By Laura Capanema
I met Cynthia for the first time in December 2015, when we finally managed to find time in the end of the year in order to have lunch. In spite of being profession colleagues, we are from different generations and we had never met. When I started working at a News room, six years ago, She had already gone to a second phase, “not only in profession but in life also”, as she says. A period of many changes that were a landmark changing the route of “the perfect Family” that seemed to evolve very well: in 2001, Gabriel, AKA Lel, the middle son (she is a mother of three), has died in a car accident.
Cynthia never paralyzed. She caries the stigma of “the worst pain in the world” – the mother who buries a son, but above all is a protagonist of a story of happiness. The choice celebrating Lel’s life and go on with life Always making progress and never giving up, made her go beyond. And that’s why we met; someone had to tell the story.
In the beginning I questioned if the best person to do it would be her, herself. But soon I realized: She didn’t want to write. Although she spoke about the past with love, writing about painful memories could and would certainly be hard. As Hemingway said, “writing is bleeding”.
Firm-speaking, cheerful and very soft personality, Cynthia conveys a rare wisdom, a kind of expertise of someone who learned from pain, what few people realize in life: That we are not sure of anything and that we have no control over things but it will always be possible to overcome obstacles. And learning about this means transcending.
In the end of that lunch, something unexpected happened. Pedro, her oldest son, sat at a table beside us, without realizing we were there. We soon went to talk to him, but for me it was clear that it wasn’t just a coincidence – while she was speaking about the loss of a son, the oldest one would appear at the same place. All of a sudden the absence was presence, death was life and the void was filled. At our second talk, a month later Cynthia talked for two hours and said something that has a lot to do with this idea. We have Always to try to take the way of beauty and not the way of tragedy.
“Gabriel was euphoric with his 20 year-old birthday. He had already celebrated with his friends, with his two grandmas, but he still wanted to go to a barbeque place with us. Nobody could stand eating anymore and all of a sudden a cake poped up on the table. But who ordered this?!. It must have been the fourth desert that day! His girlfriend, Dea, took the blame and I kept my mouth shut not to spoil the party. But later she told me it was him who asked the waiter to bring the cake after dinner.
Iel was this kind of person: a person who would order his own cake or more than one. He always celebrated thousands of birthdays, with my Family, his dad’s Family, with friends. Each year there were 3 or 4 celebrations.
He celebrated 20 on December 6, 2001 and died in the same month. The accident was in the middle of the night, from December 23 to 24 right before Christmas, which certainly turned everything more painful and tragic.
He was happy, he had just passed the university entrance exam that took him a year of hard study. That is, these two decades had represented the end of a cycle. An end, which ended up being the end of his life.
It was a call early in the morning, between 3 am and 4 am. Gabriel had gone to a party with a friend and had not returned. We were asleep; apparently the phone had rung – at that time, nobody called the mobile phone first. Suddenly Wladi’s device vibrated, my husband (he is not Gabriel’s father but always took care of him as if he were one). I recall listening to a person talking on the other side of the line the word “accident”. Wladi got dressed in a hurry and went there to see what had happened. When he returned, everything in our house and life as we knew was already out of place. And the world had stopped.
My memory begins to fail: I don’t have very clear memories of the days that followed. I wanted to escape the social role of ‘mother who lost her son’ – what a heavy burden! I remember sitting with my husband, he even more torn apart by pain than me, and hugging him with a request: we have lost a child, we will not lose our family in this sea of endless grief. I grabbed my things, a box of Gabriel’s photos my husband and went with the children and my parents to our beach house. It was a time when there was no Facebook or instant messaging, and there I spent a time isolated from the world, anonymous in my own grieving. Going to the beach, crying, I saw photos. I answered very few phone calls, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t know what to say about the hole that I had in my chest. It was the end of the year, and I spent the summer holydays there.
The Month Mass of his passing away was the end of those holidays when people who have spent the entire January trying to call me, packed the church. This celebration was the first striking ritual that lit all the others that came after: my younger brother made to me what was the high technology at the time, a Power Point with photos and music that told the story of Gabriel. I cried so much, but it also filled my heart with joy to see his life as a movie. It was when I understood that he had been very happy. That was when I, in fact, started to “stand up”.
