August of 2020, my Avocado tree of three years, slowly and yet so suddenly, died. As her leaves turned yellow then brown and eventually tumbled to the floor, I recalled the final conversations with my grandmother.
"Abuela, were you ever in love?" I asked once. She had smiled and then let out a big guffaw. But after a few moments of silence, just before I gave up, thinking she wouldn't answer me. She talked about the avocado tree outside her home. As a teen girl of no more than 16 she recalled sitting at her window, marveling at the stars when a boy she had a crush on appeared under the avocado tree. His guitar in hand, he looked up at her window under the canopy of the avocado tree and sang his soul to her. That is until her father ran out of the house with a rifle in hand and scared him away.
She told me stories of her walks to the well as a child, buckets in hand, when an apparition would appear in the distance, a woman dressed in a white dress. A dress that seemed to dance alongside the gentle breeze of the island.
She talked about her first marriage at the age of 19 and how she had a small plot of land in their town of Aguadilla. I don't remember what they grew on the land but I recall her smiling at the thought of all the chickens running around.
She talked about the day her husband had a heart attack. He was older than her but only in his early 30's. She was suddenly alone with three children, a plot of land and she didn't even know how to cook. I laugh at that. I always thought of her as the perfect wife until she told me that. She hadn't learned to cook in a community where the machismo is so prevalent and the woman always has food on the table for dinner. Not her.
When my avocado tree died, I recalled all the conversations it had sparked between my abuela and me. All the things I would never have learned about her otherwise. When my avocado tree died, suddenly, I missed her so much and wondered if I should have done more for her. If my dying tree was somehow a sign that I hadn't done enough.
But then I realized that I simply had not grieved for her yet. Not really. She had passed at the start of 2019 and it wasn't until this plant was dying that I stopped to remember her and all her many sides.
My avocado tree became a symbol of grief ungrieved. It also became a symbol of how important it is not to take someones story for granted. It became an opportunity for intergenerational processing and learning. It became a bridge for our stories. And then it became a bridge for my healing.