Stories, Old Friends, A Good Time 'Til The End

Play associated audio

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez's grandmother lived a long and full life. But it was the way Francisca Espitia approached her final years that may have impressed her grandson the most.

Ramirez, 75, recently visited StoryCorps to remember his grandmother, whom he called Panchita, in a family story that begins in 1981. That's when he was elevated to bishop in the church. The occasion called for a reception — so Ramirez called his grandmother.

"She was one of these women who lived out in the ranches, who would grab a rattlesnake by the tail and snap its head off," he says. "She was strong. And she raised this big family."

The reception was to take place in San Antonio, Texas, about 200 miles from Panchita's home in Houston. So the 90-year-old woman took the bus, alone, to be with her grandson.

Ramirez says a few days before the party he asked Panchita, "'What have you been doing lately?'

"And she said, 'I've been having a good time.' "

"Wow," Ramirez recalls saying. "What do you do, at 90 years old, to have a good time?

"She says, 'Oh son, I have been going to funerals.' "

Ramirez then asked his grandmother if that meant what it seemed: that she'd been having a good time at funerals.

"'Oh yes," Ramirez recalls his grandmother answering. "Yes, we drink coffee, we tell stories, we meet old friends — it's wonderful. We have a great time.' "

"I said, 'Grandma, how can you have a good time when somebody dies?'

"She looked at me, straight into my eyes. And she was serious, almost scolding me. And she said, 'Son, haven't you learned yet, that it is a privilege to die?'

"In all my years of study, in theology and listening to sermons, I had never quite heard it that way."

Only weeks later, Panchita died.

"She was in the hospital, recovering from a heart attack, but we knew she probably wouldn't make it, at her age," Ramirez says. "And she kept repeating, like a mantra, 'Solo quiero ver a Dios' — I just want to see the face of God.'

"That was the last thing I ever heard her say. And then she died two days later."

Ramirez performed for the first time as a bishop at the funeral. And he still recalls how she met what she had called a "privilege."

"When she died, she was singing songs from catechism," Ramirez says, singing the lines "Al cielo — I want to go to heaven, I want to go to heaven — songs from childhood."

"She died singing," Ramirez says. "She was just an amazing woman. I'll never forget Panchita."

Ramirez is the bishop of the Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico. He visited StoryCorps in Mesilla, N.M.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Texas Bookseller Picks 3 Summer Reads

Julia Green of Front Street Books recommends Moonlight on Linoleum by Terry Helwig, City of Women by David R. Gillham and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.
NPR

He Used To Live On The Streets Of Mumbai. Now, His Cafe Welcomes Everyone

Amin Sheikh's new cafe is a rarity in class-stratified India: It's open to people from all walks of life. Sheikh is a former street child, and so are many of his employees.
NPR

For Many Black Voters, Trump's 'What Do You Have To Lose?' Plea Isn't Enough

Donald Trump promises to help bring jobs and security to black neighborhoods. But his poll numbers with African-Americans are in the low single digits, and many say his message is insulting.
WAMU 88.5

A Cyber-Psychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online

Dr. Mary Aiken, a pioneering cyber-psychologist, work inspired the CBS television series "CSI: Cyber". She explains how going online changes our behavior in small and dramatic ways, and what that means for how we think about our relationship with technology.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.