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So Wrong

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A week ago Wednesday night, 3-year-old Alexyander (Yandel) Rivera Irizarry of Penuelas, Puerto Rico, was passing a quiet evening at home with his parents. He asked them if he could go visit his grandmother, who lived upstairs. His parents said yes.

He went upstairs and spent some time talking and playing with his grandmother. Then he said he was going back downstairs.

But he didn't.

A few minutes later, his mother went upstairs to get Yandel and prepare him for bed. She asked her mother-in-law where Yandel was. Shocked by the question, his grandmother said he had gone back downstairs.

And the panic set in.

As Yandel's parents and grandparents went outside, frantically screaming his name, the neighbor heard the commotion and joined in the search. His first clue to Yandel's location was the clothes of a small child draped neatly over a large rock by the river. He crossed the bridge and went down to the river. At which point he was horrified to find a child floating in the river.

Yandel had played naked in the river many times, but always with supervision. Just barely 3 years old, he simply didn't know this wasn't something he could do by himself.

I got the call in the middle of the night Thursday morning that little Yandel was no longer with us. I have never been more crushed in my life.

For many years now, I have been close to Yandel's parents, Yami and Alex--and his maternal grandparents and the rest of their family. Several years ago, they honored me by requesting that I give the toast at their wedding. A few years after that, Yami's sister asked that I serve as the padrino at her wedding. The family Irizarry is like my own family, a family I do not share by blood, but instead by love, laughter, food, and the deepest sense of caring.

During the course of my 41 years, there have been many times when I felt like I was in the wrong place, that something felt wrong, that I was in the midst of something terrible.

But all of those experiences, all of those fleeting moments, pale in comparison to attending the funeral of a 3-year-old child. You can't help but ask... why? Why did this happen?

It hurts even more when you see a mother blaming herself and a grandmother blaming herself. You know they are innocent, and you want to scream it at their faces as they grieve. But you can't. Because you understand at least a small portion of what they're feeling. And know that, under similar circumstances, you would feel the same unbearable guilt. You don't know what to say. There's nothing you can say. Because none of it makes any sense.

Everything is just... wrong. So wrong.

Yet, Yandel's funeral processional was one of the most moving and powerful experiences I've ever had. Police estimated that 1500 people participated in the processional from the funeral home to the cemetery. Children in the processional had been given balloons to carry, and most of the balloons had messages written on them. "We'll remember you always, Yandel." "Rest in peace, Yandel." At the cemetery, the priest spoke about the family's pain, the inability to understand how or why these types of things happen. But that, in God, we can find peace. We may not find understanding, but we can find peace and comfort.

After the priest spoke, they played Yandel's favorite song. It was at this point that the children were asked to release their balloons. A man I did not know but happened to be in front of me at the graveside had a box of three white doves that were released at the same time as the balloons. Upon release, these beautiful creatures flew into different directions but found each other once again around a group of balloons in the sky. And then they flew off together.

The three of them.

It was so beautiful. But as I type, I weep. Because it still just feels so wront. So f***ing wrong.

In spite of referring to myself as the eternal pessimist, I actually try to find lessons learned in horrible experiences.

Which is what I really wanted to share with you all, though I've taken a long route toward getting there. And for that I apologize. But I want to encourage every member of our TAT family to hold those whom you love so very close to you. Love deeply and without condition, as a child does. Let others love you with full measure. Forget the small stuff; it doesn't matter. Give hugs and kisses freely, and mean every ounce you put into them. Cherish every moment you have with those you love, and never, EVER, let it become mundane.

If there's anything I've learned in the past 10 days, it's that we can never, EVER, take anyone or anything for granted. For life is a collection of moments. Moments that bring us joy. Moments that bring us satisfaction and peace.

And moments where everything can suddenly and tragically change.

Thanks for listening. And for those of you who practice prayer, please keep Yandel's family in your thoughts. They will appreciate that.

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  1. ponchi101's Avatar
    I will try to follow your advice, Dry.
    A beautiful piece you have written. I hope you will feel better when the time is suitable.
    Updated 01-24-2011 at 04:08 PM by ponchi101
  2. shtexas's Avatar
  3. atlpam's Avatar
    I have unfortunately attended 2 funerals for children in my life; there is nothing so heartbreaking. Thanks for a well-needed reminder that we should live life fully with those we love. My thoughts are with you and Yandel's family.