Broken Families

A Cuban family.

By Fabiana del Valle

HAVANA TIMES – Nora was born on February 4, 1950 in a place called Cayo el Pino, in the Consolacion del Sur municipality. She was the sixth child of a marriage that gave fruit to a family of 11 children, 25 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and 4 great-great-grandchildren.

Ever since she was a child, she lived by the popular saying that goes: “put on a brave face when times are tough.” Her innate joy was contagious, nobody laughed better and louder than she did.

She was a thin and sickly young woman, with blonde hair that she brushed every morning under her little sister’s attentive gaze. Interested in photography, she got a camera which she used to immortalize the members of her family. Anything that was beautiful and interesting was worthy of her lens.

In 1970, two of her sisters left the country. Their husbands, political prisoners at the time, were forced to choose exile. This left a huge vacuum in the family. A situation that many homes on the island would share, where saying goodbye would become more and more common.

She married two years later. Her eldest children were born in a humble place near both of their parents. She lived there for years until she was able to move to a more comfortable home in Paso Quemado, in the Los Palacios municipality.

She loved to knit, and beautiful cardigans and blankets were spun in her hands. Only there was no greater masterpiece for her than her three children. She always lived for them.

When the Special Period crisis came, two of her eldest children were studying at Havana University. Those were tough times when she had to give up many things so that they could complete their studies.

When her eldest son left for England, he took a piece of Nora with him. She carried on living with that pain. But then, another son left for Canada. Clinging to the hope that she would see them again, she showered the youngest with all the love that she couldn’t give to the others because of the physical distance that separated them.

She made two trips to the US to visit her sisters, one trip to England and several to Canada. This privilege that is denied to most Cubans was unable to make up for the pain caused by the absence of her children and grandchildren.

One day, she told me that there was a hole in her heart that could only be filled when her family were reunited. But nothing could dim her light, no setback could remove her candid and unique smile.

COVID-19 came and her plans were put on hold, waiting for the time when hugs would not be laced with danger. That’s when she decided to lock herself up with her husband, son and daughter-in-law. She’d talk to her brothers and sisters almost every day, giving each other hope with stories and laughter.

She spent her time between soap operas and social media. She carried on knitting for her grandchildren, getting ready for the reunion. But the waiting only got longer, the dream was moving further and further away. I remember hearing her crying on the other side of the line. The phrase she said never left my mind. When will I be able to see my children and grandchildren together?

Then, the disease came knocking on her door. The words died down on the other side of the line, her smile was buried behind her cough.

She was in critical condition for twelve days, but her son did everything he could to save her. He got antibiotics, an oxygen mask, a monitor to record her vital signs. He did everything the doctors told him to, no matter how much it cost.

The warrior son spent nights in the hospital parking lot. He prayed to a God he’d never believed in before. Those prayers were joined by others in the distance, from another two children, four grandchildren, ten siblings, 22 nieces and nephews, 28 great-nephews and nieces and many other relatives.

But in spite of her son’s sacrifice, the doctors’ work and prayers, the light of her smile faded on October 1, 2021. Nora passed away, and she wasn’t able to see her greatest longing come to life: to see all of her family reunited.

Read more from Fabiana del Valle here.

Fabiana del Valle

I was a girl who dreamed of colors and letters capable of achieving the most widely read novels or those poems that conquer rebellious hearts. Today around forty, with my firm feet on this island, I let the brush and the words echo my voice. The one that I carry tight, prisoner of circumstances and my fears.


5 thoughts on “Broken Families

  • October 19, 2021 at 1:18 pm
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    I have had to cry reading this story, which is the reality of what our family suffered and the same pain of so many that we have been separated by a system that has not given that people the opportunity to choose their destinies. See you soon my little sister, together we will succeed again. RIP Nora.
    i miss you

  • October 17, 2021 at 1:23 am
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    How convenient religion can be in trying to paper over reality. Imagine considering that God believed that it was time for Nora to die! Words fail me!

  • October 16, 2021 at 5:37 pm
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    So beautiful and so sad at the same time. I wish I had known Nora, as everyone needs a Nora in their lives.

  • October 16, 2021 at 5:50 am
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    This is a story that can be anywhere in the world. But the struggle of the Cuban people is more tough . As I sit on the sidelines in Canada I try to think how I can support the good people of Cuba. My good thoughts are with them and I will be back to support you soon.

  • October 15, 2021 at 11:30 pm
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    What a sad story…god believed it was time to end all of her sufferings. She will be reunited one day with all those she has been waiting for all this time. She will smile and again will reveal her contagious laugh under the glow of contentment & a love that never dies. Prayers are sent to all those you loved so dearly. May they all be blessed with the strength of acceptance for the things they cannot change & may their hearts overflow with cherished memories that time cannot erase. RIP Nora . You will be missed…

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