No one ever had to explain death to me. My father passed away in a car crash, down the street from my house, when I was 9 months old. When I was in high school, Nelson “Fleb Bone” Soares was murdered on the night of his own brother’s bachelor party, in the arms of his own big brother — my big brother filled in as best man at the wedding a year later.
For the next 9 years, I would overcome complications that would look trivial on the day my brother, Enver Jose Rodriguez, died. That same August, just 2 weeks later, I started my freshman year in college and one of my favorite uncles, Mario Otilio Berroa, passed away of lung cancer. March came around and I received word that one of my best friends from high school, Gianni Adelina Mendez, had lost the battle to diabetes.
The only thing that hurts me more than to watch a mother lose her son, is to watch a sister lose her brother. On November 3rd, we lost my cousin, Julio Angel Berroa Jr., to the night. While I was out enjoying my Halloween, my cousin was fighting his demons. I can only make guesses at to what he was trying to escape from, but since his passing, it’s been hard for me to focus. “Ya murió,” my mother confirmed Junior was officially gone to me through text message. As much as I wanted to be by his side & shake him out of that coma, I know I wouldn’t have been able to stomach it. I don’t know how my mother did it. I didn’t know what to do or say, but unfortunately, I knew how to feel.
I know what it feels like when your brother dies… & not a lot of people can relate to that… It’s not a “fun fact” but it is the only thing I could offer my little cousin while she was hiding in her bedroom. Imagine wanting to cry (actually to die) but your house is filled up with people who are worried about you but don’t understand a fucking thing about what you feel because they still have their family members alive & well. It doesn’t matter how sorry they are; no one knows what it feels like — well, almost no one. It’s been 13 years since my brother passed away & Junior’s funeral is the first time I saw my sister cry… My sister is 9 years older than me & on November 10, 2019 was the first time I’ve ever held & consoled her — and she actually let me.
I’ve found that the terrible experiences I’ve gone through are finally beginning to be a benefit. In order to understand pain, I had to feel pain of my own. Sometimes, relating to hurt people can hurt you if they try to bring you into their ways of dealing/ignoring without actually coping. I remember telling a friend about a domestic violence situation & she kept saying “girl me too” but with no advice or encouragement to leave the situation; I decided I needed different friends. I find that using your pain to help others is a fantastic way to deal with the issues on your own. “The function of freedom is to free others,” Toni Morrison once said.
I’m thankful for the blessings in my life, but also thankful for the lessons I’ve learned. There are some experiences I’ve had that I hope no one ever feels or feels again. I suppose I’m thankful that my pain didn’t take me under. There were & are definitely times when Im not as strong as I want to be, but I’m grateful I’ve been this strong this far. It was/is incredibly fulfilling to be a source of comfort for my cousins. I wish they would have never felt the pain they felt… & I just hope they know they can call me. We now have a group chat for all the cousins… it’s sad that this is what it took for us to connect, but I’ll take the small blessing. I guess I also hope that anyone out there understands that the reason you need to work through your pain is to show others how to work through that pain. We can’t give up. If you can’t be strong for yourself, you can literally pick anyone to be strong for. Whatever you are able to find to be your reason…please keep your head up 🙏🏾