. She was always happy, singing and dancing. She kept a childlike joy in her heart and trusted that she would be cared for in return.
I have been so hard on myself, my body, my life decisions, my lack of a purpose or direction, but I see now that every life has a purpose and a right to be here. I’m learning later in life than I would like, but I’m learning how to bloom. Creating a life worth living, according to Ita, means finding joy, purpose and wonder in every moment, or at least in every day. It means waking happy to be alive and enjoying family and hobbies. Advice from Ita: Listen to music, dress up, make the house sparkly and warm, cook for others, do something nice!
I may not be a published author or do something really amazing, but if I keep joy, wonder, and love and share that with others, I’ll know that I’m doing something wonderful, because that’s what my grandmother did and I admire her immensely.
My Ita passed away with my mom and aunt at her side, and she knew that she was loved and that she was leaving the world with her kindness. She didn’t know how much her legacy means to me, but it’s everything.
Thank you Ita for your love, for birthday cards, for asking mom about me, for prayers, for your fun-ness, for showing me what making life easy for yourself looks like. For you.
For Maria “Ita” Mendoza Rodriguez
July 27, 1921-September 12, 2014