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Mema's Cocktail Hour

God, it’s getting cold now.

Sitting here at the hospital, watching the rain drip down the windows with legs like skeletons and I can't help but try and do the math. Three and a half months ago… then five months before that.

God, it’s getting old quick.

March 25th, August 5th and now here, Dec 12th hoping for good news. 

God, give us good news.

She’s a fighter and always has been. But she’s also a Thelma and Louise type. She rides in the storm. I just don't know how this will go. 

God, I know what’s coming.

I stood by my father. My mother, just behind us as we entered the hospital, third floor intensive stroke victims’ wing. My Aunt Luanne stood there with her close friend Tracey, who held her as she cried. She was shaking her head as if she didn’t know, or would rather not.

"Thank God you're here. She's about to go in with the neurosurgeon. There's a chance that she might not make it. I just don't know what to do."

Luanne was crying. It was the kind of desperation we feel when forced out on the edge without any wings to spare.

"Nothing..." that was my thought. Just be there and be strong.

God, help me be strong.

It had been three years of pain and agony for the other side of our family. Andy was the hardest, having lost a cousin during the panic, pandemonium, paranoia, and pandemic lockdowns of 2020.

Jesus, I lost my friend.

He was thirty-three years old. So much for clearing the hill. This year of 2023; my Grandfather Ned in late March just after his daughter’s birthday, my mother. It was the last time he'd get to call her to wish her well on her day… their day.

Five months later in early August, Ned's wife Rosemary, my grandmother on my mother’s side, would finally succumb to her grief. She wasn't lonely, just overwhelmed with depression when her body just simply surrendered. 

God, I know what it is to wither away.

Now, we we're here at another hospital in Mission Viejo only four months later, and it was hard times for the other side of the family. Pendulums…. they swing with a terrible rhythm. There we were, waiting to find out what wrecking ball of news might be next.

I thought of the smell and taste of a fresh peeled tangerine for some reason. The way they pop and burst of citrus energy upon a snapping bite, or how strangely convenient it was that the tangerine would come right out of the skin so perfectly separated into five isolated slices. 

God, why so much perfection? What is perfection?

I kept my thoughts to myself. Everyone was frantic anyway. I had no qualms about the plan of life, especially when it came to those who had lived a full life. I just let things take their course. After all, whenever I have tried to change the outcome of something without being presented the clear opportunity, it would turn out awful, more often than not.

"I only hope to see her first." was the most prominent thought rushing through my mind. 

God, let me see her first.

"She had a stroke. I was there. Tom had just left. We were laughing and joking, and then she just stared, and she started to drool. I called the ambulance and the doctor called and said they needed to take her into operation right away, so I told him yes." Luanne was understandably frantic. We we’re all frantic.

The doors to the neurosurgery wing opened. We immediately spotted the figure on the hospital bed, it was her. It was Lucy, my Mema. They began to wheel her to the elevators of which we stood near.

"There she is now! Hi Mommy!" Dad said as she rolled closer. It’s always like it’s happening in slow motion in times like this.

We stood beside her waiting for the elevator. She turned her head, like a sleepy child. She looked at my dad with wide but droopy eyes and said with a perky tone "Mo!"

"Hey Mema!" I said as gently and positively as I could muster. Again, she replied happily with sedation "Mo!"

The nurse spoke to us just before the elevator doors opened. Everything was timed perfectly, like a dramatic scene out of a play or television drama, or like the perfectly separated slices of a freshly peeled tangerine.

"We're moving her to post-op for stroke. They'll keep her there overnight, check her vitals and whatever else the doctors think."

"Can we visit?" dad asked.

"They're changing shifts. You can go in after 5pm." the nurse replied.

They wheeled her into the elevator. I wondered myself if she'd make it through the night and decided that my open stance would remain in the middle, for our family, but mostly for myself. People can be a little too hopeful more than sometimes and I didn’t want anyone to become harshly depressed or disappointed. I’ve come to find it best to have hope, but still prepare for the worst. It hardens my soul but opens my heart like a temple for the others.

It was around that moment that I remembered her convertible Lincoln, the kind with the wood-stained dash. I was suddenly in a reflection of memory… I was suddenly six years old. That ominous Lincoln logo; was it a coffin or a cross?

“Now, when the words come, you sing ‘Go Mema, go Mema, go Mema, go!’ Okay?” Mema explained it to me.

I was excited. The simplest things as a child…

“Okay Mema!” I shouted.

She latched down the top for that open wind on our ride to the beach, started the engine, and then she pressed play.

“She’s a little old lady from Pasadena-“

“Ready? Go Mema, go Mema, go Mema, go!” She led me through the chorus, and I sang along.

