In Memory of Maria Rodriguez Soto Concepcion
By Julia Soto Lebentritt

Late at night after everyone left, I felt unusually awake and free to move around my mother-in-law's apartment. Of course, when she was there, I carefully seated myself with respect only where and when she indicated. This house was always busy with her children and grandchildren filing in and out. I tried to stay out of the way waiting for my turn: a few words with Mommy who enjoyed teaching me Spanish.

Tonight was different. Mommy was not there. She would not return, as we knew her. She died suddenly a few days ago in the hospital after a brief illness. Armando was with me alone here without her for the first time. Somehow, I did not wait anymore to be led by the family, invited to touch, or look. I felt extremely bold and purposeful.

It was after he pointed out the picture over Mommy's bedroom door. My hand reaching into her hutch, I indicated, "Look at this!" smiling at the small horseshoe taped to the back behind an electric clock that had boats bobbing up and down in a rotating scene. There, also, I uncovered behind one of the numerous framed family pictures, several holy cards that Mommy taped to the wood.

Light and joy in my mind like her presence, I discovered my power as she walked holding my hand to the next hidden recess of her spiritual presence. Now leading my husband, I was standing speechless with my hand inside her pantry. There was an unusual altar made of a red net bag full of crusts of bread, a head of garlic hanging above holy pictures. Near this was something Armando remembered from his first home with Mommy on 125th Street. A large horseshoe hung with the open end down. "I haven't seen this in years" he whispered.

We were seeing traditions of protection, the secret things that mothers do to keep their families together, healthy, safe at home. "We can do this!" I announced excitedly to my husband who already practices many rituals that Mommy taught him.

Next, I moved my newfound presence in her space to the bedroom altars. With the immediacy of ray vision, I was not searching at all, but given sight where I had not been able to see before. "Look what's behind the Sacred Heart," I told my husband. Then Armando saw too. Three aluminum-wrapped jars were visible, but somehow until now invisible to everyone's eyes.

Now, we truly did not know what to do with the jars that she prepared. Armando gingerly lifted the foil off one top, smelling honey and seeing a dark liquid in the old pill bottle. He rushed to wrap it tightly and we put the three bottles back in their places exactly as they were before.

I continued to find other ritual objects that she had prepared to care for and express her wishes for the family. I will always remember what Mommy taught me, by leaving these examples of her ongoing presence and actions for the good of all. Matriarch of a large family, she had few hours to be alone and gather strength for the next day.

What do you do when you find the personal and private blessings and practices after dear ones depart? We decided that all the protection Mommy built around the house should remain there centered until the apartment changes ownership. The next day Mommy was laid to rest in the family plot of a nearby cemetery.

When some one dies, exquisite revelations of their untrammeled spirit begin to flow. It is just as important to give full attention and love to the deceased, as it is to give our living loved ones honor and respect.