Topics on Aging

By Juan Gallo

How do we deal with the interruption of life?

April 7, 2022

Victoria and John Gallo
I think we would all agree that there’s a natural progression to life. You’re born; you live out your life. Eventually, you get older, and you pass. Where we struggle is processing the interruption of that natural progression. 

A parent shouldn’t bury their child. 

A child should be able to enjoy their parents long enough for the parents to meet their grandkids. 

Grandkids should have time to get to know their grandparents and create lifelong memories.

In this blog, I write about my knowledge of aging. However, this week, I hope you will indulge me as I selfishly reflect on my personal experiences for a moment. The reflection may help someone, and it may not be useful to others. But it’s a therapeutic way for me to release my thoughts. 

For me, the interruption of life has been a persistent next-door neighbor that I’ve never wanted to live near. Both of my grandfathers died when I was young. One of my grandmothers, whom I have very good memories with, passed away not too long ago. Thankfully, I have one grandmother who’s still alive.

Of course, my biggest shock was losing my sister nine years ago.

I think my biggest struggle as I walk through this jarring interruption of life is grappling with the inadequacy of our attempts to honor a life well lived.

It was a shock because we were so close. Although she was diagnosed early on with lupus, she lived with it for more than 15 years. We just never expected for her to go home and leave two daughters and her family behind.

All that to say: here I am again. My mom was diagnosed with cancer in the same month that the pandemic began. She unexpectedly recovered. But then it came back. On March 20th, she died from the same cancer that we thought was completely gone at one point. 

I think my biggest struggle as I walk through this jarring interruption of life is grappling with the inadequacy of our attempts to honor a life well lived.

My mom was alive for 68 years. We gathered together for one hour to celebrate her life. Sixty minutes to honor 68 years of a rich, dynamic life. 

How do you honor someone you love? I don’t think it’s done in an hour. I don’t think it’s done in a blog. Or with a tribute video that lasts only the length of a song.

I think we honor the people we love with our hope in mourning. We hope, not just to be with them one day, but to be in front of the One who called them home.

I think we honor our loved ones by respecting things that they respected in how we live our life today. We carry out the things they may have cared about before they passed. We finish things that were left undone. We complete them in their honor.

In my case, my task is to replace the rotting pergola in my own yard. Even as she was dying in the hospital, she was showing me plans for the new pergola and making sure I would finish it.

Finally, I think we honor our loved ones by living good lives and helping people around us honor the people they’ve lost or will lose. 

That’s it. That’s the summation. That’s the best we can do when life is interrupted right in front of us. It’s simple, even while it’s sad. 

All I can do is remind myself and others that our life on this earth is but a smidget, a dot on the eternal timeline of life. If we are to live on to be with the Lord, then really these 30 to 80 years amount to a blip on the total timeline.

It would be true to say that, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phillipians 1:21). 

I realize that this is nothing but the raw and scrambled words of a grieving son and brother. I may even change the way I see this tomorrow, and it’s probably different than how I felt yesterday.

If you’re grieving, if you’ve lost someone, give yourself some room. Pray to the God of hope and take one step forward. Even if you’re crawling. Be in forward motion. 

Below, I’ve included the eulogy I gave at my mother’s celebration of life.

On behalf of my family, I would like to thank you for joining us today in the celebration of the life of my mother, Victoria Gallo. To family and friends online in Colombia, Central America, Europe and everywhere else: We love and miss you, and we know you are with us in heart.

I would also like to remember those who are not here with us today: mainly, my sister Natalie, my Grandmother Graciela, my uncle Alvaro, and my grandfather Gustavo, who loved my mom dearly.

I’d also like to thank the Wells Fargo team, where my mom worked for over 20 years.

I want to share some memories with you all today. My father has asked me to honor her on his behalf in this moment. I know of no other way to honor my mother than to say thank you. Thank you for being the most joyous person that I have met in my lifetime. I think the best way to honor my mother today is to read outloud my final words to her. This is only an attempt, since words fall short on how to describe how amazing she was.

Mami, I love you with everything I have. I want to thank you for always taking care of us. I will finally admit out loud how much you really spoiled me.

