She had just moved from Culebra, Puerto Rico, to the city with my father, her firstborn, who was just a few years old. She came her on her own because, she and my grandfather, Domingo, had split up and she knew her son would have more opportunities in New York. Though she didn’t speak English and had only an eighth-grade education, she was skilled at sewing and found work as a seamstress in factories. She and my grandfather reconciled a year or so later. Photo courtesy the Feliciano Family.
Claudina in 2009 Orlando, Florida.
At the house where she and my grandfather have lived since 2001.
On the back porch of their house, June 9, 2010.
One month after her diagnosis.
In a rage, Claudina goes to the backyard.
Because she doesn’t want to be around my grandfather. It is July 18.
Claudina’s illness is getting worse.
And since my grandfather is alone with her all day, he’s bearing most of it on his own. When she gets angry, she berates him and tells him he’s a disgusting person. I ask him how he’s managing. He just closes his eyes.
By autumn, she’s been placed in a hospital psychiatric ward.
Against her will because of a violent incident at home. Her wrists are bandaged from where my grandfather was trying to restrain her as she tried to hit him.
First day at the nursing home.
There was an open bed at a nursing home near my grandparents’ house, and my aunt was able to have Claudina transferred there from the psych unit at the hospital. Domingo and I went to visit her as soon as she arrived at the nursing home. We were in the outdoor visiting area, and I asked to take a photo of them together.
Her first full day at the nursing home, we brought her dog to visit.
They hadn’t seen each other in three weeks. “Mami was in prison for a long time,” Claudina said as she hugged her dog. “And she still is.”
December 23, 2010.
Claudina in her room at the nursing home.
With time, Claudina’s rages became less threatening.
And we were able to bring her to her house to spend an afternoon when one of us was available to stay with her. She savored these visits. When I would tell her we needed to leave soon, she’d go take a shower, pick out fresh clothes, and apply makeup. And invariably, her dog would wait for her right outside the bathroom door. It was springtime.
Claudina at her house.
She’s having a good day.
Arriving at her house this past summer for a visit.
She’d been a gardener all her life, and on her visits home, she’d always stop to admire the flowers. Their beauty and well-being were her doing, but she did not remember that.
It’s early September, only six weeks since my last visit to Orlando, and Claudina is noticeably worse.
She is frail and slow, and we need to use a wheelchair to take her the short distance from her room at the nursing home to the car. Some days are better than others, and there’s a light in her eyes. And some days, seems she’s very far away. I keep going back, though, to offer her whatever comfort I can.