Papá’s Story

We found out Tuesday morning– I was actually in class with my Spanish teacher when we got called twice. The first call, to my father, told him that Papá’s heart rate was slowing. I shut my laptop and ran to the sala, where we started praying a rosary. 

That’s when the second call came. Telling us that, after 23 days en La Clínica, Papá’s body had given out. 

He was with us no more. 

We were told by a priest on a WhatsApp call with my aunt and two uncles. Thinking back only a few days later, I can’t remember the exact words the priest said. As hard as I think about it, I don’t know. What I do remember was the chaos. 

My brother screaming, my father crying. I think someone started praying on another end of the call. And in my head? Silence. Confusion. Because how could someone larger than life suddenly not have one?

As calls from family members rolled in, as Papi sat on the steps outside, thunder rumbled as rain slowly started falling. A sign from God that heaven had received another angel.

Throughout the whole time he was sick, I never doubted once that he would get better. Forget doubted– it simply wasn’t a possibility. I never worried that much because I knew that in a week he’d get better, and in a month he’d be home having dinner with us. So finding out that he’d passed… it was the greatest shock of my life. 

Juan de Jesús Estevez “Morel” really was an amazing man. He changed so many lives, both here and in DR. In the US, he helped people get citizenship papers and gave them jobs. As a kid, he grew up in Corozo– a place that used to be no more than dirt roads and donkeys. But once Papá was able to, he had roads paved and paid for bussing so kids could go to school. He always fought to give the next generation the childhood he never got to have. 

Once he was in the hospital, everyone was fighting for him. We sent out Instagram posts asking for blood and plasma donors, and even celebrities reposted them to their millions of followers. Papá had everyone rooting for him, here and in Dominican Republic. So many people loved him– as he had loved them. If love was currency, and then my grandfather was the richest man in the world.

He wasn’t that old, either– only 68. At least, he never seemed old to me. That man had more energy than anyone around. He loved life, and loved living it. For example, two years ago he & Mamá hosted their 50th anniversary party. Los Hermanos Rosarios (older & Dominican version of One Direction) performed, and I really don’t think Papá sat down even once. I loved dancing with him that night. Not a single party went by where I didn’t sneak in at least one dance with him. He and my grandma… if I were anyone else and you asked me if I believed in soulmates, I would’ve said no. But because I had them, I do. They were meant for each other, and showed it in every way possible. 

It breaks my heart to think about her having to live on without him now. But she’s so strong, and she’ll always have us to take care of her. 

The morning after he died, we had a “Zoom funeral.” We all watched as he was put to rest in the cemetery that he and his brother donated to the Corozo community.  Over 200 people tuned in, all separated on different cameras. How terrible is that? We’ve lost one of our most important family members, but we can’t even grieve together! The highest number I saw in the participant count box was 189, but lots of cameras held whole families, so we’re rounding up to 300 people. To be honest, I didn’t even know who half the people were. That’s the thing, though– Papá connected all of us, just by giving love freely. He was the glue that held us all together. To me, the worst part about all this that Papá was a man who loved spending time with people– yet, in his last moments, he had to be alone. The last family member he spoke to was my Tía Maggie the night before, who told him that it was okay, he could rest now.

At the funeral, so many people recounted how he was like a father to them, a son, a brother. How he changed so many lives for the better, and influenced them to pay that love forward. They told great stories of how he changed the world around him, simply by being him. 

I’m gonna miss him so, so much. 

Papá– te quiero.

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