Latina Perspective: Fighting to breathe

By Edna Meza Aguirre

My kickboxing gym is in an abandoned warehouse in Tucson, the walls are exposed brick, fitting for a place that houses hitting, kicking, weightlifting, sweating, grunting, and powerful breathing. The air is heavy with a scent of what some call “essence of locker room.” It’s very hot, the place uses swamp cooling.

I was intimidated when I first arrived, yet also encouraged by the women in the gym. Strong, beautiful, powerful women who were lifting heavier weights than some of the men in the gym.

I told the boxing instructor I was there to observe. He suppressed his laughter and began to wrap my hands and put my boxing gloves on. He held up a thick pad and told me to hit it as hard as I could. I threw my first punch, and it felt great. His tone got louder as he told me to hit again, and again and again.

I was hitting so hard, I thought I was going to throw up. He told me to take a deep breath and hit even harder. I threw one more punch and told him I couldn’t go on. He told me to hit again and to work with my breath.

I was with my mother when she died.

She had COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) though she hadn’t smoked a day of her life. COPD is a particularly brutal disease. As it progresses, you gasp more and more for air.

Her breathing occurred in long, slow painful gasps. She would clutch her chest it hurt so much. The oxygen containers helped her somewhat. But what was really happening was that her lungs were turning on her. An auto-immune disorder caused her lungs to go from soft and pliable to hard and dysfunctional.

No one deserves to die this way.

The hospice nurse told me that near the end her breaths would be even more long and prolonged. My mother had stopped speaking the day before she died so we were guided by her hand gestures and head nods. So it surprised me that on this particular day, she called out my name.

I sat by her bedside, my ear to her mouth trying to understand what she whispered. I held her left hand with my right hand and could feel her pulse. She took a long deep breath, but this time without pain. It brought me a small comfort that she had been able to take in that one breath without pain.

Then her breathing stopped. I called out her name, and asked her if she could hear me. I turned to my uncle and we spoke though eye glances. He spoke to her and listened for a breath. We called the hospice nurse.

The entire time I hadn’t stopped holding her hand. I was confused, and somewhat encouraged that I could still feel her pulse. And I held onto that hand until her pulse slowly faded away.

The day we buried her, I also buried the hope of having her live long enough to fully celebrate the woman I had become. On that day, there was an excessive heat warning and the high was 118 degrees.

In what was to be the first of many long hot days without parents and I found myself very angry. Kickboxing became a form of anger management therapy.

Folks told me not to be angry because she was now in heaven. I didn’t find a single piece of scripture that said passing through the gates of heaven automatically bestowed survivors with instant peace. However, I found the Bible story where Christ wept when his friend Lazarus died. Now that was more like it, a piece of scripture I could relate to.

Sometimes, feeling the absence of my parents makes my cry. It gets better when I can give my emotions a voice through hitting and kicking.

Edna Meza Aguirre, J.D. is a graduate of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She is Regional Development Associate with Planned Parenthood Arizona and is a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project.

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