You were a woman who walked, took buses, cleaned houses, and would go to any extent to make sure that our family was fed and eventually had an immigration status so that we could thrive in this country. Once we received our status, you went right back into banking which you did in Colombia, and you’ve been there ever since. Through all this, you NEVER negotiated with your morals, your ethics, and you made sure that above all, we were well fed and taken care of. I remember when you broke your leg, catching a bus while carrying me and holding my sister’s hand. You were a strong woman and the most gentle and caring woman ever. Not once did someone come to me with a complaint or an offense against you. You loved people; you told the truth no matter what. I think everyone in this room HAS been offended by you more than once, but they always came back and thanked you, knowing you just told them the truth and wanted the best for them.

I remember when I did something wrong, I was not allowed to call you “Mami,” but I had to call you “Señora.” This was typically followed by, “Juan Sebastian Gallo, me hace el favor, eh no faltaba más, mijito. Usted quien se cree.”

For as long as I can remember, you were the first one to wake up in our house and the last one to go to sleep. You made sure that each one of us were fed, each one of us had breakfast waiting, and that we had everything done and ready for the next day. Mami, I will embarrassingly and proudly admit that when I was in high school, you would go as far as waking up before me to start my car so that by the time I was done eating the breakfast, you so lovingly made sure my car was warmed up and ready for me to drive it.

You will mostly be remembered because you fed everyone that has been around you. Many people have gained weight due to your flans and famous recipes. Lord knows, he knew what he was doing when he did not give me a sweet tooth. Yet, once a week you would surprise me by taking me after school to eat one slice of pizza and a soda – this was a treat. To this day, the only chocolate I will eat is a CRUNCH bar, and you made sure there was always one in the car waiting for me when you picked me up from school.

The truth is, you weren’t just a mom to me, you were a mom to every single person that ever stepped into our house. You were a mom to every single person that you worked with. And you are the motivation for even those who took care of you while you were sick.

I shared you with the world for the last 40 years that I’ve been alive, and through that time people have come up to me repeatedly to talk about how much you cared about them and how much you loved them. People often thanked ME for your food, thanking me for sharing you with them.

When you were sick in the hospital, nurses and staff that did not work on the floor that you were on would come to find you so that you could tell them how amazing they were, how beautiful they were and how perfect they were. Your strategy in life was to build people up by seeing them through God’s eyes. I think this is the reason why people kept coming back to you repeatedly.

I never thought in a million years that I would have to say bye to you so soon. God has called you home to rest. I am left with a deep hole in my heart but also a hope that one day we will rest in the arms of the very God that gave you the amount of love that you gave to this world.

Mami, I want to say thank you. I want to say thank you for standing up for those who didn’t have a voice. I want to say thank you for being a woman that respected her husband and took pride in being the woman of one man. I want to say thank you for loving me even when I didn’t know what love was. Words fall short today of how amazing you were.

You were the true definition of an evangelist. People have called this week to tell Dad and I about how you told them about the love of God and brought them closer to Christ.

Everywhere you went you left a mark in people’s lives. And today I have the joy of saying that the biggest mark has been left on my life. I am truly blessed to know that I had the privilege to be mothered by the most amazing woman that I’ve ever met.

You were barely taller than five feet tall and yet, when I was around you, I always felt protected.

I will never taste a recipe better than yours. I will never experience and embrace like yours again. But I’m OK with that to know and I experienced it as long as I did.

Mami. Te amo tanto. Me haces falta. Gracias por quererme, gracias por amarme. Gracias por cuidarme y más que todo, gracias por amar y cuidar a toda la gente alrededor de ti. De verdad que este mundo nunca va a conocer a alguien como tú. Ahora estás descansando en las manos del Creador, del Salvador, y de él, que te dio paz en la hora final de tu vida.

Today we celebrate your life. We celebrate your love, and we celebrate your successes. But most of all, we give thanks to our God and King, His love endures forever. GIVE PRAISE!

Juan Gallo
Juan Gallo is the CEO of Heart2Heart Outreach, where he oversees the mobilization of volunteers to provide hope, share love and restore purpose to the lives of the aging population across South Florida. He also serves as a local pastor and as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University, where he is teaching a course on diversity and aging. Juan has a master's degree in counseling and psychology and is a licensed mental health counselor intern.

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