God, we were unstoppable. Invincible.

But suddenly, I was back in the hospital. We visited her, and everything was difficult. After about an hour, she was still heavily sedated, but one thing never changed throughout... her laughter.

She responded well to simple and even somewhat complex jokes. This was a good sign. Who knows if she understood those jokes, but she was sure laughing at the punch lines, and right on time.

She recognized us and could squeeze our hands on command, but it was clear; the road to recovery was going to be challenging, long and arduous. She went from saying only "mo." to starting to make sentences. She could respond with a nod of "yes" or a "no", which is how the majority of communication was handled for the time.

She rather quickly began to say our names when we asked her if she knew... "Vic... Lu... Chris... Sandy... Sean... Evan... and Mike." She would smile when we spoke with her. We all tried to keep smiles on our faces for her, for her comfort.

The assistant neurosurgeon came by. She pulled me aside.

"You’re the grandson?"

"Yes." I nodded.

"It's quite amazing. Your grandmother is improving very fast. Better than expected."

"Can you explain how the surgery went to me?" I asked.

"Well, she had a neuro vascular clot, which is what induced the stroke. It was difficult to extract due to her scoliosis, but we got up to the affected portion of the brain and used the hoover to remove the clot with suction. It's better to ask the doctor caring for her, but while we were able to remove the main portion of the clot, it broke into two pieces which are now at rest in her frontal lobe. They are small, but there is still a chance another stroke may occur, which is what we are watching for. She's very lucky and blessed to have family like you all. Such love." 

Her smile was very genuine, and I welcomed that.

"Thank you. What will happen next?"

"We ran an MRI just before bringing her here. We're looking for additional blood clots or any bleeding. Once we know the results we will know more. If all goes well, we will perform an ultrasound looking for other clots in the body or internal bleeding. And if everything checks out, we will move her upstairs for recovery and physical therapy."

"Thank you so much. I really appreciate the care." I calmly and quietly replied. I gave all the respect I could. She deserved that at the very least.

"You are all so sweet. We'll let you know what we find." And back to her work, she went. Heroes. They are among us. But it’s not as simple as that. And they are not always in the hospitals, fire trucks, ambulances or patrol cars... sometimes they drive Lincolns and blast The Beach Boys for their grandchildren.

The MRI and subsequent ultrasound came back showing no additional threats. We had the two broken up clots to worry about.

God, what is in store for her? How now does she see the world around her?

When everyone left the room, I got to spend my moment with her. I knew how important it was at the time. It felt like the last real moment. I will never forget that look in her eyes. It was as if she was saying “Oh Mike… I’m already dead. I want to be dead.”

If she could have spoken, I’m not sure that’s what she would have said, but when your brain won’t let you talk, what else is there?

I leaned in, spoke clearly and softly reassuring her about how well she had done. I asked her for some hand squeezes, and she gave them to me… but that look locked into my eyes as I rubbed the aged skin on her forehead ever so gently. She must have done the same to me when I was a baby.

Luanne stayed with her through the night. And when the morning came, she spoke some more, and they moved her up to the PCSU (Post Care Stroke Unit) for therapy. They had gotten her to stand and take a few steps, but her arms were still not responding very well. Her hands seem to have gotten worse over time.

By day three she was making full sentences, albeit she was incoherent but appeared to know what she wanted to say, just not exactly how to say it. She'd get through a perfect sentence if you caught her by surprise, but when she thought about what she wanted to say, she'd either say it incomprehensively or get stuck halfway through.

God, she’s tough.

I recalled a story she once told me. She was young, a teenager. She was waiting outside of her uncle’s liquor store. She was giggling with her friend as they each snuck a cigarette from the pack they just stole.

And then the story of Baron and the neighbor's duck. Baron the dog, had a mouth full of feathers and when the neighbor who's duck it was, came to her to complain, she looked at that dog with feathers in his mouth.

“My dog would never do such a thing.”

He stared at her for a moment, glanced back to the dog. “I must have been mistaken.” He replied.

A single woman in a single life, standing her ground even when she was wrong. It was a duck, and they were always friends. Poor duck. She knew what friendship was worth from a neighbor and her dog. She was willing to gamble it. The duck should have probably spent more time with her anyway.

There were good days and there were bad days. She had a hard life, but she never failed to struggle in order to provide for her children… for her grandchildren… for her family.

God, are we all meant to drown like this?

She was a server and a cocktail waitress one hundred times over, up and down both coasts. She lived in so many places; above other restaurants, in a townhouse with her friend Louise… all of the apartments and duplexes.

The older I got the more I imagined that she must have lost more things than I would ever own. I just needed the time, that one chance to make it big; to take her for one more ride in a sporty, expensive car or on a yacht cruise.

