Beauty Portrait: My abuelita

I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot these last few days. I can’t tell you how much I love and miss her, and just how much she helped to shape the woman I am today. My grandmother possessed a quiet strength. She thrived with cancer for 11 years, and lived each day to the fullest with an undeniable love for her family and devotion to God.

She was born and raised in Puerto Rico and moved to the states with her brother when she was in her 20s. She met my grandfather, a pastor … They married and had three children. Life was not always easy for her. My grandfather was a very stern man with traditional values and very set ideas about family and the roles of women. She was the “pastor’s wife” and lived within the confines of very strict rules and expectations. There was no such thing as popular culture TV and non-Christian music in the house, and the family all attended church every day (twice on Sunday). When their children (my mom and two uncles) were older, my grandmother worked as a seamstress in Chinatown and helped take care of the grandchildren (including me) so that her children could continue their education, work grave yard shifts and build businesses. Growing up as the pastor’s kids was not always easy but it certainly, along with my grandmother’s nurturing, taught them the value of hard work and discipline. As the years went on, my grandmother became the rock of the entire family. She was always there for all of us no matter what, and I mean no-matter-what. She was generous, forgiving, never judged and taught us, through her actions, that life has its many challenges but we all have the strength and will-power to overcome. She also taught us the power of forgiveness and that putting your suffering into the hands of God is the ultimate act of self-love. She would encourage us to pray for peace, healing and forgiveness. These words have always existed in the thread of who I am but they were lessons I had to learn for myself, as she did when life brought on tough challenges.

This is a picture of my grandmother when she first moved to the US from Aguada, Puerto Rico. She was so beautiful. When I look at these pictures, I remember the day she told me “When I go to heaven, I will look the way I did when I was young, beautiful and healthy.”

The older I get, the more I’m becoming the words and wisdom she shared with me. She was funny, creative, smart, warm, strong, perceptive and resilient. To me, these are things that made her beautiful. Although, she loved beautiful things, perfume, hair accessories, nail polishes and jewelry (she loved makeup too but never wore it because the church did not allow it), her beauty came from her heart, courage and strength. But I still smile and think of her when I see a beautiful perfume bottle, sparkly rings, red lip colors, lace fabrics and beautiful textures. Oh, she loved these things. In fact, my grandmother had a huge collection of rings and beautiful lingerie she had sewn over the years, and would encourage me to always present myself well as she would share stories about her youth. On her free time, she used to sew dresses and hats for dolls, adorn her home and dabble in poetry.

Her strength and humor lives in me … At 41, I look back at my life and laugh at the things that I once thought mattered referring to them as “tonterias”. She would have loved to hear me say that. I think of how much I tried to control situations as if I had one ounce of power to change another person or redirect fate. As I recover from TMJD (a circumstance that was not a coincidence and a clear lesson that I have allowed stress to take over my life), I learned how to let go of what does not suit me, to forgive and put things in the hands of God. I honestly feel that my grandmother in heaven knew that it was going to take an illness for me to have a breakthrough. She knows how strong and determined I am, which is a trait I got from the women in my family.

Cheli, not a day goes by that I don’t think about you. I know you’re looking over me now, and feel proud that I work so hard, dream big, never sell myself short and continue to grow as a woman. I know you’re smiling down at me as I give my heart and soul to my only son every single day – The little boy you said you would not leave this earth without meeting. Thank you for all of your love and for teaching me the real meaning of beauty. You are deeply missed.

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  1. truly your grandmother was an extraordinary person. she was loving, warm, generous, kind woman. from the very first minute i met her, she made me feel as though she was my own mother, not because i had become an orphan at an early age, but simply because ‘Chaga’ your grandma had a sweet heart. she was a very pretty lady. i loved to eat the Latin dishes she prepared. her only daughter is also a very kind person, generous, smart and beautiful. you have inherited the very best virtues and qualities of your grandma and mom. i am abundantly proud of you. you amaze me. your beauty is stunning. your talents so many. your heart so sweet. i LOVE you.

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