The Quintanas, Week 21: Pain and Emptiness

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge

quintana family picture

Gladys looking out over the water in the Florida Keys. Credit: Dagmara Rodriguez

When you are hurting so much that you don't know where to turn, food becomes sort of a pain meter.

Some people will dull their pain with food, some will find eating to be a chore or even impossible to tolerate, and some will bounce back and forth between the two.

We've had some of each over the last week.

Friday, February 18, 2011, was one of the most painful days of our lives. We received a call from my sister-in-law, Dagmara Rodriguez, around 7:30 p.m. on Thursday night. She told us that my mother-in-law, Gladys, had suffered a stroke. By early Friday morning, my husband, David, had lost his mother, and we all had to say goodbye to one of the most incredible women I have ever had the honor and privilege of knowing.

It is not often that families have a true matriarch. Webster's Dictionary defines a matriarch as a woman who rules or dominates a family, group or state: a mother who is head and ruler of her family and descendants. My mother-in-law went above and beyond that. She watched over her family and took care of them, often sacrificing her own needs and desires for those she loved. David remembers times, when he was a child, that he watched her pass on eating just so she could feed him and his sister. When she worked with my dad, Luis Garcia, she would often go out and buy snacks for my kids -- she knew we could only afford the necessities.

"Mima" left behind a large family and many friends. David and Dagmara are the only surviving children as their sister, Gladys, who was known as "Tati," passed away almost two years ago in Cuba. Tati had two boys, Dagmara has two boys, and David and I have four kids, giving Gladys a grand total of eight grandchildren. She was also survived by her own mother, Haydee Perez, and her sister, Elsa Miranda.

Although Gladys had some ongoing health issues, her passing was sudden and unexpected. We had just taken her to the buffet a couple of weeks ago. Gladys had recently been working on ridding herself of bad habits, trying to be sure that the diabetes and heart problems that run in her family would not consume her health. She had cut back on her sugar intake and chopped unhealthy fats and fried foods out of her diet. She had quit smoking more than a year ago.

The most important thing she did was beg my husband, David, to please take care of himself, in hopes that he would never have to go through some of the things she had been through.

This stroke was not Gladys' first. She had suffered a mild stroke a little over a year ago, and she had had several heart attacks, leading to the installation of a pacemaker. But Gladys was a strong and selfless woman. Her recent concerns were for David's health, due to their family history, which includes heart problems and diabetes on both his maternal and paternal sides. His mother's urgings and the fact that he knew he was at risk are among the things that have prompted him to work so hard in the Healthy Families Challenge and, overall, at making sure he reaches a point where he can lead a long and healthy life.

Everyone in our family has been affected differently by Gladys's passing. David, of course, is nursing a huge hole that has been left in his life. I have had to convince him to eat on many occasions, as his usually hearty appetite is almost nonexistent. The children miss their grandma very much, and eat only because I make them.

I am back and forth. Sometimes the pain in my heart is so much that chewing on food seems like a chore. Then, there are times when the loud growling sounds my stomach produces make me realize that I have not eaten; I manage to convince myself to eat a small anything, and then wait until my hunger once again overpowers the laziness my pain creates. Although I am a stress eater, matters of the heart seem to have an opposite effect on me.

Although we are equipped with all of the correct information about what we should be eating and when, thanks to our nutritionist, Su-Nui Escobar, we are unable to convince ourselves to follow the rules just yet. We are not eating every few hours. We are not watching the nutritional levels of our food. And we do not have the energy necessary to exercise.

I plan on going back to yoga at Pranoga on Saturday. The children have been back at American Top Team Doral since Tuesday. Chloe has not had the energy to go back to The Little Gym, but it seems as though the grappling at ATT is helping to alleviate her sadness somewhat.

David, I am not so sure about. For him, it might take just a little more time.

People say "Time heals all wounds," but this is a sore that will probably reopen on many occasions, as we miss "Abuelita's" (as the kid's called her) presence during family functions.

I will not write anything to make you feel as though you should follow the rules.

That would seem highly hypocritical, since we have not quite yet figured out how to do it.

I will, however, promise you that we will take it a day at a time, and do our best. And when we meet with our nutritionist next week, we will ask if there is some secret she can share for attempting to stay healthy during such a painful time. I will report back.

Until next time, take care of yourselves, so that you can take care of your family.

Who's the rest of the competition? Check out all the challengers' latest updates here.

How is the Quintana family doing? Check in on their progress!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.