At my mom’s house, surrounded by family and family friends eating guayaba pies, drinking coffee or beer, telling jokes and stories–it doesn’t feel like we just came from a funeral. It feels like a party. The inevitable sound of the poker chips signals the start of a game.

I sit apart, taking a moment to recharge from all the emotion spent the last few days, and reflect. Last night at the wake, the atmosphere was close. Intimate. A reunion in many senses. There were friends and relatives not seen for years. A vanished aunt and cousin resurfaced, I hugged them and felt I was hugging two people–a stranger, and inside of that stranger someone I used to know and love. Much different was the appearance of my best friend of seven years. When I hugged her, and talked with her, it almost seemed that four years had not passed since we last saw one another. For reasons that I can’t explain now, reasons that made sense to me until I told her out loud, I’d let this friendship go. I missed her wedding. I missed her baby being born. All because of the things I couldn’t say, things I couldn’t ask for. Still, she came. And her coming showed me how wrong I’d been, it reminded me that she had always offered me devotion and friendship that are of rare quality. I’m so sorry that I squandered it. But thankful to my grandmother for this, because it brought a healing that I’ve needed, that my family has needed.

It has not seemed like a tragic occasion by any means–sometimes sad but never somber. I don’t know if that’s a function of my family’s collective personality (it’s only a matter of time until someone starts cracking jokes, like my mother AT the gravesite with empty folding seats on either side of her, “Somebody had better sit in these chairs. Grandma paid for them!”) or due to the fact that this was a death that came with so much warning.

In any case, it’s been a kind of bonding for my family that I’ve rarely seen. For a moment I worried that, without grandma to tie us to one another, we’d lost the common thread. But now I realize that will never be the case. There will always be that shared history, the experiences and memories, that keep us together, and keep her with us.