On the morning of Mother’s Day in 2023, I decided to buy roses for my grandmother. She had always been there for me, from taking me to school to watching me while my parents were busy working. She’d been sick for over a year. Still, through it all, she had overseen my family and me as our protector.
As I was heading out with flowers in my hand, the call I had been dreading came.
“GET HERE FAST.”
When I finally arrived home, my cousin was sitting there like a judge, waiting to tell me the sentence.
“They’re in the room,” he said.
I walked toward the bedroom and opened the door to this scary unknown. I saw my dad holding my grandmother’s hand with tears dripping down his cheek. I stormed out and broke down, knowing it was time.
Back to the Past
After a few days of sorrow, it was the day of the funeral. I had intended to participate with a stable and clear head. But keeping a positive attitude was hard, and it became even harder when I saw my Uncle Felix. He screamed, “Ma let’s talk please!” That was a sentence I had heard long ago too, at a time of peace.
I was 13 at the time. My grandmother had just finished watching a movie with me. “Hijo, ya esta tarde vete a dormir,” she said. Obediently, I went to bed. While trying to sleep, my wall went BANG. Hearing what sounded like screams of a dying bird, I got up and went to check on the situation.
The smell of alcohol burned my nose. Walking toward my grandmother, all I could see were bottles covering my uncle Felix, like a blanket. “Ma, let’s talk please,” he said.
Remembering that now made me angry.
But seeing the black suits and black dresses at the funeral brought me back to the reality I was desperately trying to push away.
Uncle Felix looked stern. I considered how he had lost his mother. I believed in second chances but he didn’t deserve one. I wasn’t going to acknowledge what he was feeling on this day. He didn’t acknowledge my grandmother when she was alive, so why should I acknowledge him now?
To tell you the truth, I was angry with all my uncles, not just Uncle Felix. I resented them with all my heart.
From a young age, I had known that my uncles were addicted to alcohol and substances.
My uncles couldn’t go a day without their “medicine.” I’m shocked they are still alive. And, to top it off, they don’t seem embarrassed by their actions, and of humiliating our family’s name.
My grandmother had always looked out for them. They definitely did not treat her the same way. My uncle Dan had constant run-ins with the police and my uncle Felix put on elaborate pity shows to justify his callous behavior.
I remember how my abuelita had plans to build a house in Mexico. I was around 13 then. ¨Nuestra Casa,¨ she would say. She had been working hard trying to build the house, but her age was getting to her. When she asked for help, my dad and aunts agreed without as much as a moment’s hesitation.
It didn’t surprise me; my father loved his mother. When my grandmother was sick and in and out of the hospital, he was always by her side, even if it meant cutting work. He put her first, unlike my uncles.
She had asked my uncles individually if they could help fund the family home. They said they didn’t have the money, even though they never helped to pay the bills in the house. Uncle Felix’s answer angered me the most. He had come back from work doe-eyed and had plans to go out clubbing. ¨Hijo ya vamos comenzar la construcción de la casa en México,¨ my grandmother told him with excitement, overjoyed with the idea of starting construction on her own house.
I stood beside my abuelita, waiting for my uncle’s answer. He replied, ¨I can’t right now, Ma.” He left and went about his night. That night I vowed to myself to never be like my uncle—a broke addict who never had time for his family.
Even then, my grandmother never gave up on her sons. She spent countless sleepless nights waiting for them to come home from the streets. I hated that they treated her like this. I hated that she still loved them. I hated them.
Homegoing to Mexico
My abuela wanted to be buried in Mexico, so we traveled as a family for her final rites.
It felt very sad seeing the casket right in front of me once again. As she had wished, we carried her casket inside her unfinished house and let her be there for a bit. It was eerily quiet.
The next day, we woke up early and got ready for the burial.
It was now time to say goodbye. I broke down while hugging the casket. All I wanted was some more time with her, some more time to talk to her, just more time. People were trying to console me but I didn’t want their pity. As I saw the hole being filled it got clearer that it was time to leave.
As I drove away, I realized I felt content that at least I got to say my farewell.
In the days that followed, things felt hard. I was trying to admire the place my grandmother was raised in—the country my family is from, a place that is peaceful and warm.
One afternoon, my cousins and I went to the market. From produce to slingshots, people were selling all kinds of things. I finally saw FIREWORKS. We got excited and bought a variety of them.
It was getting dark, meaning it was time to have fun. We ran downstairs faster than any Olympic track runner and grabbed the fireworks and matches. As we tried to light them up, Uncle Nick walked confidently to us. “Let the professional take care of it,” he said.
Soon, the tempo of the conversation changed, from “It’s like this,” to “Stop being a little girl, man up!”
I was reminded of the many times he had been condescending and disrespectful towards me. Yes, he was hurting, but he was still my uncle and he didn’t have the right to talk to me like that. He didn’t deserve my respect with all he had done to my grandma and me.
