Yesterday, I had the good fortune to film Ralph Benitez once again. Yesterday was my fourth filming day of Ralph and his family and there's something really special about being with them. Ralph and his clan are all about the love for family. You can feel it coming into his home in the Bronx. The care is tangible.
There is also a growing sense of sadness. Since I first met Ralph a couple of months ago, he has lost about thirty pounds. He is down to nearly a hundred pounds. I didn't mention this before, when I posted an interview sample previously, for concern about it overshadowing everything else that Ralph is, but he is in the last throes of Aids.
Ralph shared that his family is still in the denial phase of Kubler Ross' Five Stages of Death. I can understand why. Ralph is so much of their lives. Regardless of his illness he has been a moral and loving force to his family and I can't even fathom what they are going through in considering his absence.
"I don't expect to see the winter, Dana."
It's heartbreaking talking to Ralph at times and to see his wonderful wife, Vilma, cooking for him and his not having much of an appetite. To see his four-year-old granddaughter, who Ralph is primary father figure and knowing what's going to be missing in her life fairly soon.
And yet it's also a very special honor to be spending time with Ralph and his family. Yesterday, Ralph had his granddaughter read a book to him and the pride in his eyes, that she could read at her age, was deeply touching.
Yesterday, I only filmed for a little bit because Ralph wasn't feeling well at all. We just spent most of the time in his driveway, sitting and talking about the world and our childhoods and whatever else came up. Vilma came back from the market with some fish she intended to bake for supper and shared her frustration at seeing their neighbor's seven-year-old boy left unattended and neglected too much of the time. She wanted to do something about it - as they have done with so many other kids who they've encountered over the years.
"We may not have much money," Ralph says, "but we make up for it in the love we share for one another."
Ralph didn't need to explain this to me. It was evident the day I stepped into this family's life.
It was time well spent in the Bronx yesterday. I hope to return.