God what a miserable failure I am.

Eventually, the hospital became her hotel until the family brought her home… to a family room with Luanne and her husband Chris at their home.

Fuck… she always struggled to have a home.

God, is this living? Who can we ever blame but ourselves? What is strength if we blame others? I don’t ever recall her blaming anyone.

Suddenly, I am seventeen again. It’s Christmas day and she’s drunk off of the wine again, but who could ever really tell?

“One day,” she said straight to me with such a drunken sobriety, drunk with wisdom, love, hope and confidence “you’re going to set the world on fire.”

That was the first time someone ever told me something I think I needed to hear. Something that lit a flame that would burn for eternity in my soul. A flame that was meant for one thing, and one thing only.


And I was once again thirty-nine, here again on February 6th, 2024. The fire was still there in my heart and soul, having burnt down to embers and reignited. It must have been a hundred times now. This time… in all the pain and agony of a life of loyalty, hard work, and passion, yet somehow gone awry… this time I had kindled the fire with all of that last REAL look in her eyes. I would never get to hand her that jewelry, those riches of which she truly deserved.

I would always and forever wear her bracelet she gave me before her true self left us, the bright and important thing she remembered in the PCSU a few weeks back.

“Mema, do you remember this?” I had asked.

“Yes! That’s my bracelet! I gave that to you!” Oh, the light in her eyes, the smile across her face and the lightness in her heart on that day gave me some hope.

But here we were still, February 6th, 2024…

God there is no escaping the terms of time.

She was listening to Etta James A Sunday Kind of Love, one of her favorite songs, as she slipped away to a better world. It was a gloomy but beautiful day. The snow was falling like soft, frozen tears from angels. I regret that I couldn’t be at her side to send her off, but then again, she was always so independent. I think she wanted it this way. My dad said it was an appropriate kind of weather for the day. A stormy day for a stormy personality. It was raining outside of her window. She always liked the rain.

She had grown so frail over the last month and a half.

God, we knew it was the end. Please make it peaceful. Please make it quick.

It was precisely 5 p.m. as she let out her final breath… happy hour. Heaven was calling her for her first happy hour in heaven. The last words she told me to my face but two weeks ago… “Go get ‘em kid.”

She was listening to that song just before hospice delivered her first treatment of morphine, but in that three minutes and fifteen seconds, the treatment never happened.

Moments after we got the news from my Uncle Chris, a funny thing happened. A funny thing always happens. While we often lose the power in these kinds of storms, my father was speaking with my Aunt Luanne over the phone just after it happened. My mother lit the lights in a heart shaped vase… a beautiful red heart that looks almost like an apple, which belonged to her, to my Mema.

Just after those lights turned on, the dining room light flickered. It was one big flicker, followed by two brief short ones, quite evenly spaced. While this wouldn’t seem that strange, the odd part was that nothing else appeared to lose power. Just that light right above us.

I like to think it was a final wink for each of us. One big one for her son, and two little ones for her daughter-in-law and her grandson.

And just like that, the pedals of a gardenia gently brushed across her face. She opened her eyes for the first time. Two hands, each with a gardenia hovered beside her. One was held by her father Nicholas Campos Campos and the other by Nanny, her mom.

She smiled. Outside her window it was all of a sudden so sunny, a break in the storm… finally. The Lincoln had the top down, and someone honked the horn letting her know her ride was there. An armada of happy dogs barked, and a cat named Rocky flocked his tail with loud purrs on the windowsill. She could even isolate one bark in particular… the bark of her dog Baron. And there was Teddy by her side, leash in mouth.

She rose from the bed and her parents embraced her.

“Gardenias were always your fathers favorite too.” said Nanny.

Before she left with her parents, with her loved ones who had been waiting for her patiently, she was profoundly overwhelmed with the kind of love she had lived so long without. It was something so whole and heavy that it was a rock. It was something that for some reason couldn’t be here on earth, yet only in Heaven.

In fact, her last glare on this earthly realm was toward the vision of a stone on the bed she arose from. It was a stone she had painted white, like the snow that fell on the shoulders of her grandson the day she had died.

She had given this stone to her grandson a few years back. On it, an inscription that would fade away over running tears and a million kisses over sharpy marker read… they read… well… on second thought… those words were just for him.


Goodbye Mema. Lucy. My best friend. I miss you dearly already, and forever. My heaven sure has some beautiful people waiting. I’ll be looking forward to that cocktail, and cruising around the beach in that top-down Lincoln.

Lucille Florence Campos ~ “Mema”

March 30th, 1935 – February 6th, 2024

You will always be the storm in my heart, the fire in my soul, and the passion in my eyes…



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