“Bro shut up!” I screamed. I was past my breaking point. My hands were tingling and I felt a burning sensation in my body. I went off on him. “Shut your bum ass up!”
It got worse and he couldn’t stay quiet. Eventually, I just left. His inflated ego had won once again.
“Your Uncles Are Feeling Guilty”
I had buried my grandmother, words I never thought I would have had to contend with. I needed to decompress and decided to chat with my aunt.
She understood how I was feeling about everything that had gone down.
“We have lost a lot during these past few weeks,” she said.
As we talked more, she started asking me questions.
“Why did you argue with your uncle?”
I answered the question angrily “He criticized everybody and took over our plan.” In my head I was saying “Mr. Know-it-all was back at it again.”
My aunt said “His ego is very big now.”
I laughed at the comment. But, her tone changed and she now sounded sad.
“Your uncles are feeling guilty.”
She said my uncles felt guilty because they had lost their mother. Finally, they were stepping up to help the family. It was true. Compared to the past, they were doing more now. From asking anytime the family needed help with something to going back and forth for grocery or supply runs, they did everything without complaining. But this angered me. In my eyes, it was too late.
That whole conversation triggered me. I felt like I was being made to think about my uncles’ feelings, when in all my life, they had never thought about mine. Eventually, we started talking about my uncles’ childhoods. My aunt said, “Your uncles are hard-headed but that’s because of their situation.”
She told me about how my uncle Nick didn’t get accepted into the army after high school. His diploma was insufficient and invalid. He took to the streets after the news. My uncle Dan struggled with learning disabilities and was never able to get the help he needed in school. Finally, she spoke of my Uncle Felix, who had “met the wrong crowd,” who introduced him to clubbing and encouraged his drinking addiction.
Why Do I Feel Angry?
After I left my aunt, I walked down the hill toward my grandma’s house.
I was in a slump, questioning my feelings, questioning whether I had the right to feel so angry at my uncles, given everything they had been through. I felt a looming distortion within myself— maybe everything I thought about them was wrong?
“Anger is a feeling that could be shown as a sign of displeasure, annoyance, or hostility.”
As I read this from my phone I asked myself a question. “Why do I feel angry?”
After some reflection, I realized why. I lived in the same hostile environment my dad and uncles were raised in. My family was used to screaming at each other. My aunt couldn’t go without loudly screaming “Justin, come here.” She wasn’t angry at me but that’s just how she talked. Criticism was the way my uncles showed care. “It’s like this dummy,” and “Are you dumb?” were things they regularly said.
Part of me felt mad that I was trying to understand the whole situation. Mad that I now felt pity for my uncles. Then, I thought about how my grandmother went about life. She never hated or disliked anybody. She lived happier than everyone, and didn’t seem to feel any hatred. That was something I wished to learn, to be unbothered by everything.
I looked at the scenery of trees and flowers everywhere. I thought, “Peace within myself.” That’s what I needed in my life. I came to the conclusion that I needed to forgive.
“I did it, Abuela”
I had a conversation with my Uncle Dan. I was in my grandmother’s old room, about to water her plants, when Uncle Dan walked in. He said “How you been bro?” I told him that I was doing good. He offered to buy me food and I took him up on it.
While eating, we talked about our memories of my grandmother. We laughed at the antics he pulled when he was drunk. Suddenly I felt courageous and asked him, “Why did you act like a dumbass sometimes, grandma was always worried!”
“I’m sorry, papa, life has been hard,” he said, and began crying.
He apologized and gave me a weird side hug. It felt comforting but at the same time confusing.
I realized this was the first time I had ever heard an apology from him. A genuine one where he was sober and actually meant it. We finished eating and cleaned up, and while walking out he thanked me for the conversation. Since then, I’ve been able to have more personal conversations with my uncle Dan. I’ve realized that we’re actually pretty similar, something my family had said before but I had not liked to hear.
I am happy that I finally moved on and forgave him. I never told him this with words, but I know he knows.
I’m trying to be more understanding with my other uncles too. To say my relationship with them instantly got better would be overkill. But it’s how life is, never perfect. When I see them now, I greet them with the manners my abuelita taught me. Now, I hope for the best for them and I hope they will change their ways.
One day, I looked at a picture of my grandmother. “I did it, Abuela.” I said, almost as if I was speaking to her. My grandmother thought there was potential for me to build a relationship with my uncles. She knew I didn’t like them, but she had faith that one day I would understand them better. My grandmother taught me that holding a grudge only makes you a bitter human. Like she would always tell me “Me gusta mi jamaica dulce no amarga hijo.” Living my life the same way my grandmother loved her hibiscus water. Being sweet, even when life makes you bitter.
Justin is a senior at High School For Environmental Studies in Manhattan, NY. Justin loves writing and strives to be a journalist and have an impact on the world.