Iel was extremely sociable, always surrounded by a million friends. With the closest, Daniel, I had a very special relationship. They met as babies in the nursery of a dear cousin where Dani’s mother and me left him before going to work. They went together to the same school. And later, they used to hang out together, became surf mates and traveled together all the time. They gathered all the friends who lived around them.
Two months after the Gabriel’s passing away, Daniel organized a ritual that is iconic among surfers, to burn the surfboard of a friend who is gone. Iel said once Maresias was the place he loved the most in the world, so It had to be there. This luau with fire, the light of the flames coming from the boards, lighting the sand, the “brothers” playing the guitar and the music under the stars brought me the awareness of the importance of continuing with the celebrations. It wasn’t a sad moment; it was magical, because it brought me a lot of joy to know that my son had a strong presence on the earth. It was there that I understood that celebrating his life was the best thing we could do for him and for us: that beloved son’s show had to go. Then, I could understand the power of rituals.
A TRIBUTE TO IEL
In the week of the first Gabriel’s birthday after his death in 2002, Daniel arranged with Wladi: ‘we want to have a party.’ He was at home, got a photo, turned it into a banner, formed a band (that only gathers this time and is called Band Tribute) and invited everyone. This was officially the first Tribute to Iel. And it was beautiful. It still is. Since then, it’s been 14 years, 14 parties.
Each year, the festival is different. When it is not in a bar, we hold it in someone’s home. It’s in December, a month full of family celebrations, company parties … and then there is an event that has nothing to do with anything, but still gathers all friends, no one missing. There’s always music and space for tributes – sometimes one speaks, sometimes we don’t even need to talk. It can be very structured or very improvised. The boys have spent 6 months in studio rehearsing to play in this party (reggae, rock, blues). But there were years in which we catch ourselves thinking, “What are we going to play this year…?”. There is never the chance that this party doesn’t happen – and this is what I find amazing.
With time people have been joining the Tribute, the friends have become young adults, married, had children, new friends are joining, girlfriends etc. Dea, Iel’s girlfriend at the time, married a wonderful guy, Raoni, and they have a young son, Leo. They never missed a single Tribute. It is a blessing in my life to see this group grow. Today there will be a lot of people who never met Gabriel – but still love the atmosphere and come to hug me, to talk to me, saying how beautiful and important what we do there. The Tribute is a collective moment of real understanding of death, in which all young people who are there, I’m sure, don’t stop thinking about it. In the most loving way possible. People do not need to be old, sick or have lost someone close to reflect on the finitude and the meaning of life.
Some people find the idea strange. Once a girl said she had lost a brother, but that it didn’t cross her mother’s mind to celebrate his birthday, that this subject was a taboo. But it’s not an it shouldn’t be. We’re not celebrating the death, but life. I’m always happy. Sometimes crying, I am very touchy and especially grateful. I look at those boys (they will always be boys for me) and think: ‘What a special thing that we are going through.
In each one of those children who are children-of-35 nowadays, a piece of Gabriel grew up. It is good to see that they have become adults, but kept this friendship. And I’m sure that friend is a kind of light in their lives – a memory of themselves, a time that will never come back, a special time. And as I see Gabriel in them, they see Gabriel in us. It’s magic for everyone, a great lesson in transcendence. You understand that love does not end with the end of life, but it stays and lives within us.
When you lose a child a lot of people willing to help you show up. And that’s when you have the opportunity to make a decision: whether or not to accept this help. I wanted to be helped. I accepted and could not be more grateful. I could not take that idea of ‘leave me alone that I can handle it. ” I couldn’t. And it is okay not to, you know ?. It was like this:
-Do you want a therapist recommendation?
-Do you want a book?
-Do you want a hug?
When we accept, love comes to us.
I am especially grateful to Dani, Dea, my children Peter and Luisa and my beloved Wladi for helping me to keep in my life Gabriel’s joy.
People ask if after losing a child you can still give parties, be happy. I’m sure you can, but in a different way. Some days I cry of longing: I miss Iel so much, I miss our life with him. I cannot make long-term plans anymore. Or medium term, I confess. I know life can change at any time. Perhaps this explains the difficulty – at least mine – to plan ahead the tribute each year. But doing this party brings me back every year, the great happiness to think that I give birth to that boy. I’m his mother – and I will be his mother forever.