Stella Pope Duarte

“Moms don’t hold revenge in heaven”

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“Look, here’s your tía; she looks so nice, don’t you think so?” I looked into the coffin of the latest aunt who had died and saw a plastic form before me with hair that looked like my doll’s hair at home, except it was gray. Tía had on bright pink lipstick and I knew she never wore lipstick. Her nails were done and painted with a clear, light pink nail polish. Tía had never had a manicure in her life, but Mom had tears in her eyes and ignored the fake make-up. She loved my tía and it really didn’t matter to her what the mortician had done to make her look “real.” 

“She’s wearing her Virgin of Guadalupe medal,” Mom said. “She’s taking it to her grave.” More tears. Music was playing in the background, organ music, old English hymns. Tía didn’t speak English and would have been more comfortable with mariachi music. It was all part of what we expected at the funeral home – none of the owners were Mexican.

I leaned closer to Mom, smelling the fragrance of her favorite perfume, Tweed. She took out a handkerchief from her purse and wiped her tears. I put my arm around her waist. I was a child, but Mom was crying, and she needed me. “She looks beautiful,” I said, and I knew I was lying. We moved a few steps to where la familia was sitting, Tía’s kids. By then, Tía’s husband had died years ago, and only her kids were left to scrabble and fight over who would keep the house and whatever was left in savings from Tía’s social security checks. Rumor had it that Tía had kicked them all out of her hospital room, angry because they wouldn’t take her home. 

The oldest daughter stood up to hug Mom. “Te acompaño en tu sentimiento” (I accompany you in your grief), Mom said softly. Both women were hugging and crying. I stood by silently and, when the daughter bent down to hug me, I said, “I’m sorry,” and she patted my head and smiled. 

Now we had to go through an assembly line of sorts. Mom went from one person to another – daughters, sons, and grandchildren – with the same greeting of comfort. I saw one of the girls I knew from school, one of Tía’s granddaughters, and she had her hair done up in curls. I had never seen her with her hair done, and it startled me. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry,” I shook her hand.  

In one far corner of the room was a man crying; his thin shoulders were slumped over and his face was buried in his hands. Mom walked up to him but he didn’t stand up, so Mom sat next to him and put her arm around him. I noticed no one else walked up to him. Before Mom could say the greeting, the man buried his face into her shoulder. “She forgives you, Chavo,” Mom said, “moms don’t hold revenge in heaven.” The man blubbered words I couldn’t understand and soon another man, an older cousin who looked like a gangster, went up to Chavo and said, “Let’s go outside.” 

Mom shook her head and Chavo stood up and walked out. I looked out the open door and heard the roar of a motorcycle, and Mom said, “I guess Chavo got away.” 

Later, I found out Chavo was Tía’s favorite, her baby, and he had broken his mom’s heart by getting into drugs. “Don’t ever run away from my funeral,” Mom said to me, “Remember, moms don’t hold revenge in Heaven.” 

Stella Pope Duarte was born and raised in South Phoenix. She began her award-winning career in 1995 after she had a dream in which her deceased father told her that her destiny was to become a writer. Contact her at

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