Family and friends, shoulder to shoulder, in rows, aisles, against the wall; eyes fixated on the priest who acknowledged seeing such crowds in Easter and Christmas; a warm atmosphere expressed by shaking hands, soft embraces, gentle kisses. This was a testament of the love and admiration for the parting of the man being honored that morning: Gilbert Flores.
For three-and-a-half years, Gilbert battled cancer, unbeknownst to many. Just as he hadn’t ratted out his brothers as a child when they’d aimed with darts at an object over his head, Gil had opted for silence in most cases, choosing humor to displace any doubts.
Perhaps it was his incredible smile that made some not question him, or his handsome look and the confidence he carried when he spoke that caused them to forget any speculation, but a converstaion would soon ensue, and stories would be relayed. Gil, who had a knack for listening with both ears and without judgement, would patiently hear woes from the cigar aficionados who visited his shop--Havana On The Hudson.
Some afternoons, while sitting on comfortable couches, whether watching television news or enjoying 80s music, family, pals, and acquaintances who soon became friends, came in to “stay lit,” as Gil would say. He was perfect for his job, as I’m certain all would agree, my former police partner, George Fonseca included.
It was George who’d reconnected me with Gil, a fellow Bulldog whom I hadn’t seen since graduating Emerson High School in 1985. However, growing up in Union City meant that if you ran into someone you knew, memories and events were instantly recalled, bringing with it camaraderie. It was no surprise that when I went with George to see Gil that March, it was exactly what had happened.
Upon greeting one another with an affectionate hug and kiss, I exclaimed, “Happy Belated Birthday!”
Surprised, smiling broadly, he asked, “You remembered my birthday?”
“Yup, February 21st. Birthdays are something I can still remember.” I laughed.
Hours of glee, and cool conversation followed, with Gil using his expertise to explain the taste change in a cigar. That day-turned-to-night was special, and when my partner and I watched Gil close up for the night, we exchanged heartfelt good-byes, hoping to meet again. But, life happened, and we did not.
God had other plans for his son. On May 5, 2015, Gil’s light stopped shining on Earth, but in heaven, he heard, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…Let’s celebrate together.” (Matthew 25:23, NLT)
Some of the folks who attended Gilbert Flores' church and burial services celebrated his life later that afternoon. At a rooftop restaurant in Hoboken, cigars were lit in his name, men and women shared stories of the footprints he left; telling funny anecdotes, and talking about his favorite song: My Way. Yet, the main difference between the latter tidbit, was that Gil’s heavenly standing ovation exceeded Frank Sinatra’s.
Some would question the death of one so vibrant, such as my childhood friend, Ana DeDeu, “Why does God take the good?” But, I will leave you with my reply, “Because He knows they’re His.”
It becomes less difficult to say good-bye to yesterday when we know that Gilbert is rejoicing in Heaven. Let us be happy for having known him and say, Until we meet again